Short summary - The Confession of a Child of the Century - Alfred de Musset

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Confession of a Child of the Century
Alfred de Musset

“To write the story of your life, you must first live this life, so I’m not writing about myself” - these are the opening words of the author, who conceived with his story to recover from the “monstrous moral illness”, the illness of the century that struck his contemporaries after the Revolution of 1793 and the defeat Napoleonic army in 1814. For the sons of the Empire and the grandchildren of the Revolution, the past disappeared, "they had only the present, the spirit of the century, the angel of twilight - the gap between night and day." Faith in divine and human power disappeared, the life of society became colorless and insignificant, the greatest hypocrisy prevailed in morals, and young people, doomed to inaction, idleness and boredom, were seized by disappointment and a feeling of hopelessness. Despair was replaced by insensitivity.
This disease overtakes the author of the story and its protagonist, the true son of the century, nineteen-year-old Octave de T., a proud and direct young man, full of bright hopes and heartfelt impulses. During a sumptuous dinner after the masquerade, bending down to pick up a fork under the table, he sees that the shoe of his beloved is resting on the shoe of one of his closest friends. Taking the lawyer Degenet as a second, Octave challenges his opponent to a duel, receives a slight wound, falls ill with a fever and soon becomes convinced of the treachery of his beloved, who played false remorse in front of him.
Deprived of his position in society and having no specific occupation, accustomed, however, to spend time in idleness and love interests, Octave is confused, does not know how to live on. On one of the gloomy autumn evenings, the lawyer Degenet, a man who believes in nothing and is not afraid of anything, shares his life credo with him: “Love does not exist, perfection does not exist, take from love what a sober person takes from wine. .. "
Having met soon one of the friends of his former lover, abandoned by his beloved, he sincerely empathizes with her, but again faces monstrous shamelessness when she tries to seduce him. “There is nothing true, except for debauchery, depravity and hypocrisy,” says Octave, trying to completely change his way of life: go on country walks, hunt, fence. But hopeless sadness does not leave him. He often spends nights under the windows of his former lover; once meeting a drunken man, he tries to quench his sorrow with wine and, having gone to a tavern, meets a street woman there. He is struck by the similarity of the latter with his former lover, and, decorating his room as for a love date, Octave brings a prostitute there. “Here is human happiness, here is the corpse of love,” he thinks.
The next morning, Degenet and his friends inform Octave that his beloved had three lovers at the same time, which is known throughout Paris. She mockingly tells outsiders that Octave still loves her and spends time at her door. So Degenet is trying to cure Octave of a love affliction. The offended Octave shows his friends a prostitute and promises them never to part with them again. From now on, he spends his life at masquerade balls, in revelry and gambling houses.
Hospitable Dejene gathers young people in his country house, including Octave. One night, a half-dressed woman enters Octave's room and hands him a note: "Octave from his friend Degenet with the condition to repay it in kind." Octave realizes that the lesson of a friend sending him his mistress is never to fall in love.
Returning to Paris, Octave spends the winter in amusement and gains a reputation as an inveterate libertine, a man of unfeeling and callous. At this time, two women appear in his life. One of them is a poor young seamstress who soon abandons Octave. Another is Marco, a dancer of the Italian theater, whom Octave meets at a ball and that same evening reads a letter in her bedroom announcing the death of her mother.
Suddenly, the servant informs Octave that his own father is dying. Arriving in a village near Paris, where his father lived, Octave finds him dead. "Farewell, my son, I love you and I am dying," Octave reads the last words of his father in his diary. Octave settles in the village with a devoted servant Lariv. In a state of moral devastation and indifference to everything in the world, he gets acquainted with the papers of his father, "a true righteous man, a man without fear and reproach." Having learned from his diary his father's daily routine, he is going to follow it to the smallest detail.
Once, on an evening walk, Octave meets a young, simply dressed woman. He learns from Lariv that this is Mrs. Pearson, a widow. In the village, her name is Brigitte Rose. She lives with her aunt in a small house, leads a secluded life and is known for her charity work. Octave meets her at the farm, where she cares for a sick woman, and escorts her home. Ms. Pearson amazes with his education, intelligence and love of life. However, he also notices the stamp of secret suffering on her face. For three months, Octave sees Ms. Pearson every day, realizes that he loves her, but respect for her does not allow him to open up. Finding himself one night in Brigitte's garden, he still confesses his love to her. The next day, Octave falls ill with a fever, receives a letter from Brigitte asking him not to meet with her again, and then learns that she has gone to her relatives in the city of N. Proboliv for a whole week, Octave was about to fulfill Brigitte's demand, but soon he went straight to N. Having met there with Brigitte, he again tells her about his love. Soon he manages to restore the old relations of good neighbors with her. But both feel that love Octave stands between them.
