Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Witold Gombrowicz

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.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Frederick is Witold’s source of fascination. Witold knows that his middle-aged companion is attracted to the young for lack of a belief in anything else. The visit to the countryside does not really have much appeal to either Frederick or Witold. They remain only when they discover Karol and Henia, seeing them as playthings. The other characters have little real interest for Frederick and Witold. Hippo is the imperceptive country gentleman, who believes that his daughter is a good match for Albert and who welcomes an alliance with a good family. Albert (Witold acknowledges) is an accomplished and elegant man, but Albert’s air of confidence only incites Frederick and Witold to prove that it is a sham and that it can easily be shattered. Siemian is a fascinating character, a courageous underground soldier who has succumbed to fear, but in Frederick’s and Witold’s eyes, that only means that he should be eliminated without any moral anguish.

Lady Amelia, however, excites Witold’s curiosity because she is the exact opposite of Frederick. She is a devout Catholic and a wise old woman. She seems entirely secure in her faith and her way of life. Yet Frederick bothers her, and she attempts to impress him. In the end, like Albert, she proves to be unstable. She dies in mysterious circumstances, having engaged in some sort of struggle with a young intruder. Her behavior suggests hysteria and perhaps some kind of sexual need. Has her grappling with a young man been an effort to defend herself or in some sense to possess him, as Frederick and Witold have tried to possess Karol and Henia? Her motivations are not clear, but there is no doubt that she has not lived the life of repose that her calm demeanor suggests.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Boyers, Robert. “Aspects of the Perversion in Gombrowicz’s Pornografia,” in Salmagundi. XVII (1971), pp. 19-46.

Fletcher, John. “Witold Gombrowicz,” in New Directions in Literature: Critical Approaches to a Contemporary Phenomenon, 1968.

Jelenski, Constantin. “Witold Gombrowicz,” in Tri-Quarterly. No. 9 (Spring, 1967), pp. 37-42.

Miosz, Czesaw. A History of Polish Literature, 1983 (second edition).

Thompson, Ewa. Witold Gombrowicz, 1979.