Short summary - Germinie Lacerteux - Goncourt brothers - Edmond and Jules

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Germinie Lacerteux
Goncourt brothers - Edmond and Jules

Third quarter of the 19th century, the era of the Second Empire, Paris. An old woman, Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, lies in a poorly furnished room. Her maid, Germinie Lacerte, is kneeling by the bed. Rejoicing at the recovery of the hostess, the servant indulges in memories - after all, the young lady de Varandeil is so similar to her mother! And Germinie's mother died when her daughter was only five years old, and after her death the family's life did not work out. The father drank, the elder brother became the breadwinner, one sister worked in the service, the other sewed for rich gentlemen. But then the father died, and after him the brother. The sisters went to work in Paris, where Germinie was soon sent. She was then fourteen years old ... The old woman listens in silence, comparing her life with the life of a servant. Joyless memories overwhelm her ...
As a child, Mademoiselle de Varandeuil was also deprived of parental affection: neither her father nor her mother, an opera diva, cared about her. On the eve of the revolution, the mother fled, leaving her husband, daughter and son. During the Terror, the family lived under the constant fear of death. At the request of her father, who wanted to show loyalty to the regime, the revolutionary authorities performed a civil rite of baptism over Mademoiselle de Varandeuil and named her Sempronia. The girl was the mainstay of the family: she stood in lines for bread, looked after her father and brother. During the period of the Empire, when the financial situation of M. de Varandeuil improved, he still treated his daughter as a servant, did not consider it necessary to dress her and bring her out. Sempronia's brother went to America.
Monsieur de Varandeuil spent all the money on the purchase of paintings, hoping to then sell them profitably. However, speculation failed: the masterpieces he bought turned out to be gross forgeries. The ruined Monsieur de Varandeil left for the provinces and settled in a small house, leaving his daughter to do all the dirty work in it. When he finally hired a maid, he immediately made her his mistress, and she soon began to push him around. Then Sempronia told her father to choose: she or his mistress. The old man was frightened, calculated the servant, but, harboring a grudge, began petty revenge on his daughter, not letting her go and constantly demanding her presence in the house.
Shortly before his father's death, Sempronia's brother returned from America - with his mulatto wife and two daughters. When Monsieur de Varandeil died, the sister from the bottom of her heart offered her brother a part of her small inheritance. Together they settled in Paris. Jealous of her brother to her sister, the wife began to harass the unfortunate old maid.
Then Mademoiselle de Varandeuil rented a separate apartment for herself and renewed her acquaintance with relatives: “she received those to whom the Restoration had restored influence and power, went to visit those whom the new government had left in shadow and poverty,” and her life flowed “along once and for all established order. " If someone of her acquaintances had trouble, she immediately ran and stayed in the house as long as there was a need for her help. She lived more than modestly, but she allowed herself the luxury of pouring sweets on her acquaintances' children and seeing joy on the childish faces in return.
The long-suffering life of the old maid taught her to neglect human weaknesses. She was cheerful in spirit, full of kindness, but lacking the gift of forgiveness.
Years passed, the family of Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, everyone she loved, died, and the only place for her walks was the cemetery, where she looked after expensive graves ...
Immersed in memories, Mademoiselle no longer listens to the servant. Therefore, let's continue the simple story of Germinie Lacert ...
Arriving in Paris, she works in a seedy cafe, where waiters pester her. The girl begs her sisters to take her out of there, but they do not want to listen to her. An elderly waiter, being alone with her, rapes her.
Shocked, Germinie begins to fear men. She soon realizes that she is pregnant. The sisters torment her in every possible way, and the child is born dead. Germinie is again given into the service, she is constantly starving. Almost dying of hunger, she gets to the former actor, and he begins to take care of her. But the actor soon dies, and Germinie, tormented in search of a place, finally goes to Madame de Varandeil, who has just buried her maid.
At this time, Germinie falls into deep piety, giving the unclaimed tenderness of her heart to a young kind-hearted priest. However, when the priest realizes that Germinie's reverence is directed primarily at himself, he passes it on to another priest, and Germinie stops going to church altogether.
Family misfortunes send her thoughts in a different direction. Her sister dies, and her husband, leaving his sick three-year-old daughter, leaves the city. Germinie hires an old woman, settles her with her niece in the house where Mademoiselle de Varandeuil lives, runs every free minute to take care of the baby and literally saves her from death. But here, before leaving for Africa, her other sister appears to Germinie and offers to take the girl: after all, Germinie cannot take the child with her, because Mademoiselle is old and she needs peace, Germinie only needs to give her niece money for the trip.
Arriving in Africa, my sister dies. Her husband sends letters of complaint, demanding money for the maintenance of the girl. Germinie wants to give up everything and go to her niece, but suddenly finds out that the girl has long since died, following her sister. And Germinie immediately forgets about her desire.
