Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Count Malte Moritz von Putbus

Count Malte Moritz von Putbus (MAHL-teh MOH-rihtz fon POOT-buhs), known as Mignon (mee-NYOHN), a callow Swedish aristocrat who both relates the story and serves as its protagonist. A self-professed idealist and political visionary, this naif has embraced the liberal creed of the Enlightenment and dedicated himself to extending the effects of the French Revolution. The novel consists entirely of his diary, which, after summarizing the inept radical activism and erotic misadventure that have led his parents to exile the young man to the New World, reflects on events during his journey aboard the Speranza, a slaver vessel. In effect, Mignon’s mind, not the ship itself, is the story’s stage, and the drama is defined through his transition from the presumption of his own goodness and a delusive faith in humankind to the realization that human corruption is complete and unredeemable.


Roustam (rew-STAHM), the count’s black valet. Dressed in European finery and displaying European manners, he is regarded as no more than an entertaining clown by the court at Putbus, but on the Speranza he quickly tests his master’s egalitarian posture and eventually emerges as the leader of the slaves during their insurrection. The...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The nondramatic presentation dictated by the diary form virtually prevents an evolution of characters in the conventional sense. Every element of the story reflects Mignon’s mind—a very restricted consciousness in which to operate, not only because of the young man’s impercipience but also because the events unfolded through him are intended to promote an examination of ideas rather than to exercise sensibilities.

Within these limits, however, the reader can infer the narrator’s personality. As his nickname suggests, Mignon is a mama’s boy. Once he is expelled from his protected childhood because he has gratified a sexual itch, the weight of evidence indicating human depravity steadily crushes his naive confidence in humans as rational beings. The worst moment in this process of discovery comes with the recognition that evil is not an aberration but a fundamental part of human nature—indeed, that Mignon himself surpasses the vileness of those he once contemned.

Except in the respect that the doctor is never guilty of fatuous self-deception, Rouet’s course in the story parallels Mignon’s. Although he cannot rescue the slaves from their circumstances, he visits them in the hold to try to alleviate their suffering; although he believes every man’s psychosexual being conceals a “penchant for cruelty” which is expressed in a “magical desire to see a woman begging for mercy,” he chooses to act as though a “sense of innate...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Booklist. Review. LXXXIX (August, 1983), p. 1447.

Books Abroad. Review. XLVIII (1974).

Germanic Review. Review. XLIX (1974).

Kirkus Review. Review. LI (July 1, 1983), p. 712.

Library Journal. Review. CVIII (August, 1983), p. 1501.

Publishers Weekly. Review. CCXXIV (July 15, 1983), p. 42.

Sweden Now. Review. II (1983).