Farewell by Honoré de Balzac

Adieu
Farewell

Two old friends banter near the end of a long day of walking and hunting. The younger, Colonel Philippe de Sucy, had served in Siberia. His host, Marquis d’Albon is a plump magistrate who desires to rest and eat. A remark by d’Albon causes the Colonel to shudder and he says, “Some day I will tell you my story.”

The sight of a house and the thought of sustenance causes d’Albon to plunge through the undergrowth. They see a fascinating but run-down building and grounds. Just as d’Albon likens it to the palace of Sleeping Beauty, he sees a slender, light, shadowy woman. The two men hear a cry as if a bird were caught in a snare.

They continue walking along the wall toward the gate and see a rustic savage-looking woman pulling a cow along. De Sucy tries to talk to her but d’Albon says she is deaf and dumb. She finally blurts out the word “Minorites!” leading d’Albon to conclude that the house was formerly a Minorite convent. She fidgets and scrutinizes the men, refusing to answer any of their questions except to say that her name is Genevieve.

Suddenly the mysterious woman appears again. Her long and curly hair falls like a shawl over her black thread-bare satin gown. She jumps into an apple tree and eats a piece of fruit before springing down to play on the grass. At the sound of thunder she appears startled and cries out but soon goes over to dabble first her foot and then her hair in a pool of water.

When Genevieve calls to her, she rises and flings back her hair giving the men their first glimpse of her face. Seeing the two men, the mysterious woman runs to the fence and in a low musical tone says, “Farewell!”

D’Albon admires her beauty. As he turns to his friend, he sees the Colonel unconscious on the ground. Unable to rouse his friend, he fires his rifle in the hope of attracting attention and aid. At the sound of the shot, the mysterious lady flees, crying out like a wounded animal. She races around and around the meadow in a panic.

Some near neighbors, M and Mme de Grandville stop their carriage and offer it to d’Albon, saying they will walk home. M de Grandville says that the mysterious lady is Comtesse de Vandieres and that she has been in residence there for only two months.

In the carriage, the Colonel regains consciousness and cries out that the woman was “Stephanie . . . dead and yet living still.” Back at his chateau Cassan, d’Albon calls a doctor who remains with the Colonel overnight. In the morning, the Colonel pleads with his friend to find out everything he can about the lady.

At the old monastery, a tall thin man greets d’Albon and becomes excited upon hearing the name of de Sucy. He invites d’Albon inside so they can share information.

There are signs of “capricious destruction” inside. The host explains that the havoc was wrought by his niece. He has dedicated his life to trying to restore her reason.

The middle section of Farewell is the ordeal of Colonel (then Major) Philippe de Sucy, the mysterious woman Stephanie and others at the Beresina. It is told by Stepanie’s uncle to Philippe’s friend and host d’Albon.

The events related took place in November of 1812 and they were brutal. It was cold and miserable. The soldiers were starving and freezing. Even though they were supposed to retreat across the bridge so it could be destroyed to keep the Russians from following them, the soldiers instead were pillaging for wood and huddling around the fires. They were eating horses, even accosting Philippe who was unable to save his beloved mare.

Philippe’s childhood friend Stephanie was married to an old General, Comte de Vandieres, and they had been traveling with the troops. Their carriage was pillaged and Phillipe was unable to rouse them in order to get them across the river. Although clothing and rugs and cushions from the carriage had been taken, jewels and silver were lying on the ground. The soldiers were desperate for food and warmth.

With the help of an aide-de-camp that he knews and a large grenadier that he bribed with diamonds, Philippe was able to sneak to the Russian camp and steal two horses. The aide-de-camp fell in the attempt. Philippe and the grenadier harnessed the horses to the carriage and, riding astride the horses, attempted a passageway through the prostrate troops.

As dawn arrived, the sound of Russian cannons was heard and the Russians were seen advancing. On the other side of the Beresina, General Elbe had set fire to the bridge. Men were crushed and trampled as the mass of soldiers tried to cross the bridge at the last moment.

Philippe had the idea of building a raft but when it was finished, soldiers sprang onto it ahead of the General and Stephanie. The grenadier brandished his sword trying to force the men to make room for Philippe, the General and Stephanie.

Philippe looked with love on Stephanie; she gave a look of resignation and said, “To die with you!”

Worried that the raft might capsize, a captain had the idea of throwing one of the men next to him overboard, but the grenadier tossed him in the water and cried out to Philippe that there was now room for two and to hand Stephanie to him and come aboard and leave the General as he was done for anyway. Suddenly the old man threw off his ragged blanket and stood before them in his general’s uniform. Philippe said to save the Count as Stephanie
gave him an anguished embrace saying, “Farewell.”

The brave grenadier yelled to Philippe to take his place on the raft as he had no family back in France, but Philippe answered that he was placing the Count and his wife in his care.

