Short summary - Lost Illusions - Illusions perdues - Honoré de Balzac

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Lost Illusions - Illusions perdues
Honoré de Balzac

To feed illusions is the lot of provincials. Lucien Chardon was from Angoulême. His father, a simple pharmacist, in 1793 miraculously saved the maiden de Rübampré, the last representative of this noble family, from the scaffold, and thus received the right to marry her. Their children Lucien and Eve inherited their mother's wondrous beauty. Chardons lived in great need, but Lucien was helped to get on his feet by his best friend - the owner of the printing house David Seshar. These young men were born for great achievements, but Lucien outshined David with the brilliance of gifts and dazzling appearance - he was a handsome man and a poet. The local secular lioness Madame de Bergeton drew attention to him and began to invite him into her house, to the great displeasure of the arrogant local nobility. More than others, Baron Sixt du Châtelet was malignant - a rootless man, but who managed to make a career and had his own views on Louise de Bergeton, who gave clear preference to a talented young man. And David passionately fell in love with Eve, and she answered him in return, guessing in this dumpy typographer a deep mind and a sublime soul. True, David's financial situation was unenviable: his own father actually robbed him, selling the old printing house at a clearly inflated price and yielding a patent for publishing the newspaper for a hefty bribe to competitors - the Kuente brothers. However, David hoped to get rich by discovering the secret of making cheap paper. This was the case when an event took place that decided the fate of Lucien: one of the local nobles, finding him on his knees in front of Louise, trumpeted this throughout the city and ran into a duel - Madame de Bergeton ordered her obedient old husband to punish the offender. But from that moment on, life in Angoulême became disgusting to her: she decided to leave for Paris, taking with her the lovely Lucien. The ambitious young man neglected his sister's wedding, knowing that everyone would forgive him. Eve and David gave their brother the last money - on which he had to live for two years.

In the capital, the paths of Lucien and Madame de Bergeon parted - provincial love, unable to withstand the first contact with Paris, quickly grew into hatred. The Marquise d'Espard, one of the most influential ladies of the Saint-Germain suburb, did not refuse to patronize her cousin, but demanded to remove the ridiculous youth whom she had the folly to bring with her. Lucien, comparing his "divine" Louise with secular beauties, was already ready to cheat on her - but here, through the efforts of the Marquise and the ubiquitous Sixtus du Chatelet, he was expelled from decent society with shame. The unfortunate poet had high hopes for the collection of sonnets "Marigolds" and the historical novel "The Archer of Charles IX" - it turned out that Paris is full of his rhyming writers and hackers, and therefore it is extremely difficult for a novice author to break through. Having squandered all the money, Lucien hides himself in a hole and begins to work: he reads, writes, reflects a lot.
In a cheap student cafeteria, he meets two young people - Daniel d'Artez and Etienne Lousteau. The fate of a weak-willed poet depends on the choice he makes. At first, Lucien is attracted by Daniel, a genius writer who works in silence, despising the bustle of the world and momentary glory. Daniel's friends, albeit with hesitation, accept Lucien into their circle. In this chosen society of thinkers and artists, equality reigns: young men disinterestedly help each other and warmly welcome any luck of their brother. But they are all in poverty, and Lucien is attracted by the brilliance of power and wealth. And he converges with Etienne - a hardened journalist who has long parted from the illusions of loyalty and honor.

Thanks to Lusto's support and his own talent, Lucien becomes an employee of a liberal newspaper. He quickly learns the power of the press: as soon as he mentions his grievances, his new friends begin a campaign of ruthless persecution - from issue to issue they amuse the public with stories about the adventures of "Otter" and "Heron", in which everyone easily recognizes Madame de Bergeton and Sixtus du Châtelet. In front of Lucien's eyes, the gifted novelist Raoul Nathan bows deeply to the influential critic Emile Blonde. Journalists are courted in every possible way behind the scenes of theaters - the failure or success of the play depends on the review of the play. The worst thing happens when newspapermen attack their victim with the whole pack - a person who has come under such a shelling is doomed. Lucien quickly comprehends the rules of the game: he is tasked with scribbling an article about Nathan's new book - and he lives up to the expectations of his colleagues, although he himself considers this novel wonderful. From now on, poverty is over: the poet is not badly paid, and the young actress Coralie is passionately in love with him. Like all her friends, she has a wealthy patron - the silk merchant Camusot. Lusto, who lives with Florina, uses other people's money without a twinge of conscience - Lucien follows his example, although he understands perfectly well that it is shameful to be supported by an actress. Coralie dresses her lover from head to toe. The hour of celebration comes - on the Champs Elysees, everyone admires the beautiful, exquisitely dressed Lucien. The Marquise d'Espard and Madame Bergeton are stunned by this miraculous transformation, and the young man is finally confirmed in the correctness of the chosen path.

