By Charles Matthews

Friday, June 11, 2010

14. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 396-408

Part Two: A Great Man in Embryo, 31. Polite society
Lucien's appearance, in the new finery selected for him by Coralie, at the salon of Madame de Montcornet arouses "a kind of repressed envy among the young men present, those who reigned supreme in the realm of fashion, including De Marsay. And both the Comtesse de Montcornet and Madame d'Espard "had Lucien between them and overwhelmed him with coquettish attentions." The latter informs him that Madame de Bargeton's husband has died, and she defends her cousin's dumping of Lucien thus: "Do you think she wanted to become Madame Chardon?" On the other hand, "The title 'Comtesse de Rubempré' was well worth the trouble of acquiring." And she dangles before him the possibility of become Comte de Rubempré.
Lucien no longer knew what to think. Initiated as he was in the perfidies of journalism, he knew nothing of those of society. And so, despite his perspicacity, he was due for some hard lessons. 
She tells him that Châtelet hasn't been as hurt by the Heron and Cuttle-bone satires as he thought -- the articles may even have done him some benefit with the government because "while the newspapers ridicule Châtelet, they leave the Ministry in peace." And the Comtesse wants to introduce Lucien to the "fabulously rich" Mademoiselle des Touches, who writes under the pen-name Camille Maupin. Lucien begins to realize that "There was as much difference between a woman of the style and quality of the Comtesse de Montcornet and Coralie as there was between Coralie and a woman of the streets."

Madame d'Espard continues to butter up Lucien, praising his intelligence and his ability to adapt to "Parisian manners, and claiming that Madame de Bargeton had all along "wanted to obtain from the King an ordinance which would allow you to bear the name and title de Rubempré. She wanted to bury the Chardon." She points out a man named Des Lupeaulx, whose family name was originally Chardin, but who now is in line to become the Comte de Lupeaulx. All Lucien needs to do is what Emile Blondet has done:  "He's got into newspaper which supports the Government: all the powers that be approve of him; he can consort with the Liberals without danger since he has orthodox opinions." But if he stays with the left and with Coralie, she says, "You'll find yourself loaded with debts and sated with pleasure in a few years' time."

But when Lucien questions if what she says is true, she takes offense, "throwing Lucien a cold and haughty look which brought him down to earth again." The Comtesse, however, remains cordial and invites him to her next soirée, which Madame de Bargeton will attend.

When they leave the table, he is joined by Rastignac and Blondet. The latter tells Rastignac that Lucien has fallen in with Lousteau, whom he regards as stupid and mercenary. "As a Rubempré, Lucien is bound to have aristocratic leanings; as a journalist, he is bound to side with the Government, otherwise he'll never either be Rubempré or come to be a secretary-general." When Lucien tells them that he doesn't play whist, Rastignac offers to teach him. He also talks to Des Lupeaulx, whom he had met earlier at Madame du Val-Noble's, and reflects on how well he is getting along in society. But after he leaves, the others talk about him:
"What a fatuous man!" said Des Lupeaulx to the Marquise, when Lucien had taken his leave of her.
"He'll go rotten before he's ripe," de Marsay said to the Marquise with a smile. "You must have hidden reasons for turning his head like this." 
Coralie has come to wait for him, and she joins in the chorus urging him to go over to the government's side: "You can make yourself useful, become a peer of France and marry a rich woman." She tells him that a new royalist newspaper is being started, and urges him to join up with it, "but say nothing to Etienne or his friends -- they're quite capable of playing a nasty trick on you."

A week later, he goes to Madame de Montcornet's and sees Madame de Bargeton again. "She had become more what she would always have been if she had not lived in the provinces: a great lady." And he finds himself torn between "the beautiful, loving and voluptuous Coralie and the dry, haughty and cruel Louise." But he chooses the former, to Madame de Bargeton's anger. He does, however, contemplate a "quick romance" with the rich and beautiful Mademoiselle des Touches.

He then joins Madame de Bargeton and Madame d'Espard to talk about the ordinance which would make him a de Rubempré. The Marquise says that he must "put himself in a position to be protected without embarrassing those who protect him." He agrees to do so.
Thrilled by the glamour of aristocracy, the poet felt unspeakable mortification at hearing himself called Chardon when he saw that the salons only admitted men who bore high-sounding names with titles to set them off.
And at the end, Rastignac has taught him to play whist.

No comments:

Post a Comment