Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Lars Gustafsson

Lars Gustafsson (lahrz guhs-TAHF-shuhn), a visiting professor of Scandinavian literature at the University of Texas. Sharing, not coincidentally, both the author’s name and profession, the professor reveals that he is glad to have escaped his native Sweden so that he can divide his time between playing tennis in the hot Texas sun and delivering popular lectures at the university. Gustafsson’s indolent existence is threatened by the problems presented by two graduate students.

Doobie Smith

Doobie Smith, the professor’s favorite student, an expert on nineteenth century European philosophers. Blonde, blue-eyed, and sensuously plump, Doobie reminds the professor of Friedrich Nietzsche’s beloved Lou Salomé. Theoretically a committed Nietzschean, Doobie reverts to her fundamentalist Baptist roots when she discovers that her role as one of the Rhine Maidens in the student production of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold is jeopardized by her refusal to sleep with the conductor. Outraged, Doobie enlists Professor Gustafsson’s help in defending her honor.


Bill, a graduate student who has unearthed from the university library a book by Zygmunt I. Pietziewzskoczsky, an obscure Polish writer. Pietziewzskoczsky’s book, Memoires d’un chimiste, if authenticated, will force a reevaluation of August Strindberg’s Inferno. Tall, black, and intense, Bill disrupts the professor’s graduate seminar when he theorizes that Strindberg’s so-called Inferno Crisis is not a product of the author’s mad delusions, as Strindberg experts maintain, but stems from a real conspiracy of Polish exiles who were trying to find out the results of Strindberg’s...

(The entire section is 736 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Since the narrator-protagonist of The Tennis Players has the same name as the author, and a photograph of the author (playing tennis) appears on the front cover of the book, the novel must be considered to be to some extent autobiographical. Yet the events are at once so bizarre and so amusing that it is clear that the characters are fictional. In his lecture on “The Wagner Case,” the professor asks his students the meaning of Nietzsche’s complaint against Wagner when Nietzsche makes the following comment: “Now the musician becomes an actor; his art develops more and more into a talent for lying.” In The Tennis Players, the writer becomes an actor and gives himself the starring role in his own novel. Gustafsson has said: “My writing is mainly an inventory of the different layers of lies and truth in the society where I live.” It seems, therefore, that Gustafsson would add to Nietzsche’s phrase that as the actor delves into his psyche he also develops a talent for discovering the truth.

None of the other characters is well developed and each is seen only in relation to Professor Gustafsson. Their interior lives are never probed. For example, Bill, the graduate student whose discovery of the memoirs of an unknown chemist threatens to disrupt the entire body of criticism of August Strindberg, is never given a last name. Of his physical description, the reader is told only that Bill is black, tall, skinny, and excitable....

(The entire section is 449 words.)