Raphael de Valentin
Raphael de Valentin (rah-fa-EHL deh vah-leh[n]-TA[N]), a reckless young man who learns that one must pay for everything in life. A poor, struggling law student and writer, he finds a wild ass’s skin with magic powers in an antique shop in Paris. The skin grants all his wishes but shrinks in size with each wish; when it disappears, the owner dies. Raphael uses the magic powers to find material happiness with money, food, drink, and women. The skin keeps shrinking, however, and as it does he becomes unhappy again. He finds a brief respite when he marries his former landlady’s daughter, but death approaches inexorably.
Rastignac (rahs-teen-YAHK), an adventurer and gambler. A friend of Raphael de Valentin, he finds work for Raphael as a hack writer and editor by introducing him to influential friends, including Countess Foedora. On occasion, he gambles on Raphael’s account, winning large sums of money for him.
Pauline de Valentin
Pauline de Valentin, Raphael’s wife, whom he marries shortly before his death. Pauline’s first appearance is as the daughter of Raphael’s landlady. Pauline admires him and does household chores for him; she even gives him money from her little hoard. When she meets Raphael later, she is rich, her long-lost father, an army captain believed lost in Siberia, having returned home with a fortune. She tries to commit suicide by strangling herself when she sees her husband dying.
Foedora (few-doh-RAH), a mysterious countess. She is a widow but refuses to marry a second time or take a lover, much to the disappointment of Raphael, who loves her passionately.
Emile (ay-MEEL), a friend to whom Raphael tells the story of his unhappy life. Emile merely laughs at his friend’s troubles.
Mme Gaudin (goh-DA[N]), Raphael’s mother-in-law and erstwhile landlady.