By Charles Matthews

Saturday, June 5, 2010

8. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 266-293

Part Two: A Great Man in Embryo, 12. A publisher's bookshop in the Wooden Galleries; 13. A fourth variety of publisher; 14. Behind the scenes; 15. A use for druggists
Lousteau shows Lucien into Dauriat's shop in the Wooden Galleries, where he points out his editor, Finot, and "a talented young man, Félicien Vernou, a little rascal who's as nasty as an unmentionable disease." Lucien listens avidly to the quid pro quo transactions taking place there. They are joined by Emile Blondet, a journalist just making a name for himself, and Raoul Nathan, who has just published a novel "which had sold quickly and met with brilliant success."

Lucien is shocked to see Nathan kowtowing to the publisher and that he also defers to Blondet. Lucien "had admired Nathan's book, revered him as a god, and was stupefied at such a show of servility in front of this critic whose name and significance were unknown to him." He itches to tell Nathan, "You've written a fine book and the critic has merely written an article." He is won over by the power of "Money! That was the answer to every riddle," and begins to resent his friends of the Cénacle for advising him not to make his way into the more immediately lucrative world of journalism.

Dauriat waxes eloquent on the subject of the economics of publishing:
"I don't publish books for fun. I don't risk two thousand francs just to get two thousand francs back. I'm a speculator in literature.... I'm not here to be a springboard for future reputations, but to make money for myself and provide some for the celebrities.... Maybe I'm not quite a Maecenas, but literature owes me some gratitude: I've already more than doubled the price which manuscripts fetch.
And what he doesn't want is poetry, unless it's by one of four established poets: Béranger, Casimir Delavigne, Lamartine and Victor Hugo. As for Canalis, the socialite poet, "he's been made a poet by the reviews he's had!" -- which, as we've seen, implies that reviewers have been paid to praise him.

Lucien "felt a violent urge to leap at the publisher's throat." But with a little prodding from Lousteau, Dauriat agrees to read Lucien's manuscript. When they leave the shop, Lousteau says that it's "an excellent meeting-place, and gives one a chance to chat with the best minds of our time." But all Lucien can think of is "the insolence of the man!" And when he says "D'Arthez was right," Lousteau scoffs: "I know nothing more dangerous than those lone spirits who think, as that fellow does, they can bring the world to their feet." And in fact, Lucien has begun to "waver between the system of resigned poverty preached by the Cénacle and the militant doctrine put forward by Lousteau."

They reach the theater, the Panorama-Dramatique, where Lousteau's mistress, Florine, is about to perform in "a kind of comic melodrama by a young author, du Bruel." And Lucien's experiences at the theater are a mirror of the ones he has had during his brief association with high society. As a critic, Lousteau has an entree to the theater not unlike that of Madame d'Espard. He takes Lucien backstage to Florine's dressing room, where he also meets Nathan again and is properly introduced. Vernou is there as well, along with Finot and an actress in the play named Florville. In addition to Lousteau, Florine is also the mistress of a wealthy druggist named Matifat, whose jealousy is aroused by Lucien's beauty. Lucien is puzzled by the fact that Florine is being shared by Lousteau and Matifat, but Lousteau tells him, "you still know nothing about life in Paris.... It's as if you loved a married woman, that's all."

Lousteau and Lucien take their seats in the theater manager's box, along with Matifat and a silk-merchant named Camusot, whose mistress is another actress in the play, Coralie. Lucien learns a bit more about the way money solves problems in this milieu: The theater manager's rival has hired a claque to hiss the performance, but the manager has hired them too, with instructions to hiss in the wrong places and then to get thrown out by some others who have been bribed with tickets and a promise to meet Coralie and Florine. Lucien
could not help contrasting the clappings and hissings in the riotous pit with the scenes of calm and pure poetry he had enjoyed in David's printing-office and the vision they shared of the wonders of Art, the noble triumphs of genius and the shining wings of glory.
Then he witnesses some more dealings in which Finot plans to start another newspaper, and wants Lousteau to persuade Matifat (through Florine) to invest in it. He promises Lousteau the editorship at a salary of two hundred fifty francs a month. Rumor has it that the government is going to muzzle the press and only existing papers will continue to publish. "But in a year's time this newspaper will be worth two hundred thousand francs to sell to the Government if, as people make out, it has sense enough to buy up the periodicals." Finot also tells the manager about how he's putting the screws on the Opera-House to buy a hundred subscriptions and provide four boxes a month -- in exchange for favorable coverage.

Meanwhile, the manager has noticed that Coralie has become smitten with the good-looking Lucien and is blowing her lines in the play, so he tells him to hide in the corner of the box. Lousteau suggests that he tell her that Lucien is coming to supper afterward and she can "do what she likes with him then." Lucien continues to be shocked at Lousteau's ethics, including his use of Florine to extort investment money from Matifat. Where is his conscience? he asks. Lousteau replies: "Conscience, my dear, is a kind of stick that everyone picks up to thrash his neighbour with, but one he never uses against himself." And he tells Lucien if the deal goes through and he becomes editor, Lucien has a job covering the boulevard theaters from him at three francs a column, which at the rate of thirty a month is an income of ninety francs, plus free tickets he can sell on the side: "I can see you earning two hundred francs a month.... My dear fellow, there are men of talent, like that poor devil d'Arthez who dines at Flicoteaux's every day, who don't earn three hundred francs in ten years." Moreover, when he makes a name for himself he can sell his novel for up to four thousand francs.

The experience of going behind the scenes, not only of the theater but also of the publishing world, has its effect on Lucien: "it was as dazzling as a firework display after the profound darkness of his own laborious, inglorious, monotonous existence."

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