By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

19. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 479-496

Part Three: An Inventor's Tribulations, Introduction, 1. The doleful confession of a "child of the age"; 2. Back-kick from a donkey; The History of a Lawsuit, 3. The problem at issue; 4. A plucky wife
Lucien leaves Paris, taking a bus as far as Longjumeau, where he sets out on foot, then hitches a ride to Tours, then on foot again to Poitiers and beyond. Along the road, he sees a barouche slowly climbing a slope. Unseen, he manages to scramble onto the back of the carriage between two pieces of luggage. He falls asleep and finds himself in the town of Mansle, where he had waited for Madame de Bargeton and his ride to Paris a year and half earlier. And, in a real stretch of a coincidence, it turns out that the carriage on which he has stowed away is that of "the new Prefect of the Charente -- the Comte Sixte du Châtelet -- and his wife, Louise de Nègrepelisse." The former Madame de Bargeton invites him to ride with them, but "Lucien coldly saluted the couple with a look which was both humble and menacing" and departs on foot.

Down to his last three francs and suffering from a fever, he begs lodging for a week from a miller named Courtois and his wife. He identifies himself as "Lucien de Rubempré, ... the son of Monsieur Chardon, who owned the chemist's shop in L'Houmeau before Postel. My sister married David Séchard, the printer in the Place du Mûrier in Angoulême." The miller recognizes David as "the son of the old fox who's running a vineyard at Marsac.... They say he's making his son sell up, and he owns more than two hundred thousand francs' worth of land, without counting what he keeps in his crock."

Lucien faints at the news that David is in financial difficulties, and the miller goes to fetch the doctor and the parish priest of Marsac, who know of Lucien's involvement with Madame de Bargeton as well as her marriage to Châtelet. The doctor tells Lucien that David is "probably in prison" because his father had refused to help him pay some debts -- those incurred by the notes Lucien had forged. Lucien confesses to the priest, telling him not only of the forgery but of his experiences in Paris. The priest agrees to go to Angoulême and find out what has happened to Lucien's mother and sister. In L'Houmeau, the priest learns from Postel, who bought the chemist's shop after Lucien's father died, and who wanted to marry Eve, that she's "living in appalling poverty." Postel, who signed the judgment against David that sent him to prison, tells the priest that Lucien can have his old room back. The priest sets off for Angoulême.

Balzac then flashes back to the story of David's troubles as he tries to develop a new process for making paper in response to the increased demand for it in the post-Restoration era of political discussion.
And so, curiously enough, while Lucien was getting caught in the cogwheels of the vast journalistic machine and running the risk of it tearing his honour and intelligence to shreds, David Séchard, in his distant printing office, was sureying the expansion of the periodical press in its material consequences. 
He had overextended himself in the wedding plans and in helping Lucien get to Paris, and he owed Postel a thousand francs, so the hope of making a breakthrough discovery was urgent.

David assures Eve, of course, that "all our tribulations will come to an end" once his invention succeeds. She is pregnant, but she decides to help out in the print shop while David works on his project. There are only three employees left: Cérizet, an apprentice David brought with him when he came home from Paris; Marion, who has been with the firm since old Séchard ran it; and Kolb, an Alsatian who had been stationed with the army in Angoulême. Marion and Kolb had fallen in love, even though she "was big and fat and thirty-six" and he "was five feet seven inches in height, well-built, and as strong as a fortress."

No one, however, has been keeping track of the accounts, so Eve asks to look at the books and discovers "that during the first six months of his wedded life David had failed to cover his rent, the interest on capital based on the value of his stock and his printer's license, Marion's wages, ink and finally the profits a printer should make." So Eve takes inventory and sets Kolb, Marion, and Cérizet to cleaning things up. She decides to use the paper on hand to print up broadsheets of "the illustrated folk-tales which peasants paste up on the walls of their cottages.... They cost her thirty francs to produce and brought in three hundred francs at a penny apiece." This success inspires her to use the profits to print a "Shepherd's Almanac" with a potential of two thousand francs' profit.
While this bustling activity was in its beginnings there came the heart-rending letters in which Lucien told his mother, sister and brother-in-law of his failure and financial difficulties in Paris. It is therefor easy to see that, in sending three hundred francs to the spoilt child, Eve, Madame Chardon and David had offered the poet their life's blood.
And as Eve's pregnancy advanced, there was good reason to wonder what would happen to them and their print shop.

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