Philippe stood on the bank and watched the raft make its way rapidly to the other side of the Beresina. As the raft ran aground, the shock knocked the Count overboard and as he fell, a piece of floating ice decapitated him. Again a woman’s voice was heard calling, “Farewell.” Philippe dropped to the ground with an icy shiver.

“My poor niece went out of her mind,” the doctor added after a brief pause.

Stephanie was dragged along after the army, barefoot, ill-clad and starved, for two years. She was then locked in a madhouse from which she escaped to live wild in the forest.

The grenadier, whose name we find out was Fleuriot, recognized Stephanie at an inn at Strasbourg in 1816, where the uncle found them after hearing stories of a wild woman. He took them both to Auvergne where sadly Fleuriot died a few months later. Genevieve is the only person since Fleuriot who seems to have an understanding with Stephanie.

D’Albon was very moved by the history related by Stephanie’s uncle. When he returns and tells Philippe it is really Stephanie, the invalid immediately begins dressing, saying the news has made him well.

At the old monastery, Philippe and Uncle Fanjat commiserate over Stephanie’s condition, Fanjat saying that his heart has been broken daily for the past two years. When Stephanie shows fear of Philippe, Fanjat says she is always this way with strangers and gives Philippe some sugar to tempt her as one would an animal. Gradually over time, Stephanie feels comfortable with Philippe and even sits on his lap, but shows no sign of recognition or intelligence.

One evening Fanjat finds Philippe loading his pistols. Philippe says one is for Stephanie and one is for him. Terrified, Fanjat lies: “Then you do not know that in her sleep last night she called you: Philippe!”

Day after day Philippe is in despair as Stephanie shows no improvement. Finally the uncle tells him to give up and Philippe goes to a country house he owns near Saint-Germaine. However, Philippe has not given up but is recreating the scene at the Beresina.

In January 1820, dressed in old, soiled clothing, Philippe drives to the old monastery in a carriage like the one in which the Count and Countess de Vandieres traveled in 1812. Fanjat, understanding Philippe’s plan, agrees to drug Stephanie with laudanum and while she is asleep dress her in clothing like she wore at the time and place her in the carriage. He will follow in another carriage. As they are leaving the old monastery at two the next morning, Genevieve comes out of her room and cries, “Farewell, farewell! all is over, farewell!”

They reach Philippe’s home at nine in the morning. Stephanie is awakened by the sound of a cannon shot which was also the signal for hired peasants in costume to begin a frightful clamour. Stephanie jumps from the carriage, sees the scene and Philippe brandishing a sword. Her scream makes the blood of everyone hearing it run cold. Her face flushes. “Oh! it is Philippe,” she calls and runs into his arms.

Suddenly Stephanie stiffens and very faintly says, “Farewell, Philippe! I love you . . . farewell!” as she collapses in his arms, dead. Philippe gives her body to Fanjat and staggers away.

I don’t know how much time passes, but Philippe is now a General and very popular in society. A mother of several daughters asks him why he doesn’t marry. He answers that one smile kills him and the lady hears the next day that he shot himself that night. There is much speculation in Society about Philippe’s suicide. It is understood by only two men.

 

Read Katharine Prescott Wormeley’s translation Adieu

or Ellen Marriage’s translation Farewell

Summary by Dagny, April 2008

2 comments on “Farewell by Honoré de Balzac

  1. scamperpb says:

    While reviewing this story I came across an article by Rachel Shuh called “Madness and Military History in ‘Adieu’. It is worth a read and made me appreciate the story more. Balzac wanted to do this period piece of the account of the crossing of the Berezina River by the remnants of Napoleon’s army, and I think he did it quite well – though Balzac himself felt it didn’t live up to other historical writers. The army resorted to the horror of cannibalism during this time. Balzac didn’t quite go there, but it might be surmised that the madness of the Countess was a substitute for the cannibalism. Here’s the concluding paragraph in Shuh’s article:

    ”So, while Balzac’s text concludes resolutely in the present, the past, including the past represented as history, plays a determinant role in the story. Indeed, ‘Adieu’ stages the difficulty of productively integrating the past. In Philippe’s case, the attempt to recapture the past leads to its pernicious hold on the present. And yet, the ‘nouvelle’ also shows how the inability to recollect the past destabilizes the present and results in dementia, for Stephanie, or revolution – the impending July Revolution – for the society as a whole. The madness in the story is thus clearly linked to historical trauma. Far from using the historical mode to evoke conventional topoi or to ground a ‘realistic’ style, Balzac seizes on the critical moment where military history approaches the unspeakable and transforms it into the female madness at the center of the plot. In this way, Balzac competes with the genre of history and sets up his fiction – especially as incarnated in the project of ‘La Comedie humaine’ – as the locus of the epic in a non-heroic age.”

    Like

  2. Thank you for passing that along, Pamela.

    Balzac was quite a fan of Napoleon. Another story is related by an old soldier in The Country Doctor. It can be read individually at The Napoleon of the People and is also included in Folk-Tales of Napoleon.

    Like

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