By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

18. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 463-476

Part Two: A Great Man in Embryo, 39. Skulduggery; 40. Farewells
Coralie takes a minor role in a play and succeeds, which leads the theater manager, who has learned about the plot against Coralie, to offer her a role in a new play by Camille Maupin (Mademoiselle des Touches' nom de plume). But Lucien is seriously wounded in his duel with Michel Chrestien, and recuperation takes four months. Meanwhile, Fendant and Cavalier go broke, and Lucien's book is relegated to the second-hand bookshops where it receives no notice and few sales. Even the one favorable review of the book, by Martainville, does more harm than good, by turning the leftist papers more firmly against Lucien. The bankruptcy of Fendant and Cavalier also makes the notes held by Camusot worthless, so he files suit against Lucien. This time Coralie saves Lucien, but by making some deal with Camusot that she remains silent about.

Coralie is having a great success in Camille Maupin's play, but just as Lucien is finally recovering from his wound, she falls ill, and her role is taken over by Florine. Lucien is not yet well enough to work so he spends his time alternating with Bérénice in nursing Coraline. The household falls into dire poverty, although they have a kind physician in Bianchon -- the Cénacle having become reconciled with Lucien after learning that he had shown d'Arthez his review and that d'Arthez had collaborated in rewriting it before it was published.

Lucien is forced to go to Lousteau to ask for the thousand francs he is owed, but Lousteau is not much better off -- he is being sued for debt. Finally, Lucien resorts to forgery: he drafts three notes with a facsimile of David Séchard's signature for a thousand francs, and endorses them. A paper-merchant accepts them, so Lucien pays off his debts and Coralie's and gives the remaining three hundred francs to Bérénice, telling her not to let him have them, no matter how much he begs, because he's afraid he'll go lose them at gambling. Lucien returns to writing, but meets with no success. A publisher tells him he's lost his gift. And he's sued because of the forged bills, forcing him to go to Camusot for aid. Camusot directs him to a barrister named Desroches, who is a friend of Bixiou, Blondet and Des Lupeaulx.

Coralie dies, and Lucien has no money to bury her. He writes to Mademoiselle des Touches "one of those appalling letters in which men once elegant, but now reduced to beggary, throw their self-respect to the winds." And he goes to Barbet who agrees to pay him two hundred francs if he'll write some drinking songs for a collection of ribald verses he's putting together. He returns to the flat, where Bérénice is sewing a shroud for Coralie's body, and tells her "to go to the undertaker's and order a funeral costing no more than two hundred francs, inclusive of a service at the mean little church of Bonne-Nouvelle." And he sits down beside Coralie's body and writes ten songs "to be sung at smoking-parties." D'Arthez and Bianchon arrive just as he is finishing and are touched by
The sight of this beautiful corpse smiling on eternity, her lover paying for her funeral with indecent rhymes, Barbet paying for her coffin, the four tapers round an actress whose basque skirt and red stockings with green clocks had once put a whole auditorium into a flutter of excitement, and, at the door, the priest who had brought her back to God returning to the church to say mass for one who had loved so much!
Then Mademoiselle des Touches arrives and gives Lucien two thousand francs. And she joins the others at Coralie's funeral mass, after which the men go with the body to Père-Lachaise cemetery, where
Camusot, weeping hot tears, solemnly swore to Lucien that he would buy the burial plot in perpetuity and erect a tombstone with the inscription: CORALIE, and underneath this: Died August 1822, aged nineteen
The money from Mademoiselle des Touches settles all of Lucien's debts, but although he has decided to return to Angoulême, he has nothing left to pay for the journey. He contemplates suicide, but when he asks Bérénice for Coralie's scarf, she realizes that he intends to hang himself. She tells him to go for a walk and return at midnight, "But stay in the boulevards and keep away from the riverside." During the walk, he resolves not to give up until he has gone home and tried to make amends to David and his family. But when he sees Bérénice on the street, dressed in her best clothes, talking to a man, he realizes that she is prostituting herself to make money. She gives him twenty francs and quickly disappears.
Be it said in his favour, this money burned his fingers and he wanted to return it. But he was forced to keep it as the last stigma with which life in Paris was branding him.

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