The World of the Thibaults Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Les Thibault, 1922-1940: Le Cahier gris, 1922; Le Pénitencier, 1922; La Belle Saison, 1923; La Consultation, 1928; La Sorellina, 1928; La Mort du père, 1929; L’Été 1914, 1936; Épilogue, 1940; English translation, 1939-1941

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Locale: France

Characters DiscussedM. Thibault

M. World of the Thibaults, TheThibault (tee-BOH), an eminent Catholic social worker who has no time for the problems of his own disturbed family. When his son Jacques runs away in revolt against the smug respectability of his father and the dull Thibault household, the bigoted father suspects him, wrongly, of unnatural relations with his companion, a Protestant boy named Daniel de Fontanin. He gets the boy back and puts him into a reformatory that he has founded. M. Thibault is mercifully killed, during an incurable illness, when Antoine and Jacques give him an overdose of morphine.

Jacques Thibault

Jacques Thibault (zhahk), an active youngster whose spirit is nearly broken by the cruel guards at the reformatory. His older brother Antoine, a doctor, helps in his gradual recuperation. Later, repulsed by Jenny de Fontanin, he disappears for three years. He spends part of that time in England. He then goes to Geneva, where he becomes an international socialist and an influential writer working to prevent the outbreak of World War I. Traced through his writing, he is called back as his father is dying. There, he again sees Jenny, and they are lovers until his pacifist duties call him back to Geneva. His plane is wrecked while he is trying to shower pamphlets on the workers and soldiers of France and Germany calling for peace through a general strike and refusal to bear arms. Badly injured and suspected of being a spy, he is shot by an orderly while he is being carried to headquarters for investigation.

Antoine Thibault

Antoine Thibault, the older son, a doctor. He recognizes biographical and family details in a story published by Jacques in a Swiss magazine and summons his brother home during M. Thibault’s last illness. He falls in love with one of his patients, an adventurer named Rachel, the former mistress of Hirsch, a sadistic libertine. Rachel eventually deserts Antoine to follow Hirsch to Africa. A necklace comes back to Antoine to announce her death. Antoine, gassed during the war, dies just before the signing of the armistice.


Gise (zheez), an orphan girl living with the Thibaults. After Jacques disappears, she is the only one confident that he is still alive.

Daniel de Fontanin

Daniel de Fontanin (dahn-YEHL deh fohn-tah-NA[N]), a young Protestant who has an innocent and boyish affection for Jacques Thibault. Later, he finds success as an artist and leads a bohemian life. Desexed by a shell fragment during the war, he afterward spends much of his time assisting at a military hospital and playing with his nephew, young Jean-Paul, the son of his sister Jenny and his dead friend, Jacques Thibault.


Rachel (rah-SHEHL), Antoine Thibault’s mistress, who tries unsuccessfully to end her affair with Hirsch. Eventually, she deserts Antoine and goes to Africa with her former lover.

Jenny de Fontanin

Jenny de Fontanin, the daughter of a staunch Protestant family and the sister of Jacques Thibault’s friend. A shy, frigid girl, she cannot bear to be touched by Jacques. After Antoine Thibault detects that she is suffering from meningitis, she experiences a miraculous faith cure through Pastor Gregory. Later, she meets Jacques, now a mature and self-assured pacifist, and falls in love with him. Her mother, coming home, finds them sleeping together. She plans to go to Geneva with him but gives him up when she realizes that he is dedicated to the pacifist cause. After his death, she bears his son, Jean-Paul.

Madame de Fontanin

Madame de Fontanin, the mother of Daniel and Jenny. Deserted by her husband, she occupies herself in war work as a hospital administrator in Paris.

Jérome de Fontanin

Jérome de Fontanin (zhay-ROHM), her husband, who runs away with Noemie, his cousin. He dies in Vienna, suspected of embezzlement.


Nicole (nee-KOHL), the daughter of Noemie, who comes to live with Madame de Fontanin after her mother goes off with Jérome. Daniel tries in vain to seduce her.


Hirsch, a lecherous, brutal fifty-year-old man who has incestuous relations with his daughter Clara. To protect himself from disgrace, after Clara’s husband learns her secret, Hirsch strangles both and throws their bodies into an Italian lake. He then flees to Africa and sends for Rachel, his former mistress.

Clara Hirsch

Clara Hirsch, who marries Rachel’s brother. When she sends for her father to join her and her husband in Italy, she creates a situation that results in her death.


Meynestrel (may-nehs-TREHL), an international Socialist leader burned to death when the plane from which he and Jacques are distributing antiwar leaflets crashes in France.

BibliographyBoak, Denis. Roger Martin du Gard. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1963. Discusses Martin du Gard’s cyclical novel within the context of humanist philosophy. Boak compares Martin du Gard effectively to existentialist writers and sees this work as symphonic with tragic overtones. Reinforces the connection to Pierre Corneille on the basis of related transcendental qualities.Brosman, Catharine Savage. Roger Martin du Gard. Boston: Twayne, 1968. Analyzes Martin du Gard’s artistic vision and places him squarely in the nineteenth century tradition because of his use of omniscient narration and authorial interjections, by which he produces a literature of ideas. Calls attention to Martin du Gard’s style for its naturalness, simplicity, and spontaneity.Gilbert, John. “Symbols of Continuity and the Unity of Les Thibault.” In Image and Theme: Studies in Modern French Fiction, edited by W. M. Frohock. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969. Gilbert discusses the structural unity of The World of the Thibaults and makes a compelling case for the coherence of the cyclical novel, which has elsewhere been judged to be formless.O’Nan, Martha, ed. Roger Martin du Gard Centennial, 1881-1981. Brockport: State University of New York, 1981. This special edition of nine essays is wide-ranging and comprehensive. Almost all articles refer extensively to The World of the Thibaults. The themes discussed include the writer as phoenix, the ethics of ambiguity, the psychology of revolution, and fiction as testimony.Schalk, David. Roger Martin du Gard: The Novelist and History. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967. In this uneven study, Schalk investigates the sudden change in Martin du Gard’s literary objectives, which led him to incorporate contemporary history into fiction. Overestimates Martin du Gard’s historical perspective and offers observations that seem, at times, coincidental. Includes an impressive collection of critical comments from other scholars.
Categories: Characters