A Very Long Engagement

by Sebastien Japrisot

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1695

Ange Bassignano
Ange Bassignano, also known as Common Law, is one of the five condemned French prisoners. He is twenty-six years old and handsome, but not of good character. He is regarded as sly, deceitful, and quarrelsome, and he has no occupation other than as a pimp. However, his girlfriend, the prostitute Tina Lombardi, is devoted to him. He was serving a five-year sentence for assault when he was plucked from prison and made to join the army. He is in the army for three months before he is condemned to death.

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Bénédicte is the wife of Sylvain. She helps to take care of Mathilde.

See Benjamin Gordes.

Kléber Bouquet
Kléber Bouquet, nicknamed the Eskimo because he once went adventuring in Alaska, is the oldest of the five condemned French prisoners. He is thirty-seven and a carpenter from Paris. He was falsely accused of self-mutilation and has thus been condemned to death for something he did not do. He is close friends with Little Louis and Corporal Gordes, although he and Gordes quarrel fiercely because Kléber has an affair with Gordes's wife, which Gordes himself encouraged him to do. At Bingo, the Eskimo is killed by machine-gun fire from an enemy plane, but not before he brings the plane down with a grenade.

Urbain Chardolet
Urbain Chardolet is a corporal in the French army who escorts the condemned prisoners. He dies from injuries he receives in July 1918 in a battle at Champagne.

Common Law
See Ange Bassignano.

Madame Veuve Paolo Conte
Madame Conte is Tina Lombardi's unofficial godmother and has known her since she was a baby. Madame Conte is just over fifty years old and not in good health. She writes to Mathilde from her home in Marseilles, telling of what she knows about Tina, whose whereabouts are unknown. She dies in 1923.

See Jean Etchervery.

Jean Desrochelles
Jean Desrochelles is a corporal in the army who is killed at Bingo. Manech assumes Desrochelles's identity following the war.

Mathieu Donnay
Mathieu Donnay is Mathilde's rich father.

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Mathilde Donnay
Mathilde Donnay was paralyzed by a fall at the age of three. She meets Manech when she is ten years old and their love blooms immediately. Mathilde comes from a wealthy family; she spends much of her time at her parents' vacation home in Capbreton, where she is cared for by Bénédicte and Sylvain. She is sixteen years old when Manech goes off to war, and seventeen when Manech faces his ordeal in no-man's-land. During the war, she teaches the children from a nearby town whose teacher has joined the army.

Mathilde is also a talented artist. She paints huge canvases of flowers, which after the war are exhibited in galleries across France. She loves cats and owns six of them.

After the war, Mathilde clings to the hope that Manech survived, even though all the evidence seems to suggest he did not. She is a resourceful woman and never gives up on her quest to find out what really happened that day. Like many women who lost their fiancés during World War I, Mathilde wants to marry Manech posthumously, although this feat proves impossible since Manech was too young to get married on his own.

Paul Donnay
Paul Donnay is Mathilde's older brother, for whom she has little affection.

The Eskimo
See Kléber Bouquet.

Daniel Esperanza
Daniel Esperanza, a sergeant in the French army, was in charge of the five prisoners as they were taken to the front. He ends the war as a regimental sergeant-major and is awarded the Croix de Guerre. After the war, he contracts Spanish influenza. When Mathilde meets him, he is dying in a hospital. He is forty-three years old but looks sixty. He dies shortly after their meeting.

Jean Etchervery
Jean Etchervery, also known as Manech and Cornflower, is one of the condemned French prisoners. He is the fiancé of Mathilde and is nineteen years old. As a young man he was athletic and brave, a bit of a daredevil. In the army, he endured a traumatic experience when a torpedo exploded and he was drenched in another man's blood and scraps of flesh, leaving him fearful of the war. He deliberately gets himself shot in the hand because he wants a leave of absence to visit Mathilde. As a result of the injury, his right hand is amputated. By the time he is marched to the war front, he has almost lost his mind, and the expression on his face is a fixed smile. Once cast out into no-man's-land, he builds a snowman with his one hand.

Fancy Mouth
See Captain Etienne Favourier.

Captain Etienne Favourier
Captain Etienne Favourier is also known as Fancy Mouth because of his colorful language. He does not approve of sending the prisoners into no-man's-land. He is killed during the battle at Bingo.

