Chapter I — The Lorrains

October 1827. Jacques Brigaut, a youth of about sixteen, sings in a square in Provins early one morning. Pierrette Lorrain, now nearly fourteen, cautiously opens her window. He has just begun to explain that he is in Paris now and might stay to be near her, when she hears a window creak and warns him to leave quickly.

The old maid in the room below Pierrette’s and her brother own the house. To awaken and hear her childhood friend singing was Pierrette’s first happy morning in three years.

The common ancestor was Monsieur Auffray. He had an unattractive daughter who married an innkeeper of Provins named Rogron and they had two children, the brother and sister who now own this house. At age sixty-nine Monsieur Auffray, whose two grandchildren were already grown, married again and had another daughter. This daughter married an officer named Lorrain when she was eighteen and lived in Paris or Germany as his career dictated.

When Monsieur Affray died suddenly with no will, the Rogron innkeepers cheated his young widow of most of the estate and she soon married a young doctor who ran through the remainder of her inheritance, leaving her to die of grief afterwards.

Then the daughter of his late life was widowed when her husband, Major Lorrain, died at Montereau, leaving her with Pierrette who was fourteen months old at the time. With eight thousand francs remaining of her share of the Auffray fortune and hope of a government pension, Madame Lorrain sought out her in-laws who had a small, now failing business. They welcomed their daughter-in-law, her baby and her pension of eight hundred francs. The climate did not agree with the young widow, but her in-laws greedily persuaded her to stay and she eventually died.

Pierrette remained with her grandparents, but they were less and less fit to work and were more or less ruined by a conniving competitor. Eventually the grandparents went to live in a sort of alms-house at Nantes. As they would be unable to take Pierrette with them, they wrote to her aunt and uncle, the Rogrons of Provins, who were deceased by this time. After a humorous bit about the postal service, the letter was eventually made its way to Pierrette’s much older cousins, the brother and sister with whom she now lives.

 Chapter II — The Rogrons

M Auffray’s first daughter, the sister who already had grown children of her own by the time Pierrette’s mother was born, married innkeeper Rogron who ate up all his profits “until his teeth failed him”. They quickly had a daughter and a son. Both children are described as hideous and were put out to nurse with a peasant woman who kept them in a dark, low room while she worked in the fields. When they returned to the inn they were left on their own to play in the outbuildings or run around the town. They were often whipped and sent to their grandfather Auffray who also did not like them.

Sylvie was sent to Paris as an apprentice as soon as she was twelve and two years later so was her brother, Jerome-Denis. The siblings met every Sunday and holiday and eventually pooled their resources and bought the haberdashery, one of the largest in the quarter. Five years later, competition was so fierce they were barely able to keep up the payments. Jerome-Denis wasn’t astute in business matters, but fortunatly Sylvie poured all her energy into it and he always deferred to her–although not because he realized this but because she was the elder. Such were their attitudes and personalities that they gained an unfavorable reputation among other merchants. Their apprentices were sent by their father from Provins and quickly escaped when the opportunity arose.

The brother and sister dreamed of retiring in Provins. The letter regarding Pierrette arrived shortly after they received the inheritance from the death of their father and were especially delirious with plans of a magnificent home in Provins. They decided to refuse the care of the orphan as too much bother and expense. Sylvie put off writing of their decision because of business pressures. Then, when their forewoman contracted to purchase the business, the letter was completely forgotten.

Chapter III — Pathology of Retired Mercers

In Provins Sylvie and Jerome-Denis threw themselves into the business of overseeing every detail of their new home. Sylvie dreamed of receiving the local society, the queen of whom was Madame Tiphaine junior. She was the only daughter of a Paris notary whose name was never mentioned. (He was Roguin who kept expensive mistresses, embezzled funds deposited with him and finally fled Paris causing the ruin of Grandet and Birotteau among others.)

Their old connections and relationship to the notary Auffray gained them many invitations and finally an introduction to Madame Tiphaine junior. After they left, the hostess mentioned that she would make it understood that her salon “is not an inn”, which remark spread through town the next day. She waited a month to return Sylvie’s visit which was noticed. Then the card-games everywhere began to be made up before Sylvie’s arrival, leaving her to wander from table to table. At one house they played whist which Sylvie did not know how to play. Sylvie finally realized she was an outcast, but thought it was because of jealousy.

Soon the brother and sister were never invited anywhere, yet they continued to show up at various homes in the evenings and even gave a few fancy dinners which were attended out of curiosity. The Rogrons tried to start an evening of their own, but no one came.

