Máximo Manso (MAHKS-ee-moh MAHN-soh), a thirty-five-year-old preparatory school teacher and doctor of philosophy. This average-looking, nearsighted bachelor, of average height and sturdy build, is precisely what his name implies, the maximum or ultimate example of meekness, gentleness, and timidity. He takes great pride in his high moral standards, his dedication to reason as opposed to emotion, and his concern for others. Comfortable in the absolute world of ideas and ideals, he prefers to stand apart from society and study humankind dispassionately and objectively. When forced into contact with society, he often misinterprets what he sees or refuses to see as the truth. Believing that he has found in Irene the perfect woman of reason, he falls in love. Later, after realizing that she is just the opposite of what he had believed her to be, he illogically falls even deeper in love and loses his treasured inner peace and serenity. After losing Irene, he curses his own rational nature and envies his successful rival’s impulsiveness, irrationality, and spontaneity. Ironically, in the end, Máximo dies of a broken heart.
Irene (ee-REHN-eh), a very attractive nineteen-year-old orphan. She becomes the governess at the residence of José María Manso, Máximo’s brother, where she must discourage her employer’s sexual advances. Born into poverty but having aristocratic tastes, Irene is determined to alter her socioeconomic situation. Idealized by Máximo as the perfect woman of reason who is always composed, studious, and serious-minded, she proves to be capricious, frivolous, manipulative, and more than capable of hiding her true feelings to achieve her goals. Ambitious, socially adept, prudent, and tactful, she becomes the perfect wife for the political prodigy Manuel Peña.
(The entire section is 795 words.)