By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

12. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 355-384

Part Two: A Great Man in Embryo, 25. The battle begins; 26. Dauriat pays a call; 27. A study in the art of recantation; 28. Journalistic grandeurs and servitudes
Furious at having his book of sonnets turned down by Dauriat, Lucien seeks revenge and finds it when Lousteau hands him a copy of Nathan's book and tells him to demolish it with a review. Lucien, who admires the book and likes Nathan, is at first reluctant until Lousteau explains: A second edition of the book is about to be issued by Dauriat. If the review is sufficiently scathing, Dauriat will lose money on the publication. (Nathan will not be financially harmed: He has already received whatever Dauriat has paid him for the rights to the book.)  Lousteau tells him the way to attack the book is "By making every quality a defect," and explains that he should start "by saying it's a fine work." That way he'll disarm the reader who "will regard your criticism as conscientious." Then he should shift the focus of the review to the larger topic of French literary history, and show that Nathan is "an imitator with only a semblance of talent." By setting it against the past, and by "standing out for ideas and style against imagery and verbiage, continuing the Voltairian school and opposing the Anglo-German school," he can "pulverize Nathan whose work, though it contains traits of superior beauty, gives freedom of the city to a literature devoid of ideas."

Lucien sets to the task and in three days produces what Hector Merlin calls "a masterpiece." He also writes another, lighter piece, which demonstrates his versatility. "'Dauriat will be thunderstruck by the article we've just been listening to,' said Lousteau to Lucien. 'You see now, my boy, what a newspaper can do!'" He also tells Lucien that the attack on Châtelet has been successful: "Madame de Bargeton is now definitely known in society as the Cuttle-bone and Châtelet is no longer called anything but Baron Heron." But Nathan has got word of Lucien's  review, and is worried about the harm it might do him.

The next day, Lucien is having lunch with Coralie when Dauriat arrives at her home. Coralie instructs Bérénice to keep him waiting, and when they finally admit the publisher he is ready to pay three thousand francs for Lucien's book as long as Lucien never attacks another of his publications. Lucien replies, "I can't pledge my pen. It belongs to my friends, just as theirs belongs to me." They agree instead that Lucien will give Dauriat fair warning of any future attacks, so he can "forestall them." And Dauriat admits, "Last week I wouldn't have given a fig for your sonnets, but your position today turns them into something rich and rare."

When Dauriat has left, Coralie tells Lucien that this would never have happened if had listened to his "little friends" in the Cénacle and stayed out of journalism. He is a little shocked when she refers to them as "a rare lot of simpletons," but he relishes the income he has received and sends off five hundred francs of it to his mother. And he and Coralie go off to dine with Madame du Val-Noble, where he meets "a whole world of artists and financiers," Rastignac among them, who give him "a wonderful welcome." They then go to the Opera. "Thus Lucien reappeared in triumph in the place where, some months ago, he had had so heavy a fall." He gets some "insolent stares" from some of the men who had mocked him earlier, but when Rastignac pays a visit to Madame d'Espard's box, he sees the Marquise and Madame de Bargeton "eyeing Coralie through their opera-glasses."
Was Lucien arousing some regret in Madame de Bargeton's heart? His mind was preoccupied with this thought: at the sight of the Corinna of Angoulême a desire for vengeance stirred his heart as on the day when, in the Champs-Élysée, she and her cousin had treated him with contempt.
Several days later, Blondet  brings Lucien an invitation to the salon of Madame la Comtesse de Montcornet, at the behest of Châtelet, who wants to make peace with the newspaper. Blondet has also "promised to reconcile Laura and Petrarch, that is to say Madame de Bargeton and Lucien." Lucien is triumphant: "I have them at my feet!" And sets out to write "an article on the Cuttle-Fish and the Heron." As for the visit to Madame de Montcornet's salon, he tells Coralie not to worry: "It's a question, not of love, but of revenge, and I intend it to be complete."

Meanwhile, Nathan has been hurt by the article -- for which Lucien has been paid an unprecedented hundred francs -- and Lousteau is worried that he might take revenge on Lucien: "Nathan's a journalist, he has friends, he could play a nasty trick on you at your first publication." He proposes that Lucien write another article praising Nathan. And when Lucien expresses astonishment that, after having attacked Nathan, they now want him to completely reverse his opinion, "Emile Blondet, Hector Merlin, Etienne Lousteau and Félicien Vernou all cut him short with a burst of laughter." And Blondet tells him, "My dear boy, in literature, every idea has its front and reverse side, and no one can presume to state which side is which." And as Lousteau had done for the first article, Blondet outlines the second, in which Lucien will argue that we are in an age of progress, which Nathan's book demonstrates: "Demolish your previous argument by showing that we're in advance on the eighteenth century."

The first article didn't have Lucien's name on it. It was signed with a C. The second will be signed with an L. And then, Blondet proposes, Lucien will write a third article signed with his own name, critiquing the articles by C and L and proclaiming that "Nathan's work is the finest the period has produced. That's as good as saying nothing at all -- they say it about every book. Your week will have earned you four hundred francs as well as the pleasure of having told the truth somewhere or other. People of sense will agree with C or L or Rubempré, perhaps with all three!" And Coralie likens what Lucien is doing to acting: "Do as I do: make faces at them for their money, and let's live happily."

So Lucien takes to the project, goes to sign the contract with Dauriat "ceding all rights in the manuscript -- without seeing the drawbacks of this," and writes "the terrible article against Châtelet and Madame de Bargeton which he had promised Blondet."
The fact of commanding notice in Paris, having realized its immensity and the difficult of making an impression there, put Lucien in a state of elation which went to his head. 
Two days later, he arrives at the Ambigu theater to review a play and discovers there are no tickets for him. He complains to the stage-manager who says the tickets had been sent to the newspaper and there's nothing he can do for him, but the leading lady recognizes him as "Coralie's lover" and Lucien finds himself sharing a box with the Duc de Rhétoré, whom he had met earlier at Florine's, and the dancer Tullia. The duke tells him that he has "brought two people to despair," meaning Châtelet and Madame de Bargeton, but "when the duke maliciously called him Chardon, he gave himself away by attempting to establish his right to bear the name of Rubempré." The duke advises him to become a royalist and get "a royal ordinance restoring the title and name of your maternal ancestors." He also invites Lucien to dinner.
Lucien did not suspect that a little conspiracy was being woven against him by those who were at that moment suffering from the newspaper attacks, or that Monsieur de Rhétoré had a finger in the pie.... During Florine's supper, the duke had sized up Lucien's character: now he had captured him by playing on his vanity and was practising his diplomatic ability on him.
Lucien writes a scathing review of the play, which appears in the same paper as the article about Madame de Bargeton and Châtelet, but the review has been edited so that "while his witty analysis of it remained intact, a favourable verdict emerged from it." He is furious, but Lousteau explains that the paper has a subscription deal with the theater: "We have to show a great deal of indulgence." When he protests that the theater didn't have a ticket for him, Lousteau promises to show the manager the original article and explain that he had toned it down. Lucien will get plenty of tickets from now on, including someone to whom he can scalp the extras. Lucien is mollified, but still somewhat scandalized at the chicanery involved.

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