Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, a writer who has recently returned to Vienna after twenty-five years in London. He is disgusted with himself for having accepted an invitation from the Auersbergers, met by chance in the street and well known to him in the 1950’s. He had hoped to make a clean break with his artistic past, which drove him to a nervous breakdown. He observes his fellow guests, many of whom he already had seen at the funeral of a suicide, Joana, that afternoon, while they were all waiting for the guest of honor, a famous actor. On leaving the Mozarteum in the 1950’s, the narrator had had close emotional and artistic ties with Jeannie Billroth, also present and now a celebrated writer, before turning to the Auersbergers and Joana. He feels hatred for them all now for setting him on the artistic path through life. The narrator is asleep when the actor arrives, and his behavior is ungracious throughout, but by the end he takes a kinder view of Vienna.

Jeannie Billroth

Jeannie Billroth, a celebrated writer. She is the Austrian Virginia Woolf, according to the narrator, a writer of trash who has sold herself for state subsidies. In her youth, she was the first to take the narrator’s poetry seriously, so that inevitably they now loathe each other, and he can note that she has grown fat and ugly. At Joana’s funeral, she takes a collection to help with expenses but is generally abused for tastelessness. That evening, she addresses a naïve question to the actor and has to endure further insults.

Elfriede Slukal

Elfriede Slukal, professionally known as Joana, an...

(The entire section is 677 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The characters in Thomas Bernhard’s novel have significance only in their relationship to the narrator’s past. The two young writers, almost unseen and unheard in the background, are viewed as types, simply artistically ambitious people whom Herr Auersberger had always attracted to his home and into his bedroom. Auersberger recognizes the type so readily because he had himself once played the role. As the centerpiece of an Auersberger party, the actor, too, has typological rather than personal meaning for the narrator, although he had seen the actor perform onstage many years before. Recalling this performance leads into a litany of complaints about actors, particularly those at the Burgtheater, and about this revered establishment of Viennese cultural life itself, which he calls a “place for the destruction of writers.”

Viewed through the misanthropic eye of the narrator, only Joana appears in a favorable light. Jeannie and Anna Schreker, a teacher at a Gymnasium, are writers with local talents but international aspirations who have been inflated by the state cultural apparatus. Long ago, they sold their artistic souls to a bureaucracy that has, in turn, rewarded them with official prizes and honors. Joana, a frustrated dancer, channeled her creative energies into building the reputation of her husband, whose artistic career blossomed with her help. Her husband, however, proved ungrateful and fled to Mexico with another woman.


(The entire section is 405 words.)