Sylvie began to regret the forty thousand francs she had spent on her “dear house” which earned no social return so she began to economize, even doing their own cooking.

Time weighed very heavy on these two who were used to slaving at their work in Paris. The highlight of Jerome-Denis’ day would be if he met anyone while out on his daily walk. Eventually Sylvie realized they could do with a third person in the house and thought of Pierrette, about whom no one in Provins had inquired. Sylvie also thought that her “generosity” in taking in their poor cousin would aid her entry in society but that plan backfired leaving her more of a persona non grata with them than before. Sylvie thought them spiteful.

Meanwhile, Colonel Gourand and the lawyer Vinet, with whom they shared the subscription to the Constitutionnel, were members of the other faction and beginning to think they could make use of Jerome-Denis and even further get their hands on the Rogron money. “Old soldiers have seen so many horrors in all lands, so many grinning corpses on battle-fields, that no physiognomies repel them; and Gouraud began to cast his eyes on the old maid’s fortune.” Not that the Colonel was a thing of beauty himself. Vinet lacked clients due to being out of favor with the judges and his wife was disowned by most of her wealthy family when she married him. He thought he could improve matters by founding a newspaper in Provins.

Chapter IV — Pierrette

It was in October, 1824, three years before the story opens, that Pierrette was placed in a coach by her Lorrain grandparents and Brigaut who gave her his entire savings of sixty francs. The trip took four days and the conductors had to pay the remainder of her expenses, planning to collect from her rich relatives as if she were a parcel.

Pierrette thinks the house palatial. She is shy and when she doesn’t speak, the brother thinks she is dumb. Adele, the maid, is understanding and more concerned to make Pierrette comfortable than her relatives are. Pierrette feels an aversion which she’s never known before for her relatives. Though the Lorrains were poor, it was a home filled with love and her reception by the Rogrons chilled Pierrette’s heart. She had received no schooling but roamed and played with Brigaut “exactly as Paul and Virginia might have done”. (Another reference to the influential book Paul et Virginie by Bernardin de St Pierre.)

The next morning, used to waking early, Pierrette explored and was chastised at breakfast for making noise walking up and down the stairs and for going into the summer-house with muddy shoes. But after breakfast they are happy to show her around the house as the house and furniture are their pride and joy. Sylvie’s mania for her furniture had caused her to take over the dusting and polishing duties.

Sylvie had a magnificent wardrobe made for Pierrette. But this was done for show and not for love of Pierrette and she complained continually about the cost. The society women made much of Pierrette after church on Sunday which gratified Sylvie’s pride. Pierrette became popular and was invited out to play with other children but Sylvie was put out because none of them ever called at their house for Pierrette. The Rogrons complained when Pierrette wore out her clothes in the normal way.

The scoldings and reprimands by the Rogrons became more harsh, although the brother and sister thought they were for Pierrette’s own good. Soon Pierrette, though still lively and spritely outside the home, was so quiet at home that Jerome-Denis asked if she was ill. One day at Madame Tiphaine’s Pierrette cried when she tore her dress. After hearing that Pierrette was crying because of the scolding she would receive, Madame Tiphaine repaired the dress herself. When Sylvie heard of this, she forbade Pierrette to visit any of those houses. Thus ended the only phase of life with her cousins which was endurable to Pierrette. Only three months.

Meanwhile the Colonel and Vinet are proceeding slowly and cautiously with their plans. The visitors make much of Madame Tiphaine’s “trick” and say that if the Rogrons declare themselves opposed to the Ministerial Party, Sylvie can make the Tiphaines furious by holding an Opposition salon.

Chapter V — History of Poor Cousins in the Home of Rich Ones

One evening when the Colonel and the Vinets are visiting, Sylvie’s coldness to Pierrette brings tears to the little girl’s eyes. When pressed by Madame Vinet, Pierrette blurts out, “My rich cousin isn’t as kind to me as my poor grandmother was.” It is mentioned that Pierrette should go to school or have a tutor and the two plotters tell the Rogrons that they will undertake to get her a tutor if they are willing to back the newspaper. The Colonel gains some points with Sylvie when he says that either of the Rogrons might yet marry and have a child of their own.

Pierrette’s having a writing-master causes more problems as she spills ink everywhere and stains her clothes. She becomes quieter and quieter as the intensity of the scoldings escalate. Only the servant Adele is kind to Pierrette, even going so far as to secretly provide a warming pan for her bed against the orders of Sylvie. The brother and sister think that Pierrette’s natural sweetness is coaxing wiles.

The first issue of the Provins Courrier contained a column praising Rogron which plunged Madame Tiphaine into despair over the coming elections. “Unfortunately for me, I forgot that there is always a scoundrel close to a dupe, and that fools are magnets to clever men of the fox breed.”

