If on a Winter's Night a Traveler Characters

Italo Calvino

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The Narrator

The Narrator, who is unnamed and physically undescribed. The Narrator may be a single person or as many as eleven different writers, each the author of a separate novel, including the encompassing book (supposedly written by Italo Calvino). Each of the novels is told by a person who might plausibly be called the Narrator. The Prime Narrator is the author of the book that enfolds the other ten, and his main theme is the relationship between writers and readers. He is an open and friendly fellow, addressing the Reader (another character) directly, giving hints and directions as to how and why a perceptive reader reads. He points out the novelistic tricks of the other writers, but he himself uses these same devices, displaying and explaining them as the book progresses. In a sense, the Narrator constructs the novel as the reader watches. While he constructs the novel, the Narrator participates in the reactions of his reader. He is amused, baffled, irritated, and intrigued by the devices that the subsidiary authors use. There is an inescapable air of illusion about the entire work, and the Narrator, for all his honest appearance, is a sly and devious character. Within the novel, there are ten more novels and ten more narrators, and it appears that all these narrators are variants of the Narrator. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, the first novel-within-a-novel, has the same title as Calvino’s book but is actually a story of espionage. It has become confused in printing with another novel, Outside the Town of Malbork, by Polish writer Tazio Bazakbal. It appears that this novel in turn has been mixed with a Cimmerian story, Leaning from the Steep Slope, by Ukko Ahti. That appearance is an illusion, for the novel seems to be a Cimbric one, penned by Vorts Jiljandi, with the title Without Fear of Wind or Vertigo. At this point, the split Narrator splits again, introducing Ermes Marana, a shadowy translator and literary agent provocateur. Marana seems to be a dark version of the Narrator, practicing plagiarism and deceit to produce the works that next appear: Looks Down in the Gathering Shadow (Regarde en bas dans l’épaisseur des ombres) by the almost unknown Belgian author Bertrand Vandervelde, and two confusingly titled works by best-selling novelist Silas Flannery, In a Network of Lines That Enlace and In a Network of Lines That Intersect. Flannery—who is yet another avatar of the Narrator—provides pages from his diary, another kind of book. The Narrator reveals that at least one of the Flannery books is almost certainly a translation by Marana of a Japanese work, On a Carpet of Leaves Illuminated by the Moon, by Takakumi Ikoka. Once more, this novel gives way to yet another one: Around an Empty Grave, by Latin American writer Calixto Bandera. It in turn fades into the penultimate novel of the entire series, What Story Down There Awaits Its End? by Slavic author Anatoly Anatolin. Only then does the Narrator return and bring the enfolding novel to its close. Throughout the novel, the Narrator has been the guide of the Reader; sometimes a wise and avuncular host, sometimes a sly and teasing jester, the Narrator embodies the key aspects of authorship—its talent to entertain and its ability to mystify.

The Reader

The Reader, a sort of Everyman, a person of indeterminate age, although clearly an adult male, who is unmarried...

(The entire section is 1424 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Italo Calvino’s two Readers, man and woman, reflect his previous attachment to allegory and fable. The Reader aggressively pursues the elusive complete novel and presses forward to resolve the confusion of the abortive novels to his own satisfaction. Concurrently he is pursuing Ludmilla, the Other Reader, carefully soliciting her telephone number at their first meeting and striving to know her better, although only at the end acknowledging that he wants her as his mate. Ludmilla represents the feminine approach to fiction and to life. She appreciates the “driving force” of a good novel and is content simply “to observe its own growth, like a tree, an entangling, as if of branches and leaves.” Throughout the book, the woman reader, whether Ludmilla or an ideal reader imagined by one of the fictional authors of the aborted novels, is presented as receptive, unwilling to impose prejudgments, ready to follow where the story leads. As the Reader’s beloved, Ludmilla responds decorously to his advances and eventually accepts him as husband.

The real readers of the book, whether male or female, are invited to identify with the (male) Reader, but it soon becomes clear that the true reader is a hermaphrodite. The Reader’s and Other Reader’s efforts complement each other, and their marriage is the logical resolution of their quest for an integral reading experience.

Ludmilla’s sister, Lotaria, seems to represent the critical mentality...

(The entire section is 548 words.)