Short summary - The Splendors And Miseries Of Courtesans - Honoré de Balzac

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Splendors And Miseries Of Courtesans
Honoré de Balzac

In 1824, at a ball at the Opera, a dazzlingly handsome young man appears, arm in arm with a lovely lady. To everyone's amazement, Lucien Chardin somehow managed to rise out of the mud, and the king, by his decree, returned to him the name of his mother's ancestors. The young man easily replaces the old enemies - Baron Sixtus du Chatelet and the Marquis d'Espard. However, he does not have the spirit to besiege his former fellow journalists, and it is they who recognize in his companion a public girl named Torpil - this beautiful Jewess is famous for the most sophisticated debauchery. Lucien takes the half-dead Esther home, and a short, obese man in a mask, who relentlessly accompanied the lovers, orders Rastignac to intercede for the Comte de Rübampre - recognizing the terrible look of this man, Eugene is numb with horror. Distraught with grief, Esther makes an attempt to poison herself with carbon monoxide, but she is rescued by an unknown priest, who explains to her that she almost ruined Lucien's career - the world will not forgive him the second Coralie. Esther has only one way out - to become an honest woman. The unfortunate courtesan agrees to everything: she is placed in a monastery boarding house, where she is baptized and renounces the past. But she cannot forget Lucien and begins to wither. Abbot Carlos Herrera brings her back to life, making it a condition that she will live with Lucien in complete secrecy from everyone.

In May 1825, the lovers find each other in an apartment rented for them by a Spanish canon. However, Lucien already knows who is hiding under the cassock of a false priest - however, the young man, drunk with success in the world and accustomed to luxury, does not find the strength to break with his patron, who guides him with an iron hand, protecting him from past mistakes. The Abbot surrounds Esther with his trusted people: Copper-faced Asia will do the cooking, pretty Europe will act as a maid, and the big man Pakkar will accompany the hostess on walks. The idyll on Tetbu Street lasts four years. During this time, Lucien's position was strengthened so much that in the world they started talking about his marriage to the daughter of the Duke de Granlier. The most noble ladies are coveting the favors of the young handsome man: the Countess de Serisi, who won this honor in a fight with the Duchess de Montfrignez, becomes his ceremonial mistress.

One fine night in August 1829, Baron de Nucingen, dozing in a carriage, meets a wonderful vision in the Bois de Vincennes - a woman of unearthly beauty. The banker falls in love for the first time in his life: he tries to find his "angel" with the help of the police, but all is in vain - the stranger disappeared without a trace. The stock predator is losing weight before our eyes, and concerned friends at home call a consultation: a man like Baron de Nucingen has no right to die suddenly - it is fraught with major troubles. Describing his beauty, the banker notices Lucien's smile and decides to let the most skillful police agents - Kontanoon and Perad - attack him. For both detectives, the case seems to be profitable and safe - they do not suspect that the famous Jacques Collin, the treasurer of three penal servitude, is behind the young de Rübampre. Abbot Herrera wants to sell Esther to Nucingen, and the faint-hearted Lucien agrees - Clotilde de Granlier will be given for him only if he buys an estate worth a million. A beautiful Englishwoman is slipped into the banker to discourage him from contacting the police, and then Esther is shown from afar. Asia, being transformed into a pimp, promises to bring Nusingen to his "subject" - if only the rich man will fork out. Meanwhile, Carlos writes bills of exchange in the name of Esther in the amount of three hundred thousand francs and announces to the lovers that they are parting forever - for the sake of Lucien, Esther must again turn into Torpil.

Carlos starts the game with Nusingen, having all the trump cards in his hands: the banker pays Asia for pimping, and Europe for being brought into the house. Seeing Esther, Nusingen completely loses his head: when bailiffs burst into the courtesan, he resignedly lays out three hundred thousand on account of her "debt". The gang gets half a million in just one week - meanwhile the banker has not even touched his "goddess" yet. He promises her mountains of gold - and she mentally vows to die on the very day when Lucien will have to change. The wounded detectives are closely following the development of events: their pride is hurt, and the old man Perad was also deceived in his expectations - he got involved in a scam only for the sake of his daughter Lydia, hoping to get her a dowry. A student and friend of Perad, the almighty and sinister Koranten, the genius of the police detective, joins the investigation. He manages to find a weak point in Carlos's cunning plan - Lucien, having bought the estate, tells everyone that his son-in-law and sister gave him the money. Perad, posing as a rich Englishman, takes on one of Esther's friends for maintenance: together with Contanson, who has assumed the guise of a mulatto servant, they get very close to the gang.

