Witold Gombrowicz (gom-BROH-vihch), a Polish writer. Although he shares the author’s name and vocation, it is impossible to identify the actual Gombrowicz with the novel’s passive and overly cerebral narrator. Walking proof that one’s identity is determined by others and that an observer always affects the situation observed, Witold mentally orchestrates the world in accordance with his ideas, calling into question the reality of the novel’s events and of the characters’ motivations. Given to seeing things in terms of opposites, particularly youth and maturity, he continually ponders the mystery of the mutual seduction and wounding of these antithetical life stages. As the novel opens, Witold, eager to escape Warsaw’s art circles (as insipid as ever, despite the war), visits Hippo’s estate with Frederick. There, he is captivated by the youthful Karol and Henia, but while his friend contrives to bring the two together, he looks on passively, disturbed by the theatricality of events and doubting Frederick’s sanity. In the end, however, he succumbs to the “sin” against the couple, believing it maturity’s only access to youth and rejuvenation.
Frederick, Witold’s companion and coconspirator. A middle-aged man, dark and thin, with a hooked nose, this murderous lunatic seems at first merely a parody of the intellectual; he is hyperrational and unnervingly lucid but self-consciously artificial in everything. Exciting Witold by the way he continually brings Karol and Henia together, his motives are never completely clear, even after he writes the narrator insane letters expounding his plan to undermine both religion and nature in the belief that his obscene and deadly plotting, if successful, will justify itself.
Hippolytus (Hippo) S.
Hippolytus (Hippo) S., an estate...
(The entire section is 786 words.)