By Charles Matthews

Thursday, June 10, 2010

13. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 384-396

Part Two: A Great Man in Embryo, 29. The playwrights' banker; 30. A journalist's christening party
Lucien and Lousteau go to see the claque leader Braulard, who turns out to be a gentleman (Lucien is shocked that Lousteau calls him "monsieur") of substance with a "fine-looking house" and an income of twenty thousand francs, although
To Lucien he looked like a working-class man grown rich: a coarse face, two very astute eyes, the hands of a professional claqueur, a complexion over which orgies had flowed like rain on the roof-tops, pepper-and-salt hair and a somewhat choked voice.
When he recognizes Lucien, Braulard thinks they have come about the claque for Coralie and tells him not to worry, but Lousteau informs him that it's really about his handling of the extra tickets Lucien is given for the theaters where he reviews. Braulard is happy to make a deal for scalping them, and in the conversation reveals some of the tricks he uses both as scalper and as claqueur for Coralie: "Listen: for her I'll have men posted in the gallery who'll make little hums of approval in order to start applause. That's a manoeuvre which gives an actress a send-off." As they leave Braulard's, they encounter "the evil-smelling squad of claqueurs and ticket-touts" waiting for him to give them their assignments.
"It's hard," answered Lucien as they returned to his rooms, "to keep one's illusions about anything in Paris. Everything is taxed, everything is sold, everything is manufactured, even success." 
Well, he should know. For he throws a large party celebrating his own manufactured success to which he not only invites the large company of journalists and publishers he has lately acquired, but also the sharers of his and Lousteau's mistresses, Matifat and Camusot, and "his friends of the Cénacle." Only three of the last show up: Michel Chrestien, Fulgence Ridal and Joseph Bridau. D'Arthez is "finishing his book" and Giraud is "attending to the publication of the first number of his Review. The Cénacle had sent along its three artisgts as being less likely than the rest to feel out of place in festivities of this kind."

Balzac gives us warning, however, that the extravagance of this celebration -- "an assembly of thirty persons: Coralie's dining-room could hold no more" -- may prove perilous because of "the foundation, slight as it was, on which the material well-being of the actress and her poet was based. Without committing himself, Camusot had instructed the furnishers to give Coralie credit for at least three months. Horses and servants and everything else were to be available as if by magic to these two children eager for enjoyment and enjoying everything blissfully."

Raoul Nathan is there, and he thanks Lucien effusively for the second article about his book, which causes Lucien to assume "a superior air as he looked at his three friends from the Cénacle." He is unconscious of the fact that they are judging him on his ability to write two articles that contradict each other, and when he tells them that he's in a position to give d'Arthez's book a laudatory review when it appears, Michel asks, "But have you a free hand?" Lucien answers, "with a poor pretense at modesty," "As free as one can have when one is indispensable." 

Then Dauriat reads the third article by Lucien on Nathan's book, to wild acclaim for the author.
"Gentlemen," said Lousteau. "We are the witnesses of a grave, inconceivable, unprecedented and truly surprising event. Don't you wonder at the rapidity with which our friend has changed from a provincial into a journalist?"
Lucien is crowned with artificial flowers by the drunken group. "At this juncture Lucien observed the saddened faces of Michel Chrestian, Joseph Bridau and Fulgence Ridal who took up their hats and left amid jeering hurrahs." Lucien tries to defend his former friends to his new ones, but they are hearing none of it.

Finot goes on to propose publishing a canard: an article "that will "accuse the Government of having certain intentions, and thus unleash public opinion against it." Vignon cynically observes, "It will always cause me the deepest astonishment to see a government giving up the guidance of ideas to scoundrels like us." (There were Matt Drudges and Rush Limbaughs two hundred years ago.)

As the dawn appears, Lucien and Coralie talk about the saddened members of the Cénacle:
"Your friends from the rue des Quatre-Vents were as gloomy as condemned criminals," said Coralie to her lover. 
"No," the poet answered. "It's they who were the judges."
"Judges are more fun," said Coralie.

1 comment:

  1. These posts are making my English class assignment much clearer. Thank you!