Near Mademoiselle's house there is a dairy shop, which is bought by her countrywoman Germinie, a fat and talkative mother, Jupillon. Germinie often visits her to buy food and remember her native land. Soon she begins to spend all her free time there, travels with the hostess to her son, who is studying at a boarding school for "common people and illegitimate children." When mother Jupillon falls ill, Germinie herself visits the child, brings him gifts and buys clothes. Fat Jupillon is pleased: she got a gifted maid, who, in addition, spends her own money on her child.
Advertising:
But then the big guy Jupillon leaves the boarding house. Germinie's maternal feelings for the young loafer gradually develop into a passion for love. Taking advantage of the fact that Mademoiselle's service is not burdensome, she spends all day in the dairy, admiring her handsome man. "Sardonic and impudent", Jupillon is ready to drag behind every pretty face, taking possession of Germinie, he quickly gets fed up with it. All and sundry make fun of the novel by the "old woman" Germinie. Until recently, Germinie was the most respected servant in the quarter, and now any merchant considers it his duty to foist rotten goods on her, confident that she will not complain to the mistress, for she carefully hides all her adventures from her.
Begging for the love of an insolent youth, Germinie sells her few jewelry, buys him a workshop and furnishes it. Accepting this gift, Jupillon does not even find words of gratitude.
Germinie has a daughter from Jupillon. Hiding this event from the mistress, she arranges for her daughter outside the city at the wet nurse and every Sunday, together with Jupillon, goes to her. Suddenly, the news comes that the child is sick. Fearing that Mademoiselle will reveal her secret, Germinie awaits the end of the week. The delay turns out to be fatal: the child dies.
Advertising:
Germinie falls into dull despair. When the first grief passes, she begins to drink, carefully hiding it from Madame de Varandeuil.
Unable to withstand the treachery of her lover, Germinie confesses everything to his mother. She, of course, takes the side of her son, and when Germinie timidly asks to return her money spent on the workshop, she is accused of trying to "buy" the poor boy and ruin his life.
Germinie breaks away from the dairy and for all her adversity plays out on Mademoiselle: she dares her, runs the house carelessly. The lonely old woman endures everything, since for a long time she has been looking at Germinie as "a person who will one day close her eyes." She is ready to console the servant, but, knowing nothing about her life outside the house, she cannot help her.
Jupillon draws lots. Money is needed to pay off the soldiery. The mother and son decide to fool Germinie and force her to fork out. Having met Germinie on the street, Jupillon pretends that she is in a quarrel only with his mother, and he himself still treats her well. He leads her to the dairy, mother Jupillon sheds crocodile tears, and Germinie is silent, but Jupillon becomes scared from her look.
Advertising:
A week later Germinie returns, carrying the money collected in a handkerchief in a scarf. She borrowed from everyone she could, and is now in bondage for the entire block, for her salary is barely enough to pay interest. She realizes that Jupillon does not love her, but the thought that he will end up on the battlefield terrifies her.
Germinie herself is surprised at how low she fell, but she cannot help herself: she is ready for anything to keep Jupillon, who again became her lover - solely because of money, because her wallet is always at his service. Germinie drinks, Mademoiselle lies, and, despite the "almost reverential feeling" she has for her mistress, steals money from her, confident that she is unlikely to find it missing. Germinie dresses in rags, grows weak, grows stupid before our eyes, turns into a "riot", and Jupillon abandons her.
All her overwhelming love, the unhappy woman suddenly focuses on Mademoiselle. She again becomes a quick and quick-witted servant. However, the thought that the mistress finds out about her debts torments her; the lusts of the body give her no less suffering.
Unable to withstand the longing of love, she enters into a relationship with the mischievous artisan. He, deciding that Germinie has savings, invites her to marry him. Germinie refuses to part with Mademoiselle, and her lover leaves her. Filled with lust, at night she wanders the streets and is given to the first comer. Inadvertently, she collides with Jupillon, and the former passion flares up in her with renewed vigor. But her health was finally undermined, and she fell seriously ill. And yet she continues to work, for she is afraid that all her sins will immediately come out if the mistress hires another servant. Finally, she becomes so ill that she is taken to the hospital. The hostess visits her, takes care of her. And then one day Mademoiselle comes to Germinie, and she is asked to identify the corpse.
Advertising:
To the shocked death of Mademoiselle's maid, creditors with Germinie's receipts begin to flock, Paying the debts of the deceased, Madame de Varandeuil learns about the unknown side of her maid's life. From surprise and anger, the old maid falls ill. But gradually her anger passes, only pity remains. She travels to the cemetery, finds a common grave and kneels down where the woeful remains of Germinie now lie with the other poor. "... Fate wished that the body of the sufferer remained under the earth as homeless as her heart was on earth."