Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

No proof exists that Gunderode ever met Kleist, but it is a fact that Gunderode knew Merten. She stabbed herself to death at his country estate in 1806. Gunderode spent her life in a convent for impoverished daughters of the nobility. In 1804 and 1805, she published two volumes of poetry under the pseudonym “Tian.” By 1804, Kleist had resigned his Prussian army commission, failed in his effort to become a civil servant, broken his engagement to Wilhelmine von Zenge, and quarreled with his sister Ulrike. Influenced by Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781), he became deeply depressed, destroyed portions of his second drama, Robert Guiskard (1808; English translation, 1962), and suffered a physical and mental breakdown which brought him under the care of Dr. Georg Christian Wedekind, in Mainz. Kleist committed suicide in 1811.

The guests at Wolf’s imaginary tea party include the poet Brentano and his wife, the writer Sophie Mereau. Also at the gathering are Brentano’s two sisters: Bettine von Arnim, who, in 1840, published her correspondence with Gunderode, and Gunda von Savigny. Savigny’s husband, Friedrich Karl von Savigny, a renowned German jurist who for several years maintained a precarious personal relationship with Gunderode, is also present, as are Christian Nees von Esenbeck, a noted German botanist, and his wife, Lisette Mettingh, a woman of impressive intellectual ability and Gunderode’s closest friend.

All the major characters are historically significant, with well-known...

(The entire section is 633 words.)