The Marquise of O———

by Heinrich von Kleist

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Marquise of O–––

The most important character is the titular Marquise herself: a woman who feels trapped in her circumstances. The widowed Marquise is introduced at the beginning of the novella as a woman of “unblemished” reputation, who publishes an advertisement in the newspaper asking that the unknown father of her unborn child identify himself so that she may marry him. The rest of the plot unravels how the Marquise arrived at this point and the results.

One trait the Marquise possesses is a sense of duty to others. When she believes the Count has been killed, she vows to find the woman whom had been “avenged” by his death. The Marquise is also somewhat practical and resolute; despite her sadness over being banished from her family home after her father learns of her mysterious pregnancy, she takes it upon herself to find the father of her child. Not only this, but she resolves to marry her rapist in order to please her family, which shows her dedication to them and their traditional views. Ultimately, the Marquise is a woman who is willing to sacrifice her own happiness to fulfill the obligations that others expect out of her sense of duty. She proves herself able to forgive even the most horrible of deeds, eventually falling in love with the Count who caused her so much pain.

Count F

The second most important character is the Russian Count whom the Marquise eventually marries. Count F is an officer who appears to be gentlemanly and respectable. After saving the Marquise from being raped by a gang of Russian military men, he eventually returns to ask for her hand in marriage. However, it becomes clear near the end of the text that he is deceitful. While he appears outwardly mannered, the Count raped the Marquise, unbeknownst to her and the other characters. He seems wildly passionate when he returns to find her banished to her own residence, and he is unwavering in his purpose. He also is repentant, expressing guilt over not having married her before the discovery of her pregnancy, which would have prevented strife in the family. He marries the Marquise even though she hates him and remains dedicated to her for years until she is ready to forgive him.

The Colonel

The Colonel, the Marquise’s father, is grateful for the Count’s rescue of his daughter from the gang of attackers, so much so that he faithfully agrees to promise the Marquise will wait for the Count’s return from war in order to marry him as requested. However, the Colonel is also somewhat cruel, demanding that his daughter leave her children behind and be banished alone; he even fires a gun in her direction after learning of her pregnancy. Even after months have passed, the Colonel announces that he no longer has a daughter, wishing to expunge her from his memory altogether. Eventually, he is remorseful for treating his daughter so cruelly, realizing that she had been telling the truth the entire time. Even so, he initiates the marital contract between the Marquise and Count, preventing the latter from “conjugal rights” as a show of respect for his daughter’s disgust with her soon-to-be-husband.

The Colonel's Wife

The Colonel’s wife and the Marquise’s mother is another important character in the text. Like her husband, she is at first impressed with the Count’s interest in their daughter. She is somewhat overzealous in her plans for her daughter, but she also loves her and trusts her. She is the one responsible for reconciling the Marquise and her father after the Colonel’s banishment, simply because she proves the Marquise’s story to be true. She is warm and reassuring of her daughter, choosing to believe the truth even when it seems unbelievable. Despite this, she is the driving force behind the Marquise’s marriage to the Count against her daughter’s protests.

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