Heinrich von Kleist
Heinrich von Kleist (HIN-rihkh fon klist), a writer and dramatist, twenty-six years old, the orphaned son of an impecunious Prussian noble family. Kleist is unable to harmonize the need to find a socially acceptable occupation with his desire to write. His constant sense of guilt and melancholy, his slowness of speech, and his uneasiness in the presence of others are symptomatic of his conviction that there is for him “no place on earth.” He frequently entertains thoughts of suicide. At the time of the story, he is recuperating from mental and physical collapse and has recently burned the unfinished manuscript of Robert Guiskard, a drama that might have become his magnum opus. Along with the other characters, Kleist is based on a historical figure. A few years after the time depicted in the novel, he takes his own life.
Karoline von Günderrode
Karoline von Günderrode (kah-roh-LEE-neh fon GEWN-deh-roh-deh), a Romantic poet and canoness. Unmarried at the age of twenty-four, highly cultured, and, like Kleist, also a member of the impoverished aristocracy, she suffers as a result of social alienation. Her recently completed volume of poetry, published under the pseudonym Tian, has received a negative review. She is drawn to Savigny, who prefers, however, a more chivalric friendship. These failures lead her to suspect that personal fulfillment as a woman and a poet may be impossible within the confines of social convention. Ever on the verge of suicide, she sees nothing strange in making a dagger her constant companion. The historical Günderrode eventually employed the weapon on herself, two years after the time...
(The entire section is 730 words.)