Meanwhile, the Duke de Granlier, having received an anonymous letter about the sources of Lucien's income, refuses the young man from home. Enraged, Carlos orders to kidnap Perad's daughter - if Lucien does not marry Clotilde de Granlier in ten days, Lydia will be dishonored, and Perad himself will be killed. The old man in despair rushes to Koranten: they have contacted too dangerous people, and you need to temporarily retreat. However, it is no longer possible to reverse: Corantin and the solicitor Derville went to Angoulême - there they quickly find out that the Seshars, although they live in prosperity, do not have a million fortune. Koranten returns to Paris when Perad is dying of poison - before his death, his daughter, tortured and damaged in his mind, was returned to him. Koranten vows to take revenge on both the abbot and Lucien - both of them will end their days on the scaffold.

Meanwhile, Esther finally yields to Nusingen's pleas, and the happy banker gives her an annuity of thirty thousand - immediately selling the securities for seven hundred and fifty thousand, she leaves them to Lucien and takes poison. Seeing the dead mistress the next morning, Europa and Pakkar hide with money. Nusingen, suspecting something was wrong, calls the police. Along the way, it turns out that Esther is monstrously rich - she is the only heiress of the recently deceased usurer Gobsek. Carlos, who remained cool at the time of the crash, writes a fake will - before her death, Esther allegedly refused her fortune to Lucien. Then the abbot tries to escape, but Contanson blocks his way - Jacques Collin, throwing the detective from the roof, orders Asia to give him such a drug that he would be mistaken for a dying man. The unconscious Spaniard is taken to prison. Frightened to death, Lucien is taken into custody on the road, where his last meeting with Clotilde takes place, leaving for Italy.

The arrest of Lucien de Ruebampre causes a stir - this young man occupied a prominent position in society, and the reputation of several noble ladies depends on the outcome of the case. Investigator Camusot stands at a crossroads: on the one hand, he is under pressure from the influential Marquis d'Espard, demanding to severely punish the stupid youth, on the other hand, Prosecutor de Granville, a close friend of the Count and Countess de Serisi, transparently hints that there is no particular zeal to show follows. The accusation itself looks very shaky: in Esther's boudoir they find a farewell letter to Lucien, from which it is clear that the girl really committed suicide, as for the disappeared money, why should the heir steal from himself? In essence, everything depends on Carlos Herrera: if this is a Spanish diplomat, it means that an unfortunate mistake has occurred, if the fugitive convict - Lucien is guilty, at least, of complicity with the criminal. Carlos is summoned first: the false Spaniard leads his party flawlessly, and Lucien is actually saved. But Camusot, yielding to temptation, decides to interrogate the young man, and he instantly betrays his benefactor - yes, he fell into the clutches of a vile convict who entangled him with his nets. Camusot gives him the protocol of the previous interrogation to be read and promises to arrange a confrontation - only then Lucien realizes that he ruined everything with his cowardice. Returning to the cell, he draws up a statement with a refusal to testify and writes a will, and in a letter addressed to the abbot, he says goodbye to him, calling him "a majestic statue of Evil and Vice." When the Countess de Sérisi, distraught with grief and love, bursts into the prison, it's all over - Lucien hangs on his own tie, like his coat would hang.

Upon learning of Lucien's suicide, the iron Carlos falls into complete prostration - he loved the weak-willed poet like his own son. Meanwhile, for Camusot, who clearly went too far, it is extremely important to prove that Abbot Herrera and Jacques Collin, nicknamed Deception-Death, are one person. Sensing danger, the convict becomes himself again: he quickly brings his former comrades into obedience and saves the condemned to death for the murder of Theodore Calvi - this young Corsican was his favorite until the appearance of Lucien. Having conceived to surrender to the authorities, Deception-Death wants to take the post of chief of the secret police, and the circumstances are favorable for him - he has tender messages from Lucien's lovers that can cause a scandal. With the help of one of these letters, this "convict Machiavelli" heals the Countess de Serisi, who was on the verge of insanity - she believed that Lucien truly loved only her. Carlos promises the prosecutor to solve several crimes that are too tough for justice, and at the same time puts things in order in his own ranks: his aunt Jacqueline, who shone in the role of Asia, finds Europe and Pakkar trembling with fear - they have long repented of their momentary weakness and pray to the leader for mercy. Carlos forgives them: he needs loyal people to deal with Corantin - the true culprit in the death of Lucien. A tough fight lies ahead, but hatred helps to live. After serving in the secret police for a decade and a half, Jacques Collin retired in 1845.