Frightened by Lucien's successes, both noble ladies take action. The young Duke de Retoret quickly gropes for the poet's weak string - ambition. If a young man wants to rightfully bear the name of de Rübampre, he must move from the opposition camp to the royalist camp. Lucien takes the bait. A conspiracy is drawn up against him, because the interests of many people converge: Florina wants to bypass Coralie, Lusto envies Lucien's talent, Nathan is angry with his critical article, Blonde wants to besiege a competitor. Having betrayed the liberals, Lucien gives his enemies a great chance to deal with him - they open aimed fire at him, and he, in confusion, makes several fatal missteps. Coralie becomes the first victim: having chased Camusot and indulging all the whims of her beloved, she comes to complete ruin, when hired claqueurs take up arms against her, falls ill with chagrin and loses her engagement in the theater.
Lucien, meanwhile, had to go for meanness to ensure the success of his beloved - in exchange for laudatory reviews, he was ordered to "slaughter" d'Artez's book. The magnanimous Daniel forgives his former friend, but Michel Chretien, the most adamant of all the members of the circle, spits in Lucien's face and then stabs him in the chest in a duel. Coralie and her servant Berenice selflessly look after the poet. There is absolutely no money: bailiffs describe the property of the actress, and Lucien is threatened with arrest for debts. By forging the signature of David Seshar, he accounts for three bills for a thousand francs each, and this allows the lovers to hold out for several more months.

In August 1822 Coralie dies at the age of nineteen. Lucien has only eleven sous left, and he writes merry songs for two hundred francs - only these vaudeville verses can pay for the funeral of the unfortunate actress. The provincial genius has nothing more to do in the capital - destroyed and trampled, he returns to Angoulême. Lucien has to walk most of the way. He enters his native land on the heels of a carriage in which the new prefect of Charente Sixte du Châtelet and his wife, the former Madame de Bergeton, who managed to become widowed and married again, travel. Only a year and a half had passed since Louise took the happy Lucien to Paris.
The poet returned home at the moment when his son-in-law was on the edge of the abyss. David is forced to hide in order not to go to prison - in the provinces, such a misfortune means the last stage of the fall. It happened in the following way. The Cuente brothers, who had long wanted to take over the printing house of Seshar and found out about his invention, bought out the promissory notes forged by Lucien. Taking advantage of the flaws in the judicial system, which allows them to drive the debtor into a corner, they brought the three thousand francs presented for payment to fifteen - an amount unthinkable for Seshar. David was besieged from all sides: he was betrayed by the typesetter Serize, whom he himself had taught to print, and the curmudgeon-father refused to help out his son, despite all the pleas of Eve. It is not surprising that the mother and sister meet Lucien very coldly, and this greatly offends the proud young man who was once their idol. He assures that he will be able to help David by resorting to the intercession of Madame de Châtelet, but instead unwittingly betrays his son-in-law, and he is taken into custody right on the street. The Cuente brothers immediately conclude an agreement with him: he will be granted freedom if he cedes all rights to produce cheap paper and agrees to sell the printing house to the traitor Serise. This was the end of David's misadventures: having given his wife an oath to forget about his experiments forever, he bought a small estate, and the family found peace. After the death of old Seshar, the young people inherited an inheritance of two hundred thousand francs. The eldest of the Kuente brothers, who had become incredibly rich thanks to David's invention, became the peer of France.

Only after the arrest of David Lucien realizes what he has done. Having read the curse in the eyes of his mother and sister, he firmly decides to commit suicide and goes to the bank of the Charente. Here he meets a mysterious priest: after listening to the story of the poet, the stranger proposes to postpone suicide - it is never too late to drown himself, but first it would be worthwhile to teach a lesson to those gentlemen who expelled the young man from Paris. When the demon-tempter promises to pay David's debts, Lucien throws away all doubts: from now on, he will belong in body and soul to his savior - Abbot Carlos Herrera. The events that followed this pact are described in the novel The Glory and Poverty of the Courtesans.