Short summary - La Semaine Sainte - Louis Aragon

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - La Semaine Sainte
Louis Aragon

The action takes place from 19 to 26 March 1815 in France, during the last week before Easter, in the Catholic calendar called passionate. The novel is based on historical events related to the return of Napoleon Bonaparte to Paris, who fled the island of Elba, where he was in exile. The main character of this multifaceted epic novel is the young artist Theodore Gericault. In 1811, his father, Georges Gericault, with the consent of his son, who hates the war, hired a recruit instead of him to serve in Napoleon's army. And for several years, Theodore was quietly engaged in painting. However, in 1815 he was suddenly identified as the gray musketeer of King Louis XVIII and thus was included in the dramatic events that swept France.

In the barracks of the royal troops on the outskirts of Paris, early in the morning, an order was received to arrive in the capital on the Champ de Mars, where the king wants to conduct a review in the afternoon. What decision will the king make - to defend the Louvre and Paris according to the developed plan or to leave the capital, since Bonaparte very quickly and practically unhindered approaches the city? Everyone is discussing the news of the betrayal of the "faithful" Marshal Ney, who was sent by the king to block Bonaparte's road to Paris and went over to the side of the emperor. Theodore Gericault asks himself one more question - what will happen to him personally if the generals continue to betray the king, and the royal troops with carts and weapons will join Napoleon's army? Maybe give up everything, sit out in his father's huge house, start painting again? .. However, after a short rest in his Parisian house, despite fatigue, doubts, rain and slush, Theodore still arrives on time on his beloved horse Tricot to the gathering place ...
Meanwhile, time passes, and the king does not appear. Rumors of betrayal, about the flight of aristocrats, about Bonaparte, who is on the outskirts of Paris, about the king's indecision, excite the minds of the French. The military is not told anything, but they suddenly see the king's carriage. At high speed, it moves away from the Louvre. So the monarch is running away, but where, in what direction? Then suddenly the carriage stops, the king orders the troops to return to the barracks, and he himself returns to the Louvre. There is a liveliness in the city; in some quarters, café-goers are already drinking to Napoleon's health. It's dangerous to walk around the city in the form of a royal musketeer, but can't you sleep on a night like this ?! Theodore enters a cafe and with his uniform almost provokes a fight. Fortunately, his old acquaintance Dieudonne, who happened to be there, recognizes Theodore and settles everything. Dieudonne returns to the emperor, but he has not forgotten Theodore, whom he knows from childhood and for whom he served as a model for one of the paintings. Wandering around Paris, Gericault meets other acquaintances. The same confusion reigns in his head as in the whole city. Thoughts replace each other. Thoughts about the past, present and future of the homeland alternate with thoughts about painting. Which is better for France - the king, Bonaparte or the Republic? Why doesn't he, the artist Theodore Gericault, run to his studio right now? After all, all that he saw during the day and sees now is a bright light in the Louvre, where the ambassador of Spain is received, and the blackness of the night - everything just asks for the canvas. Now he could work no worse than his beloved Caravaggio.

However, his legs carry him not home, but to his friends-musketeers, who, together with other troops, leave Paris and, following the king and his escort who has already left in the middle of the night, retreat to the north of the country. But where exactly, on what route - no one knows, not even the king's nephew, the Duke of Berry, who stayed for a short time with his beloved Virginie, who gave him a son the other day. The king appointed Marshal Mezon as commander-in-chief, but he also cannot organize anything - the generals do as they see fit. It is not known where the headquarters is located, but it is known that on the evening of March 19, its entire staff appeared in the chancellery, demanded a salary and disappeared. No sooner had the royal troops left Paris than part of them had already turned back: in Saint-Denis, General Excelmans, who had gone over to Bonaparte's side, lured them away. The units loyal to the king on March 20, in bad weather and impassable mud, reached the city of Beauvais, from where the king and his retinue had just left. But where? Calais and then England? One can only guess. And what is destined for them - will there be a battle here, or will the retreat continue? The people of Beauvais are afraid of Bonaparte's return. After all, then recruitment fees will begin again, a bloody tribute to the war, and their city is already almost completely destroyed. And production will suffer, who will then need their textiles?

