Jerome Palissier (zhay-ROHM pah-lees-SYAY), the narrator, a scholar. A sensitive and romantic but passive child (and then young man), he is obsessed with his love for his first cousin Alissa. This love issues from a fascination with virtue and self-abnegation, and from a desire to protect Alissa from life. He is, however, continually frustrated by Alissa’s delaying tactics and refusals and by his own inability to overcome his passivity and act. Like Alissa, he fears the physical side of love. After Alissa’s death, he remains faithful to her memory.
Alissa Bucolin (ah-LEE-sah bew-koh-LA[N]), Jerome’s first cousin, a serious, gentle, and artistic young woman who, repulsed by her mother’s sexuality and infidelity, seeks to repress her own love for Jerome by insisting on the necessity of pure spiritual love and self-sacrifice. Her goal becomes nothing less than sainthood, an unmediated relationship with God. To that end, she abandons all nonspiritual concerns (music and literature), devotes herself to an ascetic existence (simple food and dress), and refuses to accept Jerome’s timid advances. After her death, her diary reveals the despair that came from her inability to transcend her earthly love for Jerome.
(The entire section is 578 words.)