The cold indifference of the Rogrons was weighing so heavily on Pierrette that she considered running away and returning to her grandparents. But Grandfather Lorrain died and Rogron was appointed her guardian. As Pierrette is being instructed for her first Communion, she takes refuge in religion.

The sister of the Priest instructing Pierrette becomes very friendly with Sylvie and, along with the Priest, is soon playing cards with the Rogrons nightly. The Colonel and Vinet fear that there are plans for her to marry Jerome-Denis. Thinking to undermine the plan, Vinet sends for his wife’s relatives, the impoverished Madame de Chargeboeuf and her unmarried daughter Bathilde who was beautiful, graceful and well-dressed. Rogron was immediately entranced, but hid it under the appearance of indifference.

The Colonel and Vinet made a success of Mlle Rogron’s salon and Monsieur Tiphaine won the next election by a scant two votes over Vinet. They had also started the rumors that the Priest was in line with their views which caused the Bishop to order him to discontinue going to the Rogron salon.

Bathilde had been told Pierrette was an enemy and so she treated her disdainfully. Mme Vinet, always kind and sympathetic to Pierrette was unable to show affection on orders from her husband and when she was no longer needed in the Salon, she stopped coming.

Sylvie thought of making a servant of Pierrette to balance her financial outlay for the girl. Vinet advised her to dismiss Adele, Pierrette’s only ally in the house. Pierrette, with her generous nature was happy to take on the duties and earn her keep. This not only wore Pierrette down physically but the scoldings increased and the Rogrons treated her worse than a servant. Happiness for her now consisted of not being scolded.

Chapter VI — An Old Maid’s Jealousy

This chapter opens with a the brief history of Jacques Brigaut. He was so fond of Pierrette that he had worked very hard for the past three years learning his trade and hoping to make a fortune for Pierrette. After seeing what he considered only a shadow of the former Pierrette, Brigaut relocated to Provins and began working as a journeyman for cabinet-maker Frappier. He also lodged with Frappier very near the little square where the Rogron home was located. He sometimes saw Pierrette in the market and she would make him a sign to keep out of sight. He also learned she was an heiress and thought that he must make a fortune in the next ten years in order to marry her.

Meanwhile the marriage plots proceed with Mlle Habert arranging for Sylvie to overhear a doctor discussing the dangers of a woman over forty having her first child. She then advises Sylvie to wait before marrying the Colonel. A few nights later when Vinet is having a heart to heart talk with Sylvie, he also advises her not to risk marrying for some years. He then gets an idea to backstab the Colonel and suggests that he not marry Sylvie but wait a couple of years and marry Pierrette! This has the double benefit for Vinet of causing the downfall of both the current heir Pierrette and the Colonel who hoped to become the father of an heir by marrying Sylvie.

The Colonel had already been thinking of Pierrette and, although he treated her badly in front of others, he was kind to her when they chanced to be alone. It happened that a few days before Brigaut’s arrival, Sylvie saw the Colonel and Pierrette together and was instantly jealous. When she heard the, to her suggestive, song that Brigaut sang for Pierrette she jumped to the conclusion that it was the Colonel serenading Pierrette.

Sylvie tries every method to get Pierrette to confess that she has a lover. When nothing works, the harsh treatment becomes so bad that Pierrette feels faint and ill and can barely make it up the stairs to her bed. When Rogron remarks that Pierrette is ill, Sylvie comments, loudly enough for Pierrette to hear that she is faking and she felt well enough that morning.

Chapter VII — Domestic Tyranny

Knowing that the Colonel will soon appear to take her brother for a walk, Sylvie dresses up and arranges to be left alone with him. The Colonel has begun to suspect Vinet of plotting behind his back and when Sylvie mentions Pierrette he suggests that she be sent to Paris as a shop apprentice. He cagily says that at his age (which he has raised) he wants a wife like Sylvie who would pamper him instead of giving him trouble, adding that he hopes if he marries not to have children. He calls Sylvie when she says it was her brother who thought he might want to marry Pierrette. He indicates he knows it was her and kisses her hand saying that he wants no wife but her.

On their walk, the Colonel confesses to Rogron that he would like to marry Sylvie and Rogron is delighted–although it seems that his delight springs not from well wishes for his sister but for the removal of a possible rival for the hand of Bathilde.

