Short summary - L'Âme enchantée (The Enchanted Soul) - Romain Rolland

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - L'Âme enchantée (The Enchanted Soul)
Romain Rolland

As conceived by the writer, the novel is “something more than a literary work. This is a living being, a story about the spiritual world of one woman ”, covering forty years of her life - from carefree youth to courageous death.
From the first pages of the novel, we are faced with "a strong, fresh girl, filled with the juices of life", strong, blond, with a stubborn bulging forehead, who has not yet experienced anything in life and is constantly immersed in her dreams. The position in society and the condition of her father allow Annette Riviere to live a free, wealthy life. She studies at the Sorbonne, is smart, independent, self-confident.
From the papers of the recently deceased father, Annette learns that she has a half-sister Sylvia, the illegitimate daughter of Raul Riviera and the flower girl Dolphina. She finds Sylvia and becomes sincerely attached to her. Sylvia, a grisette, a typical child of the working class of Paris, does not quite meet her sister's high moral standards. She is not averse to deceiving Annette, and when she notices that her sister likes a young Italian aristocrat, she takes him away from her without any embarrassment. And yet, the common blood unites these two, so unlike women. "They were like two hemispheres of one soul." In any trials prepared for them by fate, they do not lose sight of each other and are always ready to help one another.
Annette proposes to a young lawyer Roger Brissot. His family is ready to annex the possessions of a wealthy heiress to their lands. Roger is sure that "the true purpose of a woman is at the hearth, her vocation is motherhood." But Annette, “who herself has her own world, who is also the whole world herself,” does not want to become a shadow of her husband and live only by his interests. She asks Roger for freedom for herself and her soul, but runs into a wall of misunderstanding. Annette cannot come to terms with the mediocrity of her chosen one. Truthful in everything, she finds the strength to break the engagement. But she feels sorry for her rejected lover. Unable to control herself, she surrenders to him.
Annette's soul is healed of passion, but a new life is ripening under her heart - she is pregnant. The sister invites her to tell everything to her ex-groom and oblige him to marry her in order to avoid shame and give the child a father. But Annette is not afraid of human talk and is ready to become both a father and a mother for the baby. Throughout her pregnancy, she is immersed in dreams and dreams of a sweet life together with a child.
Annette has a son. Reality looks much harsher than her dreams. Secular society, friends, girlfriends, so admired her before, turned away from her. Unexpectedly for Annette herself, it hurts her painfully. She is not going to put up with the "position of an outcast." Then little Mark gets sick. No sooner had the child recovered than a new misfortune fell upon Annette: she was ruined, a house in Paris and an estate in Burgundy were auctioned off. Mother and son are forced to move to a small apartment in the house where Sylvia lives. For a meager fee, Annette gives private lessons, from morning to evening running around the city from end to end, while the baby is under the supervision of her sister and her seamstresses. However, such a life is to Annette's liking. She seemed to wake up from a dream, "began to find pleasure in overcoming difficulties, was ready for anything, brave and believed in herself."
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Annette meets former college friend Julien Davie. The awkward, timid Julien reaches for the strong, strong-willed Annette. She, in turn, responds to the undivided devotion of this sweet person. The young woman does not hide anything from her past life and talks about her illegitimate child. Julien recognizes Annette's frankness and nobility, but Catholic and bourgeois prejudices are strong in his soul. Annette does not blame him for this, but decisively breaks with him.
Annette meets a young doctor Philippe Villard. At first glance, Villars recognizes Annette as a kindred spirit. Her extraordinary mind and stormy temperament delight him. Passion flares up between them, they become lovers. Annette wants to be needed by her beloved, to become his wife and girlfriend, equal to him in everything. But Philip, in his immeasurable egoism, sees in Annette only his thing, his slave. He is not opposed to linking their lives, but at the moment he is carried away by the controversy surrounding his article on birth control, and is in no hurry to make a decision. Trying to free herself from “the humiliating slavery to which love has doomed her,” Annette flees Paris and takes refuge with her sister. When she returns, she refuses to meet with Philip. Three months later, the exhausted Annette is healed of her love fever. "At the end of the night of torment, she gave birth to a new soul."
