Short summary - Ninety-Three - Victor Hugo

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Ninety-Three
Victor Hugo

In the last days of May, soldiers and a waitress from the Parisian battalion "Red Hat" stumble upon a Breton peasant woman with three children - a baby girl and two slightly older boys in the Sodreis forest. Michelle Fleshard's husband was killed and the hut was burned down - left without a piece of bread, the unfortunate wandering about. At the suggestion of Sergeant Radouba, the battalion adopts Georgette, Rene-Jean and Gros-Alain. On June 1, the military frigate Claymore, disguised as a merchant ship, departs from England: it is to deliver a passenger to France - a tall old man in peasant clothes and with the posture of a prince. On the way, misfortune occurs: one of the gunners poorly secured the cannon, a huge colossus breaks down, and the damaged ship loses control. The misguided gunner is trying to fix the matter - at the decisive moment the majestic old man, risking his life, throws a bag with counterfeit banknotes under the wheels, and the cannon is put into place. The captain turns to the old man for orders: he awards the gunner with the cross of St. Louis, and then orders him to be shot. The frigate that lost precious time dies in an unequal battle with the French squadron, but before that the royalists unnoticed lower the boat to save the old man - the future leader of the rebellious Vendee. One of the sailors volunteers to accompany him: when they are alone, he takes out a pistol - the killed gunner was his brother. The old man calmly explains that the culprit just got what he deserved. If the sailor is not afraid of eternal damnation, let him take revenge - then his native Brittany will be captured by bloodthirsty atheist republicans. Galmalo cannot resist the iron logic of these arguments - kneeling down, he begs for forgiveness and swears loyalty to the “monsignor”. The old man instructs him to notify all adherents of the faith and the king that the Turg castle is designated as the rallying point. Galmalo nods happily: this is the property of his liege, the Marquis de Lantenac, he grew up there and in childhood often climbed into an underground passage, which no one knows about ... The old man interrupts the sailor: there is nothing like that in Turga, these are ordinary tales of local peasants. Having landed on the shore, the aristocrat and the sailor part: Galmalo goes on an errand, and the old man goes to the nearest village. A beggar blocks his way - the mister marquis cannot go there, a reward has been assigned for his head. Good Telmarsh hides Lantenak in his own shack, because he is sick of the thought of betrayal. The next morning, the Marquis sees the order for his execution, signed by the commander of the expeditionary corps, Gauvin - this name makes a strong impression on the old man. Suddenly from all sides, as if from under the ground, people appear - the Bretons, having learned about the appearance of the leader, rushed to the place of his disembarkation and destroyed the republican detachment standing in the village. Lantenac orders the execution of the prisoners, making no exception for two women. He is told about three children: he orders to take them with him - then it will be clear what to do with them. And Telmarsh picks up one of the shot women: this nursing mother was lucky - the bullet only broke her collarbone.
Europe is at war with France, and France is at war with Paris. The city breathes with revolution - here they even smile heroically, and small children babble "sa ira". There is no shortage of tribunes and preachers; among them stands out the former priest Cimourdin - a man of fierce righteousness and frightening purity. He has only one affection: in his youth, he was the mentor of the little viscount, whom he loved with all his soul. When the boy grew up, the teacher was shown the door, and he lost sight of his student. Then a great storm struck: Cimourdin, having renounced his dignity, devoted himself entirely to the cause of the rebellious people - in 93 he becomes one of the most influential members of the Episcopate, which, along with the Convention and the Commune, has full power in the revolutionary capital. On June 28, in a tavern on Pavlina Street, a secret meeting takes place: a sleek young man in a sky-blue dress coat, a red-faced giant with a lion's mane of hair and a disgusting dwarf in a women's knitted sweater - Robespierre, Danton and Marat are sitting at the table. The leaders are quarreling: Robespierre believes that the main danger comes from the Vendée, Danton claims that there is nothing worse than an external enemy, and Marat longs for dictatorship - the revolution will be destroyed by discord. The appearance of Cimourdin interrupts the argument. The former priest takes the side of Robespierre: if the Vendée rebellion is not strangled, the infection will spread throughout the country. the Marquis de Lantenac knows very well what needs to be done - it is enough for him to reclaim a small bridgehead on the coast, and British troops will land in France. Robespierre, instantly appreciating the merits of Cimourdin, appoints him the delegate of the Convention in the Vendée - he will be with a young commander who has great military talents, but is distinguished by excessive indulgence towards prisoners. This young man is from the former nobility, and his name is Govin. Hearing this name, Cimourdin turns pale, but does not refuse the assignment. Nothing escapes Marat's gaze: at his insistence, the Convention adopts a decree the very next day that any commander who released an enemy captured with weapons in his hands should be beheaded on the guillotine.
