The Ravishing of Lol Stein

by Marguerite Duras

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Characters Discussed

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Lol Valerie Stein

Lol Valerie Stein, a young woman who is jilted by her fiancé. At the age of nineteen, Lol, a beautiful blue-eyed blond, is engaged to Michael Richardson, who later, at a ball, abandons her for another woman, Anne-Marie Stretter. Lol, led home by her mother, suffers a mental collapse and is secluded. Lol’s apparent madness stems not from the rejection but from her lack of emotional depth, which has been evident since childhood. Her distress at leaving the ball is caused not by the pain of losing a lover but by not being able to follow Michael and Anne-Marie to witness their intense passion, thus experiencing love vicariously. Later, after briefly meeting John Bedford, she marries him and moves away from South Tahla. After her return ten years later, she takes long walks; renews her acquaintance with Tatiana Karl, a friend from her school days; and acquires a lover, Jack Hold, one of Tatiana’s conquests. Her greatest pleasure, however, is derived from watching for glimpses of Jack and Tatiana through a hotel window as she lies in a field of rye.

Michael Richardson

Michael Richardson, a young, wealthy heir with no vocation. Cultured and brilliant, Michael, at the age of twenty-five, is engaged to Lol Stein. At a ball, however, he becomes infatuated with a stranger, Anne-Marie Stretter, and leaves at dawn with her. Rumors circulate that they separate after a few months and that he liquidates his large landholdings in the vicinity of South Tahla so that he can follow her to Calcutta.

Anne-Marie Stretter

Anne-Marie Stretter, the wife of the French consul to India. Elegant but older than Michael Richardson, she enthralls him to the point where he rejects Lol Stein. After they have a short affair, she chooses not to leave her husband.

John Bedford

John Bedford, Lol’s husband, a talented musician. After a single chance encounter with Lol during an evening walk, he proposes marriage, intrigued by her vacuity. During their marriage of more than ten years, he is content, pleased with Lol, with their three children, and with their home and garden, meticulously ordered and arranged by Lol and patterned after displays and examples she discovers in stores and magazines. He never questions her lack of interest in common social activities but prefers her blankness.

Tatiana Karl

Tatiana Karl, Lol’s best friend, sensuous, with long black hair. Tatiana, although married to Peter Breugner, chooses to amuse herself with a series of lovers. She is as close as anyone can be to Lol, having known her as a schoolgirl, having comforted her the night of the ball, and, most recently, constituting part of Lol’s plan to be, surreptitiously, with a pair of lovers.

Peter Breugner

Peter Breugner, a successful doctor who is married to Tatiana. Unknown to his wife, he is aware of and tolerates her many affairs.

Jack Hold

Jack Hold, the narrator of the novel, a thirty-six-year-old doctor who is a friend of Peter Breugner and a lover of Tatiana Karl. Jack is enchanted with Lol, mystified by the enigma that she is. After falling in love with her, he pieces together the story of her teenage years, her madness, and her life with her husband. At first unknown to him, he is part of Lol’s voyeuristic interests, but later he knowingly complies with her wishes.

The Characters

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Although its central character is clearly Lol Stein, the novel channels the story through Jack Hold and thus filters all details and perceptions through his obsession with Lol. Unlike the omniscient narrator of most realistic fiction, Jack cannot penetrate...

(This entire section contains 665 words.)

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Lol’s mind, and so he must rely on information from Tatiana, Lol’s recollections, and his own observations. He attempts to piece together all these perspectives, rejecting everything that he believes to be biased or inaccurate. He uses the present tense frequently, presenting events as they occur, with little reflection or commentary. As a result of its perspective, then, the novel tends to depict its characters reticently, with little concern for a careful detailing of motives. In general, the main characters do not seem unmotivated or arbitrary; rather, the reader must deduce the motives from the minimal information supplied.

Lol herself is at various times distant, cool, passionate, unpredictable, and tragic. Practically nothing is known of her childhood; nothing prepares the reader for Lol’s extreme depression and withdrawal when Michael Richardson has left her for another woman. Their romance is presented in matter-of-fact terms, as is Lol’s paralysis during the dance, followed by her screaming fit when her mother attempts to make her leave. Lol’s subsequent madness, her meeting with John Bedford, and her marriage are also described undramatically, and the narrator glides over her ten years of married life in Uxbridge. Lol appears to have returned to normal, though she has a tendency to impose an extreme order on her life as a compensation for her lost passion and as an escape from her suffering. When Lol spies Tatiana after ten years of absence from her birthplace, however, she begins to relive and to try to control her past by following Tatiana’s lover. For Lol, Jack seems to represent the chance to relive her affair vicariously. Lol substitutes Tatiana for herself and directs Jack to meet Tatiana so that Lol can watch their lovemaking. As a voyeur, Lol can experience passion without rejection or pain. Her return to Town Beach and the consummation of her love for Jack might mark a progress away from her fixation on the past, but the next day she expects Jack to keep his appointment with Tatiana so that she can watch from her position of security. The novel ends without a definite resolution or any indication of Lol’s independence from the past.

Equally enigmatic is the narrator, Jack Hold. His love for Lol seems genuine, yet at the same time, he continues to be attracted to Tatiana, occasionally with added fervor knowing that Lol is watching. In fact, he obeys Lol’s instructions faithfully, with no hope that he will ever be rewarded; after he has finally made love to Lol, he is happy but hardly more intimate with her. Like Lol, he is still burdened with understanding the past by his obsession with gathering and interpreting correctly her story, her life.

Tatiana Karl and the other minor characters seldom rise above types. Tatiana exemplifies a woman drawn into a relationship that offers no ultimate satisfaction, but she is also a woman jealously holding onto that relationship. The betrayed husbands, John Bedford and Peter Breugner, are shown to be somewhat complacent; Bedford is treated rather sympathetically, but the reader learns little of either man’s inner lives, such as how Bedford has reacted to his wife’s threat to leave him. Most enigmatic of all, perhaps, is Anne-Marie Stretter, the older woman with a mysterious power over Michael. She and Lol Stein appear in other works by Marguerite Duras, including Le Vice-consul (1966; The Vice-Consul, 1968). Duras has commented that the works involving Lol and Anne-Marie are open in that she is still writing their stories and allowing their characters to evolve. The lack of a formal ending for The Ravishing of Lol Stein and the novel’s refusal to categorize and analyze all the motives of its central characters maintain this openness and freedom.

Bibliography

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Cismaru, Alfred. Marguerite Duras, 1971.

Kristeva, Julia. “The Pain of Sorrow in the Modern World: The Works of Marguerite Duras,” in PMLA. CII, no. 2 (1987), pp. 138-152.

Murphy, Carol J. Alienation and Absence in the Novels of Marguerite Duras, 1982.

Schulz-Jander, Eva-Maria. “Marguerite Duras’ Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein: A Woman’s Long Search for Absence,” in Symposium. XL (Fall, 1986), pp. 223-233.

Willis, Sharon. Marguerite Duras: Writing on the Body, 1987.

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