In Beauvais, Gericault spent the night at the house of the grocer widow Durant. Her daughter, Denise, sixteen, told Theodore that a year ago a young officer, Alphonse de Pra, had lodged with them, who recited his poetry to her and described Italy wonderfully. Later, Theodore learned that it was Lamartine. And on the same night, at dawn, the sub-prefect of the city was brought the news that the Emperor Bonaparte had solemnly settled in the Paris Louvre. In Beauvais, the military leaders and the princes who arrived there in the morning cannot hide their confusion: the troops have not yet fully pulled up to the city, and General Excelmans, who went to catch up with them, may just about to impose a battle. So, it is necessary, without sparing state money, to buy horses, as soon as possible to reach the port of Dieppe and sail to England, even without direct instructions from the king, who still does not make himself felt.
Among those sent for the horses is Gericault. The conversation with the owner of the herd is not easy, but the musketeers still manage, thanks to their assertiveness, to buy the best horses. Among the horses, one stands out, black suit with a white spot on the hind leg. You have to be careful with such "little whites", they are very aggressive. Gericault gives this handsome horse to his friend Marc-Antoine, who on the way to Beauvais lost his beloved horse. But the gift turns out to be fatal: two days later, the horse, frightened by an unexpected shot, carried the new owner, who was unable to free his leg from the stirrup. The rider in grave condition is left in the care of a poor peasant family, and his further fate remains unclear.

Upon entering the city of Pua, Theodore had to stop by the smithy to shoe his Tricot. He stays overnight at the blacksmith Müller, to whom two men arrived - the old man Joubert and the young driver Bernard. Müller is married to Sophie, for whom Bernard and the blacksmith's assistant Firmen have affection. At supper, Theodore's keen gaze caught signs of drama unfolding in this house. Firmen hates Bernard, feeling that Sophie is secretly attracted by this guest who regularly appears at the blacksmith. Firmen patiently waits for the right moment to deal with the opponent. At midnight, Firmen enters Theodore's room and invites him to go with him after Bernard and Joubert to a secret meeting of the conspirators. Firmen hopes that the royal musketeer Gericault, having heard the anti-royal speeches of the conspirators, will report on Bernard, and thus he will free himself from the hated rival. About twenty people gathered in a clearing near the cemetery. They excitedly discuss the causes of the plight of the people, blame it primarily on the aristocrats and the king, scold Bonaparte for endless wars and ruin. How many people, so many opinions. Theodore, hiding behind a tree, thinks that he is in the theater and watching some unfamiliar drama. It turns out that the price of bread can worry and even bother someone, some kind of accounting books cause curses among the workers, and these same workers talk with hope about some kind of "workers' unions". Some of them argue that the people should not trust anyone else, others argue that Bonaparte can be what the people will make him, if the people give him the right direction, and he himself unites. Gericault feels that something is changing in him. This wave of human passions captivates him and brings him purely physical pain. He came here by accident, but now he will always be on the side of these people, about whom he knew practically nothing before. And when Firmen persistently asks Theodore to return to the city and tell everything to the royal authorities, who will arrest the rioters, Theodore hurls Firmen in a rage and punches him in the face.
The news of Excelmans' cavalry drives princes and counts across the English Channel, but Theodore Gericault does not even think about emigration. In Pua, the word "homeland" was enriched for him with a new meaning, now he could not part with France, leave people in need and suffering. But the king is in a hurry to leave France: firstly, you cannot fall into the hands of Bonaparte, and secondly, even relatives who dream of taking possession of his crown are now dangerous. Louis XVIII wants to outwit them all - after some time he will return with his allies and protect himself from all applicants. Meanwhile, rumors are spreading among the king's soldiers that in Lille the guards may link up with foreign armies on the border. This means that the Duke of Orleans, who two days ago assured the army that the king would never turn to foreigners for help and would not call them to French soil, was lying.

A riot is brewing in the army. Some generals face this problem with the same acuteness. For example, Marshal MacDonald openly declares to the king that he will not cross the border. The moment of choice has come: loyalty to the king or loyalty to the homeland. And the king himself, never reaching the port on the English Channel, decided to cross the Franco-Belgian border to Meneno as soon as possible. On the squares of French cities, instead of "Long live the king!" everywhere they shout "Long live the emperor!", and on Good Friday they go to the cathedral for the liturgy. But Theodore is not up to religious rituals: he has not yet found an answer for himself which side to take. It is already clear that he is not on the side of the king, who has stained himself with the shame of treason. But why is Bonaparte better? After all, it was he who once said that he did not want to be the emperor of the rabble. He doesn't care that the people are dying of hunger, and the army and countless police keep him at bay. Or maybe that young orator was right who called upon the royalists and republicans to rally against the tyrant emperor? All this has yet to be sorted out. And now Theodore Gericault, who has already been at the limits of the possible, at this hour of Easter Matins just wants to live, paint pictures, peer into the faces of people, love them. He wants to become a real painter of the world that surrounds him.