Short summary - René - François-René de Chateaubriand

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - René
François-René de Chateaubriand

René, a young man of a noble family, settles in a French colony in the wilderness of Louisiana, among the Nache Indian tribe. His past is shrouded in mystery. René's penchant for melancholy makes him avoid the company of people. The only exceptions are his adoptive father, the blind elder Shaktas, and the missionary of Fort Rosalie, Father Suel. In vain, however, they try to find out from Rene the reasons for his voluntary flight. For several years, Rene has been hiding her secret. When, having received a certain letter, he began to avoid both his old friends, they persuaded him to open his soul to them.
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On the banks of the Mississippi, Renee decides to finally start her story. "How pathetic my eternal concern will seem to you!" - says to father Suel and Shaktas Rene, "a young man devoid of strength and valor, finding his suffering in himself" and complaining only about the troubles he caused himself.
His birth cost his mother's life. He was brought up far from the parental home and early showed a fervor of nature and unevenness of character. Rene feels free only in the company of his sister Amelie, with whom he is bound by close and tender bonds by the similarity of characters and tastes. They are also united by a certain sadness, hidden in the depths of the heart, a property bestowed by God.
Rene's father dies in his arms, and the young man, feeling the breath of death for the first time, thinks about the immortality of the soul. Deceptive paths of life open up before Rene, but he cannot choose any of them. He is tempted to hide from the world, contemplating the bliss of monastic life. Eternally seized by anxiety, the inhabitants of Europe are erecting abodes of silence for themselves. The more confusion and bustle in the human heart, the more solitude and peace attract. But due to his inherent inconstancy, Rene changes his mind and goes on a journey.
At first he visits the lands of disappeared peoples, Greece and Rome, but soon he gets tired of "rummaging in the graves" and discovering "the ashes of criminal people and deeds." He wants to know whether living nations have more virtue and less misery. Rene especially tries to get to know people of art and those divine chosen ones who glorify the gods and the happiness of nations, honor laws and faith. But modernity does not show him beauty in the same way that antiquity does not reveal truth.
Soon Rene returns to his homeland. Sometime in early childhood, he happened to see the sunset of the great century. Now he's gone. Never before has any nation experienced such a surprising and sudden change: "the elevation of the spirit, respect for faith, the severity of morals have been replaced by resourcefulness of mind, disbelief and depravity." Soon, in his homeland, Rene feels even more lonely than in other countries.
He is also upset by the inexplicable behavior of his sister Amelie, who left Paris a few days before his arrival. René decides to settle in the suburbs and live in complete obscurity.
At first, he is pleased with the existence of a person who is not known to anyone and does not depend on anyone. He likes to mix with the crowd - a huge human desert. But in the end it all becomes unbearable for him. He decides to retire to the bosom of nature and end his life journey there.
René realizes that he is blamed for the inconstancy of tastes, accused of constantly rushing past the goal that he could achieve. Obsessed with blind attraction, he is looking for some unknown good, and everything completed has no value in his eyes. Both complete loneliness and constant contemplation of nature lead Rene to an indescribable state. He suffers from an excess of vitality and cannot fill the bottomless emptiness of his existence. Now he is in a state of calm, then he is in confusion. Neither friendly ties, nor communication with the world, nor solitude - nothing Renee succeeded, everything turned out to be fatal. The feeling of disgust for life returns with renewed vigor. A monstrous boredom, like a strange ulcer, eats away at Rene's soul, and he decides to leave this life.
However, you need to dispose of your property, and Renee writes a letter to her sister. Amelie feels the coercion of the tone of this letter and soon, instead of answering, comes to him. Amelie is the only creature in the world that Renee loves. Nature endowed Amelie with divine meekness, a captivating and dreamy mind, female shyness, angelic purity and harmony of the soul. The meeting of brother and sister brings them immense joy.
After a while, however, Rene notices that Amelie begins to lose sleep and health, often shedding tears. Once Rene finds a letter addressed to him, from which it follows that Amelie decides to leave her brother forever and retire to a monastery. In this hasty escape, Rene suspects some kind of secret, perhaps passionate love, in which her sister does not dare to confess. He makes one last attempt to get his sister back and comes to B., to the monastery. Refusing to accept Rene, Amelie allows him to be present in the church during the ceremony of her tonsure as a nun. Rene is amazed at her sister's cold hardness. He is desperate, but forced to submit. Religion triumphs. Cut off with a sacred rod, Amelie's hair falls. But in order to die to the world, she must go through the grave. Rene kneels before the marble slab, on which Amelie lies, and suddenly hears her strange words: "Merciful God <...> bless with all your gifts a brother who did not share my criminal passion!" This is the awful truth that Rene finally reveals. His reason is clouded. The ceremony is interrupted.
Rene is in deep anguish: he became the unwitting cause of his sister's unhappiness. Grief for him is now a permanent state. He makes a new decision: to leave Europe. Rene is waiting for the fleet to sail to America. He often wanders around the monastery where Amelie took refuge. In a letter he received before leaving, she admits that time is already alleviating her suffering.
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This is where René's story ends. Sobbing, he hands Father Suel a letter from the abbess of the monastery with the news of the death of Amelie, who contracted a dangerous disease while she was caring for other nuns. Shaktas consoles Renee. Father Suel, on the contrary, gives him a stern rebuke: Rene does not deserve pity, his sorrow, in the full sense of the word, is nothing. "You cannot consider yourself a man of an exalted soul just because the world seems hateful to you." Everyone who has been given strength is obliged to devote it to the service of his neighbor. Shaktas is convinced that happiness can only be found along paths common to all people.
A short time later, Rene dies along with Shaktas and Father Suel during the beating of the French and the invaders in Louisiana.