By Charles Matthews

Sunday, June 13, 2010

16. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 425-440

Part Two: A Great Man in Embryo, 35. The Money-brokers; 36. A change of front
For the novel, Fendant and Cavalier have given Lucien promissory notes for five thousand francs due in three installments: at six, nine and twelve months. But when he and Lousteau go to Barbet, the bookseller, to see if they can sell the IOUs to him for the ready cash, Barbet says he can give Lucien only three thousand francs: "Those gentlemen will go bankrupt within three months." And he warns them that nobody else will give them a better deal -- if they'll buy them at all. He says they can try Chaboisseau, but if he turns them down and they come back to him, "I shall only give you two thousand five hundred francs."

Chaboisseau turns them down flat. But Lucien persuades him to take one of the notes, valued at five hundred francs, in exchange for a book he sees. They come away with the book and four hundred twenty francs. But when Lucien asks why he won't take the rest of the notes at a discount, Chaboisseau says, "I'm not discounting. I'm taking payment for a sale."

They go to yet another money-broker, named Samanon, where they meet an opium-addicted artist who is getting his clothes out of hock -- temporarily: The artist explains that Samanon "lets you have them back for occasions when you have to dress up." Samanon will give Lucien only fifteen hundred francs for the remaining notes, and then only after getting some books from Fendant as collateral. "'Your credit's no good,' he said to Lucien. 'You're living with Coralie and your furniture is under distraint.'" Lucien refuses the deal, and on the street the artist explains, "When Samanon goes to see a bookseller, a paper-merchant or a printer, you may know they're on the rocks."

Lousteau, assessing the situation, sees only one possibility: to give the notes to Coralie and have her take them to Camusot in exchange for cash. The idea is repugnant to Lucien, but after he and Lousteau squander the four hundred francs they received from Chaboisseau on drinking and gambling, he gives the money to Coralie. Meanwhile, she has moved out of her old apartments into a smaller and cheaper flat. The theater where she worked has declared bankruptcy and she has sold all but the bare minimum of furniture.

Nevertheless, Lucien remains optimistic: He will make money by joining the royalist newspapers. But three of his friends from the Cénacle -- d'Arthez, Giraud and Chrestien -- come to see him to dissuade him from making such a blatant political switch:  "You have been attacking the Romantics, the right wing and the Government; you cannot now start defending the Government, the right wing and the Romantics." Giraud warns him, "Not only are you making your own life unclean:  one day you'll find that you've joined the losing side." What they don't understand is that Lucien plans to make his fortune "out of his beauty and his wit, with the name and title of Comte de Rubempré to support them."

So Lucien joins the staff of Le Réveil, and makes enemies of his former friends in journalism, becoming the subject of attacks in the columns of their papers. He also makes an enemy of Lousteau because Lucien's new friend, Raoul Nathan, has stolen Florine away from him, and is complicit in a deal with Finot that causes Lousteau to lose three thousand francs.
And so the destruction of Lucien, the intruder, the little scoundrel who wanted to make one meal of all and sundry, was unanimously resolved and deeply meditated.

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