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Character Profiles for The Devil Comes to Bonn

By Jennifer Harris

Stella is the main protagonist, and partly an antagonist in her own story. She unravels when she encounters aggressive Professor Costa. Despite her high education and success in life, she has few inner resources in the face of moral collapse. She tries to be a good citizen, and is fervidly supportive of historical justice, but her own sense of self is fragile after years of misogyny. Is it ever morally acceptable to take the law into your own hands?

Hildegard is the secondary protagonist and courageously accepts what the universe thrusts at her, but the price of her acceptance is high. She struggles to develop a future for herself after World War II. Her agonising experiences permeate her life so that she thinks nothing of sitting next to a stranger in a debilitating Bonn heat wave and telling her story. How do we free ourselves of past ordeals?

Costa is the antagonist, a greedy, nasty professor who exploits almost everybody. Perhaps he has a charitable side?

Erik is the kindly manager of an architectural practice where Hildegard works in the 1950s, helping to rebuild shattered Germany. He fought with Kurt in the Resistance and appears years later to tell Hildegard what happened to her husband. He becomes her long-time friend.

Georgia is a minor antagonist, a history colleague of Stella and a spy for the university management. Like Martha and Eva who are antagonists to Hildegard, she has little respect for sisterly support.

Justine is the editor of a new history journal and a generous, supportive long-time friend and colleague of Stella. Alarmed, she watches the transformation of Stella. Is there a time to terminate a friendship?

Kurt, Hildegard’s husband, is a shadowy figure. We see him reacting to Hildegard, and also in Erik’s story years later. He is brave but foolhardy, taking on too much for a young man in a world of terror. He is idealistic and committed to a Nazi-free Germany but forgets what duties he owes his wife. Who should take priority? Hildegard or Germany?

Neo offers us a hint of Hildegard’s post-war life, he is an international classical pianist from

Botswana. He is devoted to Hildegard and calls her ‘mother’. Despite Hildegard’s apparent obsession with the past, was she able to make a good life?

Peter, Stella’s husband, poses slippery moral challenges. He is a good person, a faithful father and husband and much loved by his patients in his medical practice, but his sexism is so entrenched that he is unaware of it. How do you evaluate a marriage that is both loving and abusive?

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