Beatrice And Virgil Summary

Yann Martel

Beatrice and Virgil

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Beatrice And Virgil Summary

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Beatrice and Virgil (2010), an allegorical novel by Canadian writer, Yann Martel, looks at representations of the Holocaust through the eyes of a novelist who is introduced to two taxidermy animals—Beatrice and Virgil. Martel is the internationally bestselling author of novels including Life of Pi, and he’s a Man Booker Prize-winner. He studied philosophy before becoming a writer, and his studies are reflected in his work. Beatrice and Virgil was, however, not well received by critics or general readers.

The protagonist is a man called Henry L’Hote. The book isn’t divided into chapters but is, instead, written in a dramatic format, so it reads like a play within a novel.

Henry is a novelist who wrote one bestselling novel but fails to sell another. He pitches a book about the Holocaust to his publishers, but they’re not interested in it. He can’t explain the concept properly, and he can’t confirm whether he’ll write it as fiction or nonfiction. His publishers aren’t impressed and don’t think they can sell a concept even the writer can’t define. They tell him to come up with something else.

Henry’s devastated because he wants to write about the Holocaust. He’s angry that he didn’t capture it fairly and that he blew his chance to write this great work. He doesn’t want to write anymore, so he moves to a new city and finds things to fill his time, including music, a theatre group, and pets.

Life is good for him—his wife, Sarah, becomes pregnant, and he gets a job in a café. He teaches music groups, including the clarinet, and he also helps with an amateur theatre group. However, in the background, he can’t stop thinking about the Holocaust and the book he won’t be able to publish.

Although he’s only published one book, Henry gets a lot of fan mail, and he still answers it. One letter catches his attention. The letter is from a taxidermist, which immediately makes Henry curious. The man tracks him down because he wants guidance and help with his own writing. This taxidermist is struggling to write a play about two main characters—a donkey called Beatrice and a monkey called Virgil.

Henry is reluctant to help at first because he’s lost confidence in his own abilities; also, he’s not a playwright. However, he can’t stay away from writing for long and decides to help. He’s also taken by the fact that he and the taxidermist share a first name and write about animals with human characteristics.

The taxidermist explains the plot—Beatrice and Virgil must find ways to come to terms with the horrors they’ve endured in their past, and they don’t know where to begin. Henry doesn’t know what to make of this, particularly since the taxidermist won’t give him much more information than this. The taxidermist gives him only enough information for Henry to work out he’s telling a story connected to or inspired by the Holocaust.

The taxidermist doesn’t tell him anything about his own life, his background, or how he came to be a playwright. However, Henry sees that he and the taxidermist are on the same wavelength; he takes it as a sign he’ll get to write about the Holocaust after all. It doesn’t take long, however, before Henry suspects there’s more to the taxidermist than he sees at first. The way he wants to tell the story, and the content he includes, makes Henry think he has first-hand experience controlling a concentration camp.

The taxidermist denies this, of course, but relations between them sour. Henry doesn’t understand why the taxidermist needs his help, because he obviously has a clear idea of how to write the play. Before Henry can dwell on this any further, his pets, a dog and a cat, both die. He’s upset and frustrated that he couldn’t save them; he feels his life is falling apart.

Tensions reach a peak at this point, and Henry takes his temper out on the taxidermist. The taxidermist only offers him more scenes to help write, and Henry tries to focus. However, he sees that the taxidermist was, in fact, complicit in the atrocities of the Holocaust; Henry turns violent.

Before Henry can do any damage, the taxidermist stabs him. Henry survives and leaves to get help. He’s going to alert authorities and get medical attention. The taxidermist watches him but doesn’t try to impede him. Then he sets fire to his taxidermy shop, killing himself.

Henry recovers from his stab wound but, mentally, he’s very confused. He can’t remember much about the play, and he struggles to recreate any of it. All he can do is what the taxidermist suggested—finish one scene and explain it’s his first completed work since being rejected.

Beatrice and Virgil has been subject to much criticism for trivializing the Holocaust, though some argue Martel merely shows us how impossible it is to write about.