Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460
Jacques Ménétrier (zhahk may-nay-tray-YAY), a carefree young scholar and lover who becomes a respectable citizen. Born of poor parents, he is educated by clerics and philosophers. Having lived a dissolute life, Jacques finally settles down as a bookseller who supports his kindly mother and father in their declining years.
Jael (zhay-EHL), an attractive young Jew who abandons her elderly lover, an uncle, to accept Jacques, only to abandon him to accept another who entices her with a gift of silver plate. Jael, however, is not peevish or vindictive. While she loves one, she likes the other man for whom she has once had the grand passion.
Catherine, a young lace-maker turned courtesan. She moves in and out of Jacques’ life with predictable consistency. Though she accepts the gifts of wealthy men, her love for Jacques is constant.
Maître Jérôme Coignard
Maître Jérôme Coignard (MAY-tr zhay-ROHM kwahn-YAHR), an abbé, a Greek and Latin scholar who is Jacques’ tutor and who appreciates the joys of the flesh. He is killed by Jael’s outraged lover, Mosaïde, who mistakenly believes that he has stolen Jael’s affections.
Hercule d’Astarac (ehr-KYEWL dah-stah-RAHK), a wealthy philosopher, a student of the occult, who maintains a broken-down estate where scholars are free to pursue metaphysical delights. He comes to an unfortunate end when his home catches fire and he dies in the flames.
Brother Ange (ahnzh), a secular member of a begging order who teaches Jacques the alphabet, spends some time in jail for engaging in drunken brawls, and secretly sighs for Catherine. He eventually runs away with her.
Maurice d’Anquetil (dahnk-TEEL[DAnquetil, Maurice), a nobleman who loves Catherine and also steals Jael from Jacques. He is carefree, takes chances, and lives by his wits. He and Jacques are good friends.
De la Guéritaude
De la Guéritaude (gay-ree-TOHD), a prosperous tax collector who keeps Catherine in a fine house. He is in a perpetual fit of rage because Catherine treats him outrageously with other men. He is finally seriously injured when, locked out of his own house, he causes a disturbance and is set upon by the revelers Catherine is entertaining.
Mosaïde (moh-zah-EED), a Jewish banker who fled Spain, taking his niece Jael with him as his mistress, after killing a Christian. He pretends to be a student of Hebraic texts and lives at d’Astarac’s estate to do scholarly work. When d’Astarac’s estate burns, Mosaïde, running from the holocaust, stumbles into a swamp and drowns.
Jeannette (zhah-NEHT), a tavern hurdy-gurdy woman who initiates Jacques in the rites of love.