By Charles Matthews

Monday, June 7, 2010

10. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 328-343

Part Two: A Great Man in Embryo, 20. Last visit to the Cénacle; 21. A variety of journalist; 22. Boots can change one's way of life
Lucien can't help feeling a little guilty about betraying the ideals of the Cénacle, especially when he reads the masterly job they have done editing his novel:  "From chapter to chapter, the skilful and devoted pen of these great but as yet unknown men had changed dross into rich ore." The work they have done on the book "taught him more about literature and art than his four years of reading, comparison and study had done." So he faces them with dread, knowing, for example, "that, if Daniel had loved Coralie, he would have refused to share her with Camusot."

And sure enough, he is met with dismay when they learn that he's chosen journalism -- they already know it from having read his review in the newspaper. Léon Giraud tries to persuade him by saying that they "are going to bring out a journal in which neither truth nor justice will ever be outraged, in which we shall disseminate doctrines useful to humanity." But Lucien plays the skeptic: "'You won't have a single subscriber,' Lucien interjected with Machiavellian malice." In the end, he realizes "that he had been clasped to the heart of his true friends for the last time."

He returns to his room, where he finds Coralie in tears at the sight of his desolate living situation. The next day, he finds that the deal has gone through and Lousteau is now the editor of the newspaper. Florine congratulates Lucien on his good luck: "How many insignificant young people we see dragging along in Paris for years without getting an article into a paper!" He and Lousteau go to see Félicien Vernou, whom they find in a flat with his fat wife and noisy children, an explanation for Vernou's tendency to "resent other people's success and be discontented with everything while still remaining discontented with himself." And at one point Lucien makes a casual remark which turns Vernou into a "mortal enemy." When he tells Lousteau to drop him off at Coralie's, Lousteau mocks him:
"Ah! we're in love," said Lousteau. "It's a mistake! Do with Coralie what I do with Florine: treat her as a housekeeper, but be as free as a mountain goat!"
"You'd bring the saints to damnation!" said Lucien, laughing. 
"Demons are past being damned," Lousteau replied." 

He finds Camusot at Coralie's, both of them celebrating an extended engagement she has just received at the Gymnase theater. But then Camusot notices Lucien's boots, recognizing them as the ones Coralie claimed were hers. And Coralie announces defiantly that the boots Camusot had seen in her room were Lucien's, and that he had been hiding in her closet. Lucien decides to stand by her, and proclaims his love for Coralie, who tells Camusot that he can take back everything he has given her: "I prefer poverty with him to millions with you." Lucien, who has just seen the Vernou household, is not so sanguine: "A cold shudder ran down Lucien's back at the prospect of having a woman, an actress and a household on his hands." But fortunately Camusot gives in: "'Stay here and keep everything, Coralie,' said the merchant in a weak voice expressive of heart-felt grief." But he predicts that "it won't be long before you are living in penury. Whatever great talents this gentleman may possess, they won't be enough to provide for you."

When Camusot leaves, they take stock of their potential income, and although Lucien realizes it can't possibly be enough for the style of life Coralie has become accustomed to, he gives in:
He would have preferred to leave Coralie her freedom rather than to be pitch-forked into the obligations which such a union entails, but she was looking so beautiful, so shapely, so alluring that he was captivated by the picturesque aspects of this Bohemian life, and threw down the gauntlet to Fortune.

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