By Charles Matthews

Saturday, June 12, 2010

15. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 409-424

Part Two: A Great Man in Embryo, 32. The "viveurs"; 33. A fifth variety of publisher; 34. Blackmail
Lucien falls in with "a society of young people, rich or poor, all of them idle, known as viveurs." They are reckless and spendthrift, wild, frenzied, with no thought for what tomorrow may bring. The prince of viveurs is Rastignac, who, Balzac tells us, finally wound up distinguishing himself in "a serious career." But for the moment he is a very bad influence on Lucien, though the chief bad influence is Blondet. Lucien "gave up hope of literary fame, believing it easier to come by success in politics." Coralie is hardly a stabilizing influence: "Lover and mistress piled up debts with alarming rapidity."
Like all poets, the great man in embryo showed a momentary concern for their disastrous situation, promised to work, forgot his promise and drowned his passing cares in debauchery.
He is also intriguing with Hector Merlin, who has been promised the editorship of the new conservative publication Le Réveil, against his old liberal friends.

Gradually, as horses, carriage, furniture, and the like are seized in lieu of payment for their debts, and more and more items go to the pawnshop, Lucien feels the need to do something. Only the tailor, the milliner and the dressmaker are still willing to supply them, and then only because "they trembled at the thought of displeasing a journalist capable of bringing their establishments into disrepute." So Lousteau suggests finding a publisher for The Archer of Charles the Ninth. He and Merlin dine with some publishers to talk up Lucien's book, and tell them has a stack of other manuscripts he can supply in addition to that one:
"You can guess, Lucien, that our publishers had eyes like saucers.... By the way, have you any saucers left?"
"They are under distraint," said Coralie.
"Point taken."
Lucien is "feeling quite gleeful at the thought of getting the most he could out of Lousteau before turning his back on the Liberals, whom he was planning to attack the more effectively for having studied them closely," but Lousteau is also getting a commission from the publishing firm of Fendant and Cavalier for bringing Lucien to them.

The publishers are interested in getting "the next Walter Scott," as in fact are all the Parisian publishers. Balzac satirizes this lack of imagination among publishers through them:
One of the major stupidities of Parisian commerce is that it hopes to achieve success by sticking to the same lines of enterprise as have paid off before, whereas success goes by contraries. In Paris, more than anywhere, success kills success.
Plus ça change.... How many publishers today are looking for the next John Grisham or Dan Brown? How many TV producers are working on the next "Lost" or "Glee"? How many summer movies are sequels or remakes of old TV shows? And like publishers today, Fendant and Cavalier are concerned with marketing: They want to change the title, The Archer of Charles the Ninth, because they don't think it will sell: "Cavalier would have to give a course of lectures on French history in order to sell a single copy in the provinces." But in the end, Lucien signs the contract, "provided the title suits me."

Meanwhile, Lousteau is having his own troubles with debts, his own mistress having been cut off by Matifat. He is talking about blackmail -- "an invention of the English press," which he explains to Lucien thus: "You embark on some sticky operation which a series of articles can bring to failure: a blackmailer is detailed to propose that you buy them off." It's not that different from the usual quid pro quo arrangements between reviewers and publishers or theater owners, except that a middleman is involved. And he tells Lucien that "Des Lupeaulx, whom you know, is perpetually busy carrying out negotiations of that sort with journalists." Lousteau is trying his own form of blackmail on Matifat, using the love letters Matifat wrote to Florine.
This piece of confidence sobered Lucien. His first thought was that he had exceedingly dangerous friends. Then he reflected that he must not fall out with them, for he might stand in need of their terrible power in case Madame d'Espard, Madame de Bargeton and Châtelet broke faith with him.

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