The First World War begins. Annette, the "obsessed gambler", greets her: "War, peace - all this is life, all this is her game." She perked up, she breathes easily. But the excitement of the first months of the war passes, and Anneta's eyes open. She is “on no one’s side,” and all those who suffer, both hers and others, are worthy of her maternal pity.
In search of work, Annette is forced to send her son to a lyceum, and she herself leaves for the province, where she finds a job as a teacher in a college. Here she meets Germaine Chavannes, a young bourgeois who returned from the war poisoned by gases. Germain has a friend, the German artist Franz, who is now in a POW camp. Before his death, Germain dreams of receiving at least a message from a friend. Touched by the tender friendship of young people, Annette organizes a correspondence between them, then arranges for Franz to escape from the camp and sends him to Switzerland, where the dying Germain awaits him. Unbeknownst to herself, Annette becomes attached to the weak-willed, selfish Franz. Franz, shocked by the death of his friend, becomes attached to Annette and literally cannot take a step without her. Having made a painful choice for herself, Annette abandons her personal happiness in favor of her son and leaves for Paris.
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In Paris, she learns that the man who helped her arrange Franz's escape has been arrested and faces the death penalty. Annette is ready to confess everything and take the blame to save him. Friends miraculously manage to ward off trouble from her, presenting her act as love extravagance.
For everyone, this adventure of Annette looks exactly like that, but not for her son. Mark, going through a period of adolescence, feels lonely, abandoned by his mother, but secretly proud of her, her courage. For a long time he avoided Annette, was ashamed of her violent manifestations of feelings, her frankness and directness. Now, when he realized what a noble and pure heart his mother has, he longs to talk to her heart to heart. Annette gives Mark freedom of choice, revealing to the young man that his father is a famous lawyer, brilliant orator and politician Roger Brissot. But Mark, having visited the rally where his father speaks, is disappointed: the orator's words about "immortal principles, crusades, the sacrificial altar" are saturated with falsehood. Mark is ashamed of his father and the crowd applauding him. Returning home, he says to the Questionnaire: "You are my father and mother."
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Annette is terrified that her dear boy's turn is about to come to go to the front. Mark, like his mother, sees all the abomination of war and despises lying patriots and their sanctimonious heroism. He is ready to say no to the war and refuse to go to the front. “Unhappy! <...> We were promised liberation, but they imposed a vile war that threw us into the abyss of suffering and death, disgusting and useless! " - shouts Mark. Annette is not able to deceive his trust, she supports him.
The First World War is over. Mark never got to the front. He studies at the Sorbonne. He is already ashamed to take money and food from his mother, he wants to earn money himself. Together with his friends, the young man is trying to understand what is happening in post-war Europe, and to choose his position in relation to what is happening.
Annette is already over forty, she has reached the age when they enjoy every day they have lived: “The world is what it is. And I too am who I am. Let him bear with me! I can put up with him. " Looking with a smile at how her boy rushes about, she is sure that, despite the bumps and blows falling on him from all sides, he "will never lay down his arms", will not roll down, will not betray the principles of goodness and justice that he has laid in him she, his mother.
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Annette is trying to find at least some kind of job, not disdaining the hardest. The case brings her to the editorial office of a newspaper owned by Timon. This aggressive, rude, grasping person, before whom the entire editorial staff trembles, notices Annette and makes her his personal secretary. He likes this smart, calm, lively woman of "good Gallic leaven". He trusts her, shares his secrets, consults with her. Annette does not approve of him, but accepts, "as the spectacle is accepted." She believes that “as long as a person remains internally truthful and free, not everything is lost for him,” even if he is mired in fraud and crime. Thanks to Timon, Annette gets behind the scenes of politics and is convinced that "sovereigns, parliaments, ministers ... are no more than puppets with gramophone records: they exist for the gallery." Others are behind them. "The main bell ringers are Deeds and Money." And Timon swims in this sea like a shark with indestructible energy. Annette directs this energy in the right direction. Its everything. more attracted by the young Soviet Russia, and at the suggestion of Annette Timon opposes the economic blockade of the USSR. Timon's former partners, sensing where the wind is blowing, try to remove first Annette, and then Timon himself. The latter succeeds - Timon dies.