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Priest Mercanson appears in the house of Octave with the news of Brigitte's illness. Anxiously, Octave tries to get an answer as to the real reason for this visit and the apparently imaginary illness. From Brigitte's letter it follows that she is afraid of gossip. Octave suffers deeply. During one of the horseback walks with Brigitte, he finally turns to a decisive explanation and receives a kiss in return.
Soon, Octave becomes Mrs. Pearson's lover, but a change occurs in his soul. He feels the symptoms of unhappiness, like illness; remembering the suffering he suffered, the treachery of his former lover, the former depraved environment, his contempt for love and disappointment, he invents false reasons for jealousy. He is seized by a state of inactivity, he sometimes poisons happy moments of love with ironic jokes, then he indulges in sincere repentance. Octave is in the grip of evil elements: insane jealousy, pouring out in reproaches and mockery, and an unrestrained desire to make fun of all the dearest. Brigitte does not reproach Octave for the suffering caused to her and tells him the story of her life. She was dishonored by her fiancé and then fled abroad with another woman. Since then, Brigitte has vowed that her suffering should not be repeated, but forgot about the oath when she met Octave.
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In the village, gossip begins that Brigitte ruined herself by linking her life with a cruel and dangerous person. They speak of her as a woman who has ceased to reckon with public opinion, who will be punished in the future. Gossip is spread by Priest Mercanson. But Octave and Brigitte decide to ignore the opinion of the world.
Aunt Brigitte dies. Brigitte burns an old rose wreath kept in a small chapel. He symbolized Brigitte Rose herself, who no longer exists. Octave again torments Brigitte with suspicion, she endures his contemptuous remarks and resentments, alternating with frenzied delights of love.
One day, Octave stumbles upon a notebook with the inscription "My will" in her room. Brigitte, without bitterness and anger, talks about the sufferings endured from the moment she met Octave, about the feeling of loneliness that never leaves her and the desire to commit suicide by taking poison. Octave decides to leave immediately: however, they go together to say goodbye to the past forever.
Lovers come to Paris, dreaming of going on a long journey. At the thought of their imminent departure, their quarrels and griefs cease. One day they are visited by a young man who brings letters to Brigitte from the city of N. from the only surviving relatives. While everything is already ready to leave for Switzerland, Brigitte cries, but stubbornly remains silent. Octave is lost in conjecture about the reasons for the unexpected change in her mood. In the theater, he accidentally meets a young man who brought letters to Brigitte, but he deliberately avoids conversation. Brigitte reluctantly shows Octave one of the letters in which relatives, who consider her disgraced forever, urge her to return home.
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Octave is looking for the young man who delivered the letters to Brigitte. His name is Smith, he is a musician who gave up a career and love marriage in order to support his mother and sister in a minor position. Octave is the same age as Smith, but there is a huge difference between them: the whole existence of the latter is calculated in accordance with the measured striking of the clock, and his thoughts are concerned with the welfare of his neighbor. Smith becomes a frequent guest at the house of Octave and Brigitte and promises to prevent her scandalous break with relatives. Painful suspicions leave Octave. Nothing further delays his departure with Brigitte, but some kind of perverse curiosity, a manifestation of a fatal instinct, interferes: he leaves Brigitte alone with Smith, guessing a certain secret. To recognize her, Octave conducts an experiment: he prepares the horses for departure and unexpectedly informs Brigitte about it. She agrees to go, but cannot hide her melancholy. A stormy explanation takes place between them. To the accusations and suspicions of Octave, who wants to reveal her secret, Brigitte replies that she is ready to die rather than part with him, but she can no longer bear the fury of the madman pushing her into the grave. Brigitte falls asleep exhausted, and Octave realizes that the harm done to them is irreparable, that he should leave his beloved, give her peace.
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At the bedside of the sleeping Brigitte, Octave indulges in sad reflections: to do evil is the role assigned to him by providence. The idea of suicide that arose was soon replaced by the idea that Brigitte would soon belong to another. Octave is about to kill Brigitte, brings a knife to her chest, but he is stopped by a small ebony crucifix. Suddenly he feels deep remorse and mentally returns to God. “Lord, you've been here. You saved an atheist from a crime. We, too, are brought to you by suffering, and only in the crown of thorns we come to worship your image, ”thinks Octave. On Brigitte's desk, he finds her farewell letter to Smith with a declaration of love. The next day, Octave and Brigitte say goodbye forever. Octave entrusts it to Smith and leaves Paris for good. Of the three people who suffered through his fault, only he remained unhappy.