By Charles Matthews

Thursday, June 3, 2010

6. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 192-243

Part Two: A Great Man in Embryo, 2. Flicoteaux; 3. Two varieties of publishers; 4. First friendship; 5. The "Cénacle"; 6. The flowers of poverty; 7. A newspaper seen from outside; 8. The sonnets
Lucien discovers the student restaurant and hangout known as Flicoteaux -- "an eating-house, nothing less and nothing more," but also a place where "friendships have been formed between divers students who later have become famous, as this story will confirm." Cannily, he picks as a regular table one near the cash-desk, so he can get to know the people who run the restaurant and befriend them in the hope of their extending credit to him when he comes to need it. It's a table for two, and he frequently finds himself sitting with "a thin, pale young man" with a "handsome but ravaged face." Eventually he learns his name is Etienne Lousteau, another young man from the provinces who sustains himself by reviewing books and plays for a "little newspaper." Etienne eats at Flicoteaux only when he is broke.

He spends his mornings in the library researching his novel, his afternoons in his rooms rewriting it and correcting the errors he has made, and after dinner in a reading room going through recent periodicals "to keep up with the intellectual movement." This causes him to rewrite his book of sonnets completely. He sometimes goes to the theater, waiting in line for cheap seats, but still his money keeps dwindling and he considers looking for a journalism job. Lousteau, however, has stopped coming to Flicoteaux, so he has no contact in that business.

Finally, he decides to find a publisher for his manuscripts. The first one he visits is really a bookseller that only rarely publishes their own books, so they send him to Doguereau, who buys manuscripts. He is shocked by the commercial nature of book publishing: "that to these publishers books were like cotton bonnets to haberdashers, a commodity to be bought cheap and sold dear." Doguereau agrees to read The Archer of Charles the Ninth, which Lucien describes to him as "an historical work in the manner of Walter Scott which presents the conflict between Catholics and Protestants as a combat between two systems of government, involving a serious threat to the monarchy. I have taken sides with the Catholics." Doguereau almost decides not to read the novel after he hears that Lucien is also a poet ("Rhymesters come to grief when they write prose") but Lucien points out that Walter Scott also wrote verse.

Balzac observes that Lucien had failed to recognize in Doguereau "a publisher of the old school, a man belonging to the age when publishers liked to keep even a Voltaire or a Montesquieu under lock and key, starving in an attic." So, having read and been impressed by the novel, Doguereau goes to Lucien's room, planning at first to pay him a thousand francs for the manuscript and put him under contract for other novels. But when he sees the building where Lucien lives and realizes how hard up the writer must be for money, he decides to lower it to eight hundred, and then to six hundred when he finds the room is on the fourth floor. When he sees the bare little room, he tells Lucien, "I will buy it for four hundred francs" on the agreement that he write two novels a year for six years. Lucien balks, and when Doguereau tries harder tactics, warning him that he won't even get anyone else to read his manuscript, criticizes its grammar, and telling him that if he brings it back to him after trying other publishers his price will be only a hundred crowns, Lucien throws the manuscript on the floor and exclaims, "Monsieur, I would rather burn it!"

One day, on his way to the library, he meets a young man he has seen there who tells him it's closed. He is also a regular at Flicoteaux's but they have never spoken. The man tells Lucien that he looks downcast, and Lucien tells him of his troubles with the publisher and that he has only a hundred and twenty francs left. The man replies that the story is a familiar one -- his own, in fact -- and that there are "a thousand or more young people" like them. They walk together in the Luxembourg Gardens, and Lucien learns his name, Daniel d'Arthez, who Balzac tells us is "today one of the most illustrious writers of our time." D'Arthez tells Lucien, "You bear the stamp of genius on your brow," but that unless he he has "the will-power and the seraphic patience needed," he should "give up this very day." He agrees to critique Lucien's manuscript, and pawns his watch to buy firewood for his room.

D'Arthez listens for seven hours as Lucien reads, then gives him a serious critique, which includes some Balzacian analysis of the flaws in Scott, particularly as a model, and of British prudery: "Walter Scott lacks passion; it is a closed book to him; or perhaps he found it was ruled out by the hypocritical morals of his native land. Woman for him is duty incarnate... His women all proceed from Clarissa Harlowe." Lucien thanks him by taking him to dinner, spending another twelve francs. D'Arthez, he learns, is a student of philosophy who ekes out a living by writing "poorly-paid  articles for biographical and encyclopaedic dictionaries or dictionaries of natural science." And Lucien goes home to rewrite his novel along the lines suggested by him.

In the following days, Lucien "attached himself like a chronic malady to d'Arthez" and becomes acquainted with his circle of friends, a "cénacle" of which d'Arthez is the unofficial leader: Horace Bianchon, a surgeon; Léon Giraud, a philosopher; Joseph Bridau, a painter; Fulgence Ridal, a writer of comic verse and plays; and Michel Chrestien, a political thinker "who dreamed of a European federation" and who died in the June Rebellion of 1832. Too bad the edition I'm reading lacks annotation to clue us in to the originals of some of these men. Balzac paints an admiring, idealized portrait of the group, who, when Lucien spends his last sou, chip in to give him two hundred francs. He writes to Daniel, Eve, and his mother, who report that things are dire for them financially too, but send him three hundred francs, with which he is able to repay the cénacle. They are offended: "Here we don't lend money to one another, we give it," Bridau says. They urge him not to lose his poetic ideals, but to "put your trust in hard work."

Lucien, however, is ready to scrap his ideals and find work as a journalist, to the horror of the others: "That would be the end of the fine, gentle Lucien we love and know," d'Arthez says. Chrestien regards journalism as "treachery and infamy." When Lucien says he could just do it for a while to get back on his feet and then return to literature, Giraud says that's what Machiavelli would do, "but not Lucien de Rubempré." But Lucien is determined to play the Machiavel, and sets out to explore the possibilities of journalism. He goes to the offices of one of the "petits journaux" and encounters some Dickensian grub street characters, including a reviewer whose voice is "a cross between the miaowing of a cat and the asthmatic choke of a hyena." He learns that opinions in the newspaper are bought and sold. And he learns from the guardian of the newspaper offices, an old veteran of the Napoleonic campaigns named Girodeau, that the editor is Andoche Finot, who lives in the rue Feydeau. But after staking out Finot's lodgings without getting near him, he decides to hunt down Etienne Lousteau at Flicoteaux's.

Lucien has been dining side-by-side with d'Arthez at Flicoteaux's.
At present, d'Arthez was correcting the manuscript of The Archer of Charles the Ninth; he recast certain chapters, wrote the finest pages to be found in it and composed the splendid preface which perhaps overshadows the work but which brought so much illumination to writers of the new school. 
But when Lousteau appears at the restaurant, Lucien changes tables to eat with him, as "d'Arthez looked at Lucien with one of those benign glances in which reproach is wrapped in forgiveness." And when he leaves the restaurant with Lousteau, "he pretended not to see his brother of the Cénacle."

Lousteau explains to Lucien some of the rules of the literary world, one of which is that it's currentlhy divided into two camps, the romantics and the classicists, and that the royalists are romantics and the liberals classicists. Lousteau belongs to the romantics. Lucien reads him his sonnets, but is disturbed because Lousteau listens with no expression until he explains that "In Paris to listen without saying a word is high praise." Balzac explains:
Had he had more experience of literary life, he would have known that, with writers, silence and curtness in such circumstances betoken the jealousy aroused by a fine work, just as their admiration denotes the pleasrue they feel on listening to a mediocre work which confirms them in their self-esteem.

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