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Mark is seriously ill. His health is undermined by overwork, lack of sleep and malnutrition. Throwing everything, Annette saves her son. To her. helping Mark's neighbor, a Russian girl Asya. With the efforts of both women, Mark is on the mend. Love breaks out between Mark and Asya. Annette accepts Asya as her own daughter. Asya opens her soul to her: in her homeland she had to endure the death of a child, the horrors of the civil war, hunger, deprivation. Under the wise motherly gaze of Annette, the girl seems to thaw, flourish.
Asya and Mark have a son. However, their feeling cracks: active, freedom-loving Asya cannot sit within four walls and is torn to freedom. She is more and more interested in the changes taking place. in her homeland, in Russia. Mark rushes about in search of work, in search of his goal in life. There is a gap between the spouses, and Asya leaves home. Annette does not blame her daughter-in-law, does not break off relations with her. She is sorry for both children. She takes her grandson to her and hopes that someday his prodigal parents will accidentally or deliberately clash at her house and make peace. She sees that love is glimmering in young, hot hearts under a layer of ash.
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Annette was right: Asya and Mark are together again. After so many trials that have fallen to their lot, they feel themselves not only spouses, but also like-minded people. Mark makes the firm decision "to devote himself to a great cause and prepare for great social battles." They organize people in support of the Soviet Union, against the nascent fascism, open a small printing house where they print translations of Marx, Lenin, proclamations and pamphlets written by Mark. Annette is not trying to subdue the energetic leaps of her two foals. " With its help, Mark's book publishing house turns into one of the centers of anti-fascist emigrants.
Mark's activities become too visible, and he is in danger. Annette decides to go on vacation with the whole family to Switzerland. There, mother and son, as never before, feel the kinship of souls, complete unity, they are infinitely happy and enjoy each other's company. Leaving little Vanya in the care of friends, Annette, Mark and Asya set off for Italy. However, even there, Mark is already known as a fighter for social justice and antifascist, and they are being watched by the police. The Italian adherents of the Duce also do not disregard Mark. In Florence, on the day of his departure to his homeland, Mark dies, saving a teenage boy from the enraged fascists. Annette's pain is immeasurable, but she has the strength and courage to take the body of her son and her daughter-in-law, distraught with grief, to France.
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After the death of her son, Annette thinks that “she has nothing left”. Her beloved son was her "second self", she put all the best in him. Repeating to himself: “My beloved son died, but he is not dead. He is always with me ... ”, Annette is gradually awakening to life. She decides to continue her son's business and thus preserve the living memory of Mark. "It is not me, it is he who is walking ... In my body, he, dead, will go further than he would have reached alive." Annette speaks at anti-fascist rallies, works in various public organizations of international assistance. And soon, in the eyes of people, mother and son Riviere merge together.
However, Anneta's strength is not the same, her "tired heart" begins to give up. Doctors forbid her to engage in vigorous activity. Asya gets married and leaves for America, leaving Vanya in the care of her grandmother. Annette devotes herself to home and to her “chicks”: a seriously ill sister, grandson, young Georges, daughter of her old friend Julien Davi, young man Silvio, whose life Mark saved. Annette knows what dangers and suffering await those whom she loves, but she is calm: "If we know that the matter is fair, that it should be so, we therefore know that it will be so."
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Flying over Rome and scattering anti-fascist leaflets, Silvio dies. Annette understands that all her children “are destined to accept death in flames with delight, <...> The flame that illuminated her without burning, destroyed the walls and spread to the souls of others. <…> The enchanted soul and a brood of its chicks, like a phoenix, were born for the fire. So glory to the fire, if from their ashes, as from the ashes of a phoenix, a new, more worthy humanity is reborn! " Rejoicing that she is joining the voluntary sacrifice of her children, Annette welcomes death. “The cycle of the Enchanted Soul is coming to an end. She was a link in a staircase thrown across the void at one of the bends. And when the foot ruthlessly rests on it, the step does not surrender, the Teacher crosses the abyss along the body bent like a semicircle of a bow. All the pain of her life was a deviation angle on the path that Destiny is going forward. "