Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

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

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.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The four members of the Lanty family do not differ appreciably from the numerous other wealthy men and women who people La Comedie humaine (1829-1848; The Human Comedy, 1895-1896), the integrated series of novels and short stories in which Honore de Balzac sought to describe all levels of French society in the years immediately following the restoration of the monarchy in 1815. The four lovers in Sarrasine, however, are all fully developed characters with individual personalities. In this novella, Balzac contrasts very effectively these two sets of lovers. Sarrasine and Zambinella are both egotistical and superficial, whereas the urbane narrator and the young dancer by their wit and moral sensitivity create a favorable impression on Balzac’s readers.

Unlike Sarrasine, the narrator never tries to dominate his beloved. Instead, he fully respects her freedom of choice. The narrator also has a very refined sense of humor. Tongue in cheek, he promises to tell her the story of Sarrasine if she will agree to sleep with him. The dancer understands that this is not a serious proposal, and she responds with a witty double entendre. She assures the narrator that she has “an ardent desire to know this secret.” Her ambiguous rejoinder may refer either to the very private act of love or to the secret of Sarrasine. After answering the narrator, she leaves him and waltzes with others at the party. The following day, the narrator, with...

(The entire section is 579 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Barthes, Roland. S/Z, 1974.

Bertault, Philippe. Balzac and “The Human Comedy,” 1963.

Festa-McCormick, Diana. Honore de Balzac, 1979.

Hunt, Herbert J. Balzac’s “Comedie humaine,” 1959.

Pritchett, V.S. Balzac, 1973.

Zweig, Stefan. Balzac, 1946.