Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Valentin Brû

Valentin Brû (vah-lah[n]-TA[N] brew), an army private. Valentin is a very average young man whose real desire in life is to be a street sweeper. He allows himself to be courted by the middle-aged Julia and goes into shopkeeping when he marries her. They move to Paris, where Valentin runs a picture frame shop. He finds success when, disguised as a woman, he becomes a fortune-teller. He is drafted again as World War II approaches. The novel’s last image presents him at a train station helping girls and young women into the crowded train and fondling them as he does so. Valentin would like to be a saint, but he is quintessentially a petit bourgeois character who is quite satisfied with the little pleasures of life.

Julia Julie Antoinette Segovie

Julia Julie Antoinette Segovie (ahn-twah-NEHT say-goh-VEE), a middle-aged provincial haberdasher. The novel begins with her deciding to marry Valentin, a young soldier whom she has merely seen passing on the street. She succeeds in arranging this marriage, though she cannot take time away from business, so she sends Valentin on a honeymoon trip alone. She inherits a business in Paris from her mother but prefers to become a medium and allows Valentin to run the shop. She becomes ill and allows Valentin to replace her as “Madame Sophie.” Julia is a petit bourgeois...

(The entire section is 540 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Valentin is a classic Queneau character. His simplicity of spirit is such that he agrees to marry a woman fifteen years his senior, whom he has never seen. Because of practical considerations, he takes the subsequent “honeymoon” by himself and yet never reaches his destination because of a series of adventures. Valentin thinks that when a prostitute invites him to her room, she is merely being friendly, and he gets into more trouble as a result. He is the perfect comic character, cheerfully oblivious to the confusion that he sows around him.

On the other hand, Valentin’s simplicity is a sort of wisdom. His fear of eating oysters leads him to reflect on the nature of life and death. His total lack of jingoistic patriotism keeps him from falling into the war hysteria that surrounds him, and his insight into a variety of human situations makes him a very successful fortune-teller when he takes over for his wife. Valentin spreads mirth around him wherever he goes, but it is always humor with a kernel of profound truth.

Julia is sharp-tongued and extremely quick in her witty repartee. She spends most of the book making puns and verbal allusions with her sister Chantal that comment in an incisive way on the petty faults of her fellow humans. Luckily for Valentin, most of her humor is over his head. Together, the two of them, when they discuss a question or problem, almost invariably arrive at the most outrageous conclusions or solutions. Although Julia’s quick thinking resolves many tricky situations, her schemes always seem to create more.

Chantal and Paul are essentially foils for Valentin and Julia, a more or less normal complement to the other couple’s quirky unpredictability. They aid Julia in her original design on Valentin but end up resenting the fact that Chantal’s mother leaves the haberdashery to Valentin. All through the story, they are too dull to comprehend the deeper sympathy that Valentin evokes in others. Chantal is a good match for Julia’s quick wit, and Paul is a good partner for Valentin, though only a touch less simple than his brother-in-law is.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bree, Germaine, and Margaret Guiton. An Age of Fiction: The French Novel from Gide to Camus, 1957.

Cobb, Richard. Raymond Queneau, 1976.

Guicharnaud, Jacques. Raymond Queneau, 1965.

Shorley, Christopher. Queneau’s Fiction, 1985.

Thiher, Allen. Raymond Queneau, 1985.