By Charles Matthews

Monday, June 21, 2010

24. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 573-588

Part Three: An Inventor's Tribulations, The History of a Lawsuit, 19. A bride for Petit-Claud; 20. The Curé has his say; The "Fatal Member of the Family", 21. The prodigal's return
Boniface Cointet and Petit-Claud, never the most solid of allies, now begin to intrigue against one another. Cointet: "If you can manage either to put David in prison or to get him into our power by means of a deed of partnership, you shall marry Mademoiselle de La Haye." Petit-Claud: "Introduce me tomorrow to Madame de Sénonches, make a positive arrangement for me, in short fulfill your promise, or I'll pay Séchard's debt, sell my practice and become his partner." Cointet has already been working behind the scenes to persuade Francis du Hautoy, the girl's father, that Petit-Claud will be a good match for his illegitimate daughter, whose small fortune is no great attractor, so he's willing to accede to the solicitor's demand.

Madame de Sénonches has bought Madame de Bargeton's old house and is now determined to rule Angoulême society. Cointet brings Petit-Claud to meet her and her "beautiful ward," who is in fact, "a shrewish, sour-faced, skinny little person with an ungraceful figure and insispid blond hair," and "exceedingly unmarriageable despite her aristocratic little airs." On seeing her, Petit-Claud gets cold feet, and, sensing that Madame de Sénonches is none too impressed with Petit-Claud, Cointet takes du Hautoy aside and tries to negotiate. The current public attorney, Milhaud, with whom Eve met earlier, is in line for a promotion. Du Hautoy, with the cooperation of the former Madame de Bargeton, now the Comtesse du Châtelet, Cointet suggests, can see to it that Petit-Claud takes over as public attorney as the first step in the solicitor's rise to higher and higher office. Du Hautoy is satisfied with the plan and agrees to the match. And though Petit-Claud is still depressed by "how ugly she is!", Cointet persuades him that "She has an air of distinction" and that thanks to a start as public attorney, "in ten years' time you'll be Keeper of the Seals." So Petit-Claud sets out to persuade old Séchard to help rein David into a partnership with the Cointets.

The Curé from Marsac, where Lucien is now resting, arrives in Angoulême to give Eve the news about her brother. Meanwhile, old Séchard, Cointet and Petit-Claud are meeting to determine David's fate and they interrupt the priest as he arrives. The curé tells them that Lucien is in Marsac, "half-dead with fatigue and misery." Cointet and Petit-Claud excuse themselves because they have to get ready for dinner with Madame de Sénonches, and when they get out of earshot Petit-Claud says, "We'll use Lucien as a decoy" to catch David. But the solicitor is startled when Cointet says, "The great thing would be to take out the patent in our own name!"

Madame Chardon has aged rapidly under the weight of her children's difficulties, but she "regarded [Lucien] as a reprobate since learning about the forged drafts." The priest, seeing the effect of Lucien has had on both mother and sister, "no longer felt pity for Lucien, who had put them on the rack." When she hears the story of Lucien's return, Madame Chardon notes the irony: "He went away inside Madame de Bargeton's barouche, sitting beside her, and came back in the boot!"

The priest returns to Marsac to tell Lucien of the situation: "You have put your sister and brother-in-law in debt to the tune of ten or twelve thousand francs." But as he hikes back to Angoulême, Lucien's egotism takes hold again: "He even persuaded himself that he was a hero." He is happy to see that his father's name is no longer on the pharmacist's shop -- no longer a reminder of his bourgeois origins. But when he arrives, his mother says, "You have much to atone for here. You left us so that you might become the pride of the family, and you have plunged us into penury." He has also created difficulties that prevent his brother-in-law from completing the invention that would make his fortune. But she forgives him, which is mostly what Lucien hears in the rebuke. As for Eve, "The opinion d'Arthez had expressed about him, one which Eve had adopted, could be divined in her gestures, looks and tone of voice. Lucien was an object of pity." But mother and sister are also "sufficiently afraid of his light-headedness not to tell him where David was hiding." And they are right:
From the second day onwards, as he tried to fathom why his mother and sister had so little confidence in him, the poet was seized with a thought, not of aversion, but of petulance. He applied the standards of Parisian life to this chaste provincial life and forgot that the patient mediocrity  reigning in this household, so sublime in its resignation, was the work of his hands. "They are bourgeois, they can't understand me," he told himself. 

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