Week 2: Characters

by Brooks Williams

Alex Pritchard

Friend (maybe boyfriend) of Liz Norton. Secondary school teacher (70). He is insulted by Espinoza when Espinoza and Pelletier first meet him in Norton’s apartment (Espinoza calls him “badulaque” (66)). Thinks that “German Literature [is] a scam” (66). Pritchard later tells Pelletier to “beware of the Medusa” (69) in reference to Norton.


A whore to which Pelletier becomes attached. She has a son and a husband, who is a Moroccan and a Muslim (81).

Edwin Johns

Painter who cuts off his own right hand and inserts it into his own painting (52-53). Credited with kicking off an artistic movement — the new decadence or English animalism (52).

Currently resides in a mental institution (the Auguste Demarre Clinic) in Switzerland (87). Has replaced his missing hand with one made of plastic (89).

Visited by Morini, Espinoza and Pelletier on the suggestion of Morini (87-92). Delivers a monologue about coincidence and fate (90). Whispers to Morini why he cut off his hand (91).

The character of Edwin Johns may be loosely based on performance artist Pierre Pinoncelli.

The Gallery Owner

Owner of an unsuccessful gallery/bar/used clothing shop (located on Hyde Park Gate, near the Dutch embassy) where Norton brings Espinoza and Pelletier (87). The gallery/bar/shop is located in his grandmother’s former house. He claims that his grandmother haunts the place (97-98). He formerly lived in the Caribbean, where he learned to make margaritas and worked as a spy.

Rodolfo Alatorre

Young Mexican student/writer who seeks out Norton, Pelletier, Espinoza and Morini at a seminar in Toulouse. During a conversation with Morini, he mentions that a friend (Almendro) had met recently Archimboldi in Mexico (99).

Hector Enrique Almendro (“El Cerdo”)

Essayist, novelist, “cultural official”, friend/mentor to Rodolfo Alatorre. Allegedly meets Archimboldi in a hotel in Mexico City near the airport. Archimboldi may have gotten El Cerdo’s contact information from Mrs. Bubis, who he met at a party in Berlin (103).

Historical Characters

Page 34 Mnemosyne – The personification of memory in Greek mythology

Ulysses – Main character in The Odyssey. Spent ten years getting home after the Trojan War.

Eurylochus – Second in command on Ulysses’s ship in The Odyssey. Portrayed as cowardly and undermining Ulysses.

Zeus – In Greek mythology, Zeus is the king of all the gods.

Prometheus – Stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals. Punished for all eternity, tied to a rock while an eagle eats his liver – every day.

Page 39 Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945) – German politician and head of the Nazi party. Chancellor of Germany from 1934—1945.

Page 41 the Fury – The physical embodiment of ancient gods, portrayed as horrific female figures, sent to punish mortals.

Hecate – Greco-Roman goddess associated with childbirth and nurturing the young, but also with ghosts, witchcraft and ghosts.
Page 52 Emma Waterson – Fictional person.

Page 60 Berthe Morisot (1841 – 1895) – French impressionist painter. Undervalued for over a century because of her sex.

Page 64 Jacob Epstein (1880 – 1956) – American born British sculptor. Pioneered modern sculpture.

Page 69 Medusa – A female monster of Greek mythology. A Gorgon. Anyone that looks at Medusa is instantly turned to stone.

Phorcys – Primodrial sea god of Greek mythology. Father of the Gorgons, husband of Ceto.

Ceto – Primordial sea goddess of Greek mythology. Mother of the Gorgons, wife of Phorcys.

The Gorgons – The children of Phorcys and Ceto. “the term commonly refers to any of three sisters who had hair of living, venomous snakes, and a horrifying gaze that turned those who beheld it to stone. Traditionally, while two of the Gorgons were immortal, Stheno and Euryale, their sister Medusa was not, and was slain by the mythical hero Perseus.”

Hesiod (~8th Century B.C.) – Ancient Greek poet. His work is a major source of Greek mythology.

Stheno – A female monster of Greek mythology. A Gorgon. Sister of Medusa and Euryale.

Euryale – A female monster of Greek mythology. A Gorgon. Sister of Medusa and Stheno.

Perseus – The first mythic hero of Greek mythology. Kills Medusa.

Chrysaor – The brother of Pegasus, son of Poseidon and Medusa. Born from the neck of Medusa when Perseus cut off her head. Often depicted as a winged boar.

Geryon – A giant with one head, three bodies and two arms. The grandson of Medusa, son of Chrysaor.

Pegasus – A winged horse, born from the blood of Medusa.

Page 73 Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) – Argentine writer, known mostly for short stories focusing on fantasy and dream worlds.

Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) – Victorian English novelist. Among the most popular writers of all-time.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894) – Scottish writer. Author of Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Kidnapped (among others).

Page 74 Salman Rushdie (1947 – ) – British Indian novelist. Notable works include Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses.

Valerie Solanas (1936 – 1988) – American radical feminist writer. Attempted to kill Andy Warhol in 1968. Her writings encouraged male gendercide and an all-female society.