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Francis Gaignard
Francis Gaignard, nicknamed Six-Sous, is one of the five condemned French prisoners. He is a corporal who has been reduced to the ranks. Six-Sous is a welder by trade, and he is also a passionate socialist and trade unionist. His views were influenced by an incident in 1908, in which he was wounded when cavalry attacked a group of striking workers. Six-Sous is a pacifist who hopes that one day the working men of all nations will refuse to fight in wars. When he is tossed into no-man's-land, he shouts to the Germans that war is a disgrace and everyone should put down their weapons. He is shot by a German soldier.

Théràse Gaignard
Théràse Gaignard is the wife of Six-Sous. After the war, she works as a laundress near Paris. She receives a pension and raises her two little daughters herself.

Benjamin Gordes
Benjamin Gordes is one of the two corporals who escort the condemned prisoners. He is also known as Biscuit. He is a quiet and decent man, rather sad but well thought of by others. At the age of twenty, Gordes becomes a widower with four adopted children. He has adopted one more child by the time he marries Elodie. He and Kléber have been friends since 1910 and are in the same regiment during the war. They quarrel over Gordes's wife Elodie. Gordes hates the war and takes to drinking. He is killed at Bingo going to aid his friend Kléber.

Elodie Gordes
Elodie Gordes is Benjamin Gordes's wife. Before she married Gordes, she had a daughter by a man who quickly deserted her. Elodie has an affair with Kléber, at the insistence of her husband, who wants her to have a sixth child so he can have permission to leave the army. But she does not become pregnant by Kléber.

Tina Lombardi
Tina Lombardi is the companion of Common Law (she calls him Nino), whom she has known since she was thirteen or fourteen. She had a difficult childhood. Her mother died while giving birth to her and her father was a drunkard. She became a prostitute. After the war, she searches for the truth of what happened to Nino. She hates all the military officers who had a part in his death, and she kills several of them. She is arrested, convicted, and executed.

See Jean Etchervery.

See Ange Bassignano.

Benoît Notre-Dame
Benoît Notre-Dame, nicknamed That Man, is one of the five prisoners condemned to death. A large, thirty-year-old farmer from the Dordogne, he is a loner who keeps his troubles to himself. He is a good soldier and does what is necessary to survive. On one occasion, he strangles an officer in his company. He is patient, obstinate, and cunning.

Mariette Notre-Dame
Mariette Notre-Dame is the twenty-year-old wife of That Man. When she hears that he has been killed, she sells their farm and moves away with her young son. She is seen in February 1917 when she rents a furnished room, but after that her whereabouts are a mystery.

Veronique Passavant
Veronique Passavant is the Eskimo's girlfriend. Eskimo refers to her in his letter as Véro. In 1916, after Kléber has an affair with Elodie Gordes, Veronique walks out on him and will not speak to him again. In spite of that incident, the love between them continues.

Germain Pire
Germain Pire is a private investigator hired by Mathilde to unlock the mystery of what happened to Manech.

Aristide Pommier
Aristide Pommier is a cook in Manech's regiment. He has known Manech since they were boys. Mathilde dislikes him. After the war, Pommier goes to live in Quebec and writes to Mathilde with some information about what happened to the five soldiers.

Célestin Poux
Célestin Poux is the young soldier known as the Terror of the Armies. He is known for his resourcefulness and determination in keeping his platoon supplied with food. He is extremely popular with his comrades. After the war, he serves as a corporal in the army of occupation across the Rhine, and then for a while he works at a garage. He loves his motorbike and does not like to stay in one place for too long. Eventually Mathilde makes contact with him and, during a long stay at her house, he tells her all that he knows about the events of the fateful weekend at Bingo.

Pierre-Marie Rouviàre
Pierre-Marie Rouviàre is the family lawyer who assists Mathilde in her investigation. He is skeptical that the incident with the prisoners ever happened but he agrees to investigate.

Lieutenant Jean-Baptiste Santani
Lieutenant Jean-Baptiste Santani is the medical officer who treats the five condemned prisoners. He is killed two days later in an enemy bombardment.

See Francis Gaignard.

Sylvain is a middle-aged man married to Bénédicte. The couple looks after Mathilde.

Louis Teyssier
Louis Teyssier is a friend of the Eskimo and a former boxer. He owns a bar, where Mathilde visits him. He gives her information about Veronique, the Eskimo, and Gordes.

That Man
See Benoît Notre-Dame.

Heidi Weiss
Heidi Weiss is an Austrian woman whose brother was a German soldier killed at Bingo. She meets Mathilde and gives her information about what happened.

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