A Burnt-Out Case

A Burnt-Out Case Character List


A famous architect grown disillusioned with his vocation and his life in general. Querry is famous for building cathedrals and chapels, though his plans were never followed properly (they were inevitably "improved" with crosses and stained-glass and the other tried-and-true trappings of faith). Nevertheless, his religious architecture earned him a reputation as a particularly pious man. Querry, who is at least an agnostic if not an atheist, finds this presumption of godliness too much to bear. Burnt-out with life, he travels to Africa -- the most remote destination at the airport during his spur-of-the-moment escape -- with the intention of burying himself somewhere he cannot be found.

Doctor Colin

The leprologist in charge of the leproserie where Querry ends up staying. A firm atheist, Colin believes in the possibility of the evolutionary progress of love and morality. His wife has been dead for many years when the story opens, leaving Doctor Colin unattached to anything but the pursuit of his medical profession. He becomes Querry's dearest friend in the course of the story, a man devoted to understanding and alleviating the famous man's crushing sense of ennui. He is also the only character in the novel that can be said legitimately to understand Querry's problem.


Rycker is the manager of a palm-oil plant outside of Luc and the primary villain of the novel. Rycker used to be a seminary student, and is impossibly sanctimonious and self-righteous. He provides much of the novel's comic relief with his ludicrous grandstanding. At the same time, he is the darkest force in the book, a lecherous hypocrite keeping his young wife in jealous thralls while berating her for her inferior godliness. Rycker is obsessed with Querry's celebrity -- an obsession which drives him to publicize the architect's presence in Africa and to fabricate a deep spiritual kinship between himself and Querry.


Marie, Rycker's wife, is meek, childish, and far too young for her husband. Having spent her girlhood in a convent, Marie is completely unschooled in the ways of society. Rycker piously interferes with every aspect of her life -- who she sees, how she behaves, what she reads. Most tragically, though, it is clear that Rycker's primary reason for taking her as a wife is for his sexual gratification. He wishes to have sex whenever he wants without penalty of sin. Thus, Marie comes off as little more than an innocent, smothered concubine. Eventually, after meeting the much more agreeable Querry, Marie develops a sense of the poorness of her lot and decides to escape Rycker's clutches if possible.


An obese, scheming, cynical reporter who writes popular articles about Querry casting him as a reclusive modern-day saint. Parkinson is a grotesque figure, comparable to Rycker in his over-the-top self-importance, but much more intelligent and self-aware than Rycker. Parkinson knows that he is corrupt, a fact that makes Querry more inclined to speak openly to him.

Deo Gratias

A leper who has been cured but has lost all of his fingers and toes. He is a true "burnt-out case," one scarred and numbed psychologically as a result of his leprosy, and as such he serves as a metaphorically rich companion for Querry. His physical burnt-out state corresponds to Querry's mental state. Their kinship becomes closely linked one night, when Querry finds Deo Gratias trapped in a bog outside the leproserie and waits until morning with him.

The Superior

The priest in charge of the Order at the leproserie. The Superior argues with Querry and Doctor Colin about the nature of the Catholic world-view, even transposing these debates into his sermons.

Father Thomas

An especially "enthusiastic" priest, racked by doubts, who collaborates with Rycker and Parkinson to cast Querry as a saint. He suffers terribly from a fear of the dark -- a fear which seems to suggest deeper theological anxieties. After spending a short while at a seminary, Father Thomas returns with a changed, pompous bearing. He is primarily attached to the external trappings of Catholicism and spends his time fretting about the Africans' Catechism lessons rather than their leprosy or starvation. As with all of the sanctimonious characters in the novel, Father Thomas is horribly weak and fearful beneath the melodrama of his piety.

Father Joseph

A sympathetically portrayed priest.

Father Paul

A priest.

Brother Philippe

A monk at the Order.

Father Jean

A priest with a fondness for films and comedies.

The captain

The man who pilots the Bishop's boat. He guides Querry to the leproserie.

Mme Guelle

A society woman of Luc.

Mme Cassin

The wife of the director of Public Works in Luc.

The Governor

The governor of Luc.

The Bishop

Director of the diocese. Lives in Luc.

Mother Agnes

The nun-in-command.