By Charles Matthews

Thursday, June 17, 2010

20. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 496-507

Part Three: An Inventor's Tribulations, The History of a Lawsuit, 5. A Judas in the making; 6. The two Cointets
Unfortunately, the Shepherd's Almanac, into which Eve has invested her profits, is running behind schedule because Cérizet has been working so slowly on it. Cérizet, who "had brought his Paris street-arab ways with him to Angoulême," is actually working part-time for the Cointets, the other printers in the town. Moreover, he is handing them information not only about the Séchards' business but also about David's invention. The Cointets decide to do a Shepherd's Almanac of their own.

Eve is suspicious of Cérizet -- she even notices that he is paying a lot of attention to what David is doing in his workshop -- but she has no leverage over him: He makes more for his proofreading at the Cointets than he does setting type for her. When David learns that the Cointets are also producing an almanac and that Eve's is behind schedule, he helps set the type to get back up to speed. The venture is a failure: Eve is forced to sell it for less than she planned because of the competition from the Cointets. She runs an advertisement in the Publishers' Journal in Paris offering the print-shop for sale, not because she really plans to sell it but to scare the Cointets, who don't want a more aggressive printer moving in on their territory.

The Cointet brothers, Boniface and Jean, decide to come to terms with Eve, who confronts them with her awareness that Cérizet has been spying on their behalf. During the negotiations, despite Eve's efforts to warn him off, David naively reveals that the research he has been doing is aimed at "the manufacture of paper at fifty per cent below the present cost-price." The brothers, who know that David may be a bad businessman but is a highly intelligent man with a real scientific bent, want to get in on the project, particularly Boniface, who runs a paper-mill. They propose to hire the Séchards' plant to do some of their work. "After two hours of haggling Eve obtained two thousand francs for the half-year, a thousand of them to be paid in advance." But Eve is startled when the Cointets inform her that the employee who will be working for them in her plant is the traitor, Cérizet. David later says to Eve, though laughing when he says it, "Our enemies are inside the citadel!"

The brothers gloat, and Boniface predicts:
"The poor creatures will get into the habit of drawing the rent from their printing-press. They'll reckon on it and pile up debts. In six months' time we'll refuse to renew the lease, and then we shall see what this genius is made of. We'll offer to extricate him by going into partnership with him for the exploitation of his invention."

No comments:

Post a Comment