The narrator, a young Parisian who frequents the Parisian salons, where powerful, ambitious men and beautiful, desirable women entertain themselves at lavish soirées. He is set apart from the other guests by his awareness of the superficiality of his life and by his desire to discover the forms of beauty that will lead to truth. Each of the other characters possesses a type of beauty, on which he reflects. He tells his companion, the Marquise de Rochefide, the story of one of the guests, Zambinella.
Madame de Rochefide
Madame de Rochefide (rohsh-FEED), a beautiful marquise who possesses pure, transparent beauty. She has accompanied the narrator to a soirée at the Paris townhouse of the Lanty family. She is fascinated by a painting she sees there, and the narrator agrees to tell her the story of the model for the nude Adonis of the painting. After hearing the story, she decides that she will become the most chaste woman of her generation and will keep her ravishing beauty only for herself, thus closing the door on the possibility of an erotic experience with the narrator.
Ernest-Jean Sarrasine (ehr-NEHST-zhah[n] sah-rah-SEEN), a young sculptor with an impetuous nature and wild genius. He is rather ugly and always badly dressed, and he has had little experience with women. He began his career in poverty but became famous when he won a major sculpture prize. His prize money took him to Italy, where he attended an operatic performance in Rome and fell in love with a singer, Zambinella. His love for her is obsessive and as impetuous and wild as his general behavior. Again and again he returns to the opera to wonder at her perfection. He spends the intervening hours composing one drawing...
(The entire section is 772 words.)