Short summary - Le Matrimoine - Jean-Pierre Hervé-Bazin

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Le Matrimoine
Jean-Pierre Hervé-Bazin

Through the lips of his hero, the provincial lawyer Abel Bretodeau, the author chronicles the daily life of the family year after year, from 1953 to 1967. According to Abel, novelists are usually only interested in the beginning and end of love, but not in its middle. "And where, one wonders, is married life itself?" He exclaims. However, the author's attitude to marriage is partly expressed in the epigraph, which explains the title of the novel: "I call by the word Matrimoine everything that naturally depends on the woman in marriage, as well as everything that today tends to turn the lioness's share into the lion's share."

Aspiring lawyer Abel Bretodeau, the only son in the family, falls in love with the shopkeeper's daughter Mariette Guimarsh. In the Guimarche family, in addition to Mariette, there are four more children: two unmarried sisters Simone and Arlette, the older sister Ren, who married a wealthy Parisian aristocrat much older than herself, and Eric, whose wife, Gabrielle, is now giving him a third girl. By marrying Mariette, Abel, in fact, becomes, as it were, one of the members of the numerous clan of Guimarches. Abel brings his wife to his house, where six generations of Bretodeau lived before. From the very first steps, Mariette behaves like a mistress in it and develops a vigorous activity to update and replace everything and everyone.
Every day Mariette “hangs” on the phone for a long time - she is used to consulting Madame Guimarche in everything. The town of Angers, where both families live, is small, so the mother-in-law often visits young spouses. Benefit from her visits: dishes prepared by Mariette under her supervision are much more edible than those that she cooks on her own.

At the end of the first year of life together, Abel, who loves to sum up, draws up a kind of list of the merits and demerits of his wife: eight qualities speak in her favor and the same amount against. And one more disappointing conclusion: the wife spends too much. Abel takes on any job, but the money is still not enough, because the ladies' magazines that Mariette reads constantly offer something new about the household.
And here is the event that Mariette is eagerly awaiting: they will have a child. Abel is happy, but it is still difficult for him to determine his attitude to what happened.
After the birth of Nicholas, the wife becomes primarily a mother. The son is the center and the meaning of her existence. “On the stove, steak is fried for my father and mayonnaise is almost whipped - it doesn't matter: let the meat burn, let the mayonnaise fall off, but only a special alarm clock (a wonderful invention that starts up once a day during feeding hours) gave a signal - of course, drop everything. There can be no delay. " The problems associated with the husband's persona disappear completely.

Mariette completely submits herself to the baby. It seems to Abel that "it is the child, and nothing else, that allows you to truly feel the main scourge of married life: these constant transitions from the ineffable to the stupid, from admiration to disgust, from honey to droppings are terrible." Abel perfectly understands parents who hand over their children to nannies, and thereby preserve their habits, their daily routine, as well as their respectability. The latter is especially important for Abel's work: clients come to him, and children's squealing does not at all contribute to business conversations. He regards the wife's desire for the child to “have everything” as an attempt to limit, first of all, his requests. After all, money in the family flows away like water. “My wife gave me a child, I give her my wallet,” Abel reflects sadly. Louis is born soon, followed by twins - Marianne and Yvonne. Abel is horrified: there are no big criminals in little Angers, which means there is no hope for noisy trials. So how can a lawyer increase their budget? “Fathers have heart aches under the wallet, which is getting thin. Mothers' hearts rejoice under their swollen breasts, ”his uncle Tio consoles Abel.

And now - money is being destroyed mercilessly. But at the same time, everything becomes terribly simple: “Madame Bretodeau is no longer there, or almost not. Mariette barely makes an hour a day to take the children out for a walk. She neglects her toilet so much that one can easily mistake her for a governess from a good house. With the exception of a few hasty forays into department stores, Mariette has become as invisible as a good half of the female population of Angers. A wall of apron and household utensils grows between husband and wife.
What are family conversations about? Of course, about children. Mariette has completely ceased to be interested in her husband's work, but regularly demands money for children and households. It seems to Abel that Mariette is doing too much for the children. “In essence, she has no time to live on her own,” he concludes.
Quarrels between spouses are becoming rare - they rarely see each other - but they are solid: balanced Abel, feeling like an “evil shark” in his soul, breaks out into a cry. Guimarches, whose manners are called "syrup" by the Maitre Bretodeau, act as peacemakers and give the family a new large refrigerator, for which Abel has no money.

And now Mr. Lawyer, who has lost the battle at the level of reason, gives the floor to Abel, who is trying to comprehend what is happening to him and his wife. It seems to him that the "clucking of a hen" has forever replaced the former "cooing of a dove". He reasons: “From time to time you start to run away from home: you have to speak at the trial in Rennes, in Mans, in Type. You will willingly agree to travel, even start looking for them to get a break. Two or three times, no more - after all, rapprochement is also an art, and, besides, it takes money and not enough time - you will use these trips to have fun with some strangers, and if one of them tells you at dawn, that she is married, it will anger you and cause the thought: "What a whore, if Mariette did this to me?" However, you will clearly realize that this is not the same thing. You will not be abandoned by the feeling that you have not violated your marital fidelity, that you were married, you are still married and that you are not going to encroach on the peace of your family. "
Abel is cheating on his wife with her young relative Annik. But in a small town, the life of each of its inhabitants flows in front of everyone, and their romance quickly ends. In fact, Abel is happy about this - he does not have the strength to break up with his family.
Abel does not know if Mariette is aware of his betrayal. Intending to restore peace in the family, he is surprised to notice that his wife has visited the hairdresser. Moreover, she begins to do gymnastics and follow a diet. Abel begins to look at his wife in a new way: how can he reproach her for the constant vanity? His wife’s education was “wiped clean with a rubber band,” but what did he do to stop it? “Have you heard about a continuous working day? No remuneration whatsoever. No vacation. No pension, ”he recalls Mariette's sarcastic remark. And among seemingly hopeless everyday life, Abel still finds a ray of happiness: these are the smiles of his children.

And here is the conclusion that the hero sums up. "My dear! I dream! I ask myself, where is the one I married? Here she is, here; and where is the one you married? And he's here too. The way we are now. Much has ended for both of us. I wanted to say that the thoughts that everything could have ended differently are over. But what will the future be for us? My God, it depends on the goodwill of each of us. It is enough to admit that there is no complete happiness in the world (show me such happiness), and then the feeling of catastrophe will disappear, because the marriage has failed, you will consider it purely relative and will cease to be touched by your sorrows. "
“Look. It was not evening yet. The transparent twilight still lasts, at the time of the summer solstice it is so light for a long time that a sunset ray penetrates into the lattice shutter, and you can see how dust particles are dancing in it. We are familiar with these specks of dust. They lie on the furniture like a gray coating, I breathe in and breathe them in, they are in you and in me. There is not a single house, not a single family where they do not exist. But we know: there is something in us that, having flared up, is capable of illuminating them at times, and they will light up. "