In early July, an unknown rider stops at an inn near the Breton town of Dole. The owner advises the traveler to go around the Dol side: there are fighting, and two former clashed - the Marquis de Lantenaki, Viscount de Gauvin. They are also relatives - Gauvin is Lantenac's great-nephew. While the young republican is luckier, he is pushing the old royalist, preventing him from gaining a foothold on the coast. Perhaps everything would have turned out differently if the Marquis had not ordered the execution of a woman - a mother of three children. He took the children with him, and the surviving soldiers of the Red Hat battalion are now fighting with such ferocity that no one can withstand their onslaught. Having thanked the innkeeper, the stranger gallops to Dol and, getting into the thick of the battle, takes on a saber strike intended for Govin. The moved young man recognizes his beloved teacher. Cimourdin also cannot hide his feelings: his dear boy became a man and turned into a true angel of the Revolution. Both passionately desire the Republic to triumph, but they embody two poles of truth: Cimourdin stands for the Republic of Terror, and Gauvin stands for the Republic of Mercy. However, in relation to Lantenac, the young man is as implacable as his former mentor: unlike the ignorant peasants, the Marquis acts quite consciously, and he will not be spared. A few weeks later, the Vendée rebellion was almost over - the peasants scattered, unable to resist the regular troops. On one of the August days, the siege of the castle of Turg begins, where Lantenak took refuge with several associates. The position of the Marquis is hopeless, and Cimourdin looks forward to the arrival of the guillotine from Paris. But there are three Michelle Fleshard children in the castle: they are placed on the second floor of the tower, in a library with a massive iron door, and combustible materials are stacked on the first and third floors. Then the besieged give an ultimatum: if they are not allowed to leave freely, the hostage children will die. Gauvin sends for the stairs to the nearest village, and Cimourdin is ready to release all the rebels except Lantenac. The Vendéans, rejecting these conditions with contempt, are taking on a hopeless battle. When they confess, preparing for imminent death, the stone in the wall moves aside - the underground passage really exists, and Galmalo arrived in time. The ferocious Imanus is called to delay the attackers for a quarter of an hour - this is enough to retreat. Sergeant Radoub is the first to break into the castle, but the agonizing Vendee manages to set fire to the fuse. The Republicans watch the fire in impotent rage. Lantenac escaped, and the children will inevitably die: the iron door cannot be broken open, and you cannot climb to the second floor without a staircase - it was burned by the peasants, who ambushed the guillotine, which reached the castle safely. The scariest moment comes when the mother sees the doomed children - Michelle Fleshard, who survived the execution, finally found Georgette, Rene-Jean and Gros-Alain. Hearing her animal cry, Lantenak returns through the underground passage to the iron door, unlocks it with a key and disappears in clouds of flame - after which the floors collapse with a crash. The old man rescues the children using the stairs that were in the library, and then goes down himself - right into the hands of Cimourdin. The marquis awaits a military court (pure formality), and then a guillotine. At night, Gauvin releases Lantenac: a pure youth cannot allow the Republic to tarnish itself, responding with execution to an act of great self-sacrifice. The young commander is put on trial: the voice of Cimourdin turns out to be decisive, and he without hesitation condemns the young man to death. When Gauvin's head falls under the blow of the guillotine knife, a shot is heard - Cimourdin has fulfilled his terrible duty, but cannot live after that.