Page 76 Anthony Perkins (1932 – 1992) – American actor, famous for playing Normal Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Page 87 Auguste Demarre – Fictional “late nineteenth-century Swiss politician or financier.”

Page 89 Hans Wette – Fictional painter

Page 95 G. K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936) – Influential English writer.

Father Brown – Literary character who appeared in 52 G. K. Chesterton short stories.

Page 96 Filippo Brunelleschi (1377 – 1446) – Italian architect and engineer during the Italian Renaissance

Page 99 Alfonso Reyes (1889 – 1959) – Mexican writer and philosopher.

Sor Juana (1648/51 – 1695) – Mexican writer. Early figure of Mexican literature.

Page 101 Voltaire (1694 – 1778) – French Enlightenment writer, famous for his advocacy of civil liberties.

Page 102 Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 – 1778) – Italian Artist. Produced a set of prints called the Prisons, which influenced Romanticism and Surrealism.

Updates to Existing Entries

Jean-Claude Pelletier

Born 1961. Discovered Archimboldi (D’Arsonval) while studying German literature in Paris, Christmas 1980 at the age of 19 (3). Read Mitzi’s Treasure and then The Garden. Translated D’Arsonval into French in 1983. A professor of German in Paris (by 1986). Translated two other (unnamed) Archimboldi works. “…regarded almost universally as the preeminent authority on Benno von Archimboldi across the length and breadth of France” (4). Experiences a sort of rebirth while translating D’Arsonval. Not unlike the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:22-32). “…first, that his life as he had lived it so far was over; second, that a brilliant career was opening up before him, and that to maintain its glow he had to persist in his determination, in sole testament to that garret.” (5) First met Morini in 1989 at a German literature conference. First met Espinoza in 1990 at a conference. First meets Norton in 1993 or 1994 (12). Realizes he loves Liz Norton (16) and is first to sleep with her after the meetings with Schnell and Mrs. Bubis in 1995 (30). Along with Espinoza, beats down a Pakistani cab driver in London and then steals the cab (73-74). Accompanies Morini and Espinoza to Switzerland to meet Ethan Johns (87-91).

Piero Morini

Born 1956, near Naples. Discovered Archimboldi in 1976. Translated Bifurcaria, Bifurcata to Italian in 1988. Shortly afterwards, published two studies – “one on the role of fate in Railroad Perfection, and the other on the various guises of conscience and guilt in Lethaea, on the surface an erotic novel, and in Bitzius, a novel less than one hundred pages long, similar in some ways to Mitzi’s Treasure…” (6). Also translated Saint Thomas in 1991. Has multiple sclerosis, “suffered [a] strange and spectacular accident that left him permanently wheelchair-bound.” (6) Teaches German literature at the University of Turin. First met Pelletier 1989 at a German literature conference. First met Espinoza in 1990 at a conference. First meets Norton in 1993 or 1994 (12). Goes with Espinoza and Pelletier to Switzerland to find Ethan Johns and ask why he (Johns) cut off his own hand (87-91). He disappears directly after the meeting and goes to London to visit Norton (92-97).

Manuel Espinoza

Younger than Pelletier and Morini (no date of birth given). Originally wanted to be a writer and studied Spanish literature. Had a brief period of interest in Ernst Jünger before becoming interested in German Literature. Completed his doctorate in German literature in 1990. Never translated any German author “since the glory he coveted was of the writer, not the translator.” (6) First met Morini and Pelletier in 1990 at a conference. First meets Norton in 1993 or 1994 (12). Realizes he loves Liz Norton (16) and sleeps with her after the meetings with Schnell and Mrs. Bubis (33-34). Along with Pelletier, beats down a Pakistani cab driver in London and then steals the cab (73-74). Accompanies Morini and Pelletier to Switzerland to meet Ethan Johns (87-91).

Some additional thoughts:

• Bolano infers that in The Sorrows of Young Werther Espinoza would find a “kindrid spirit” (6). As a plot device it infers that Espinoza is chasing a career in writing that he will never have and he ought to just murder that desire and get on with it. At the same time Espinoza’s character is illuminated – he is emotional and likely to perform mellow dramatic acts of passion that have grave consequences. Or maybe not.
• Espinoza seems fundamentally immature. Example – “He also discovered that he was bitter and full of resentment, that he oozed resentment, and that he might easily kill someone, anyone, if it would provide a respite from the loneliness and rain and cold of Madrid.” (7-8) I guess it’s supposed to reflect some kind of Spanish passion, but to me it just feels immature. Rather emo, really.

Liz Norton

Born 1968 in England (9). She is divorced (33). Discovered Archimboldi in 1998 when visiting Berlin – was loaned The Blind Woman by a friend. Later discovered Bitzius in a college library (9). Teaches German literature at a university in London. Not a full professor. Discovered by Pelletier, Morini, and Espinoza via an article in Literary Studies (#46) in 1993 or 1994. Met them around the same time at a conference (12). Has no close friends (44). Sleeps with Pelletier in 1995 (30). Some time afterwards sleeps with Espinoza (33-34). Introduces Ethan Johns to Morini through a story (51-54). In early 1997 she summons Espinoza and Pelletier to London in order to end her romantic involvement with them (57, 59).

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