The Wild Ass’s Skin Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: La Peau de chagrin, 1831 (English translation, 1896)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Allegory

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Locale: Paris, France

Characters DiscussedRaphael de Valentin

Raphael Wild Ass’s Skin, Thede 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

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

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

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

Mme Gaudin (goh-DA[N]), Raphael’s mother-in-law and erstwhile landlady.

BibliographyKanes, Martin. Balzac’s Comedy of Words. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975. Chapter 3 deals with The Wild Ass’s Skin, exploring the problem of creativity.Pritchett, V. S. Balzac. London: Chatto and Windus, 1973. A chapter on The Wild Ass’s Skin puts the novel into its biographical context.Robb, Graham. Balzac. London: Picador, 1994. A comprehensive biographical and critical study. The Wild Ass’s Skin is discussed in chapter 8, “Absolute Power.”Testa, Carlo. Desire and the Devil: Demonic Contracts in French and European Literature. New York: Peter Lang, 1991. Part one of the study deals with “Balzac’s Laicized Demonism,” including a detailed analysis of The Wild Ass’s Skin.Weber, Samuel. Unwrapping Balzac: A Reading of “La Peau de chagrin.” Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979. The only full-length study of the work.
Categories: Characters