Sylvie is determined to test the Colonel that evening before deciding. The two de Chargeboeuf ladies arrive first. Bathilde is dressed with special care. She wants to marry for freedom and also hoping for revenge against the family that had been ignoring her. Also present are Vinet, Mlle Habert and the Colonel. Others arrive while a game of boston is in progress. An argument arises with Sylvie accusing Pierrette of looking at her hand and helping the Colonel play. Sylvie calls Pierrette a liar causing her to leave the room without a light. Pierrette runs into a door. Sylvie exclaims that it serves her right but then tries to get out of paying her loss at cards by rushing to Pierrette. She sits back down when Mme de Chargeboeuf asks her to pay before she goes. At the end of the evening Sylvie still does not know what to think about the Colonel and his interest.

The next morning Pierrette has a large bruise and swelling.

Chapter VIII — The Loves of Jacques and Pierrette

On the next market day, Brigaut is able to slip a note to Pierrette telling her that he will be under the window at midnight and if she wants to write, she can let her note down to him on a string. He suggests going back to Brittany and offers her all his money.

Pierrette answers telling him about her health, the ill treatment she receives from the Rogrons and to keep his money for their trip to Brittany.

The next day, Sylvie is suspicious of Pierrette’s happiness. Fortunately that night, Brigaut’s letter says that Pierrette mustn’t tire herself by staying up late and that whenever he comes he will make the call of a Chouan to wake her. After Pierrette receives this letter, Sylvie looks out and sees a man run toward the house in which the Colonel lives. She confronts Pierrette in her bedroom and spots the string. However, her vigils the next few nights are fruitless, as is her search of Pierrette’s room since Pierrette concealed the two letters about her person.

Brigaut didn’t tell Pierrette that he wrote a letter to her grandmother Lorrain telling her of Pierrette’s situation and begging her to come and take Pierrette away from the Rogrons.

Although Pierrette suffers in silence, her condition is very noticeable. One evening she faints in the drawing room and the Colonel places her on a sofa and tells Sylvie that she is very ill. Sylvie says it is all an act and vows revenge. She asks Vinet to remain behind when the other guests leave. Vinet tells her the Colonel is a gambler and advises her to wait and when he is in the Chamber he will arrange for her to marry “old Desfondrilles, who will be president of the Court”. He also suggests she have her brother marry Mlle de Chargeboeuf and to announce that she plans not to marry and will leave her money to her nephews or nieces.

The Colonel was waiting outside the Rogron house for Vinet and told him that he did not trust him.

About one a.m., Brigaut wakes Pierrette with three calls like a chouan. They fool Sylvie, but alas, she hears Pierrette and rushes to her room where they wrestle over the letter. Pierrette hangs onto her letter and cries for help under Sylvie’s brutal attack.

A banging is heard on the street door and when Rogron opens it, Brigaut and Pierrette’s grandmother Lorrain rush to the confrontation. The grandmother gathers the exhausted Pierrette and carries her out, casting an accusing look at Sylvie. Returning to bed, Sylvie reads the two letters which she had found in Pierrette’s corset.

When Brigaut’s letter reached Mme Lorrain she was missing Pierrette terribly, but thought that giving her up had been best for the child. She had just received forty-two thousand francs from Collinet whose bankruptcy a decade earlier caused the loss of their savings and was thrilled to think that she be with Pierrette again. She intended that Pierrette and Brigaut should marry and Brigaut could use her newly returned money as a start to make his fortune.

Mme Lorrain left for Provins immediately upon receiving Brigaut’s letter and was on the way to get Pierrette when they heard her screaming for help. Her anger gave her the strength to carry Pierrette all the way to Frappier’s house. Upon seeing her grand-daughter’s condition, she gave a thousand franc note to Brigaut and bade him rush to Paris for the best doctor. Kind Frappier, realizing Brigaut would be unable to change a large note at that hour, gave him some money and went with him to the local doctor for advice on who to contact in Paris. Not surprisingly, Dr. Martener recommended Horace Bianchon. Meanwhile, the doctor warned them that Pierrette was very ill and he could not understand why she hadn’t been cared for. When alone, Pierrette relates her tale of woe for her grandmother.

Chapter IX — The Family Council

The news of Pierrette’s ordeal spread quickly through the town and became a focal point for the war between the Vinet party and the Tiphaine party. The courts decided to call a family council which was a formality of French law.

Brigaut returned from Paris with Doctor Bianchon who confirmed the seriousness of Pierrette’s condition. This lead to the Rogrons being accused of endangering her life by ill treatment.

Vinet confronted the Rogrons, threatening them with the withdrawal of the de Chargeboeuf ladies unless the engagement of Jerome-Denis and Bathilde was announced immediately AND that the marriage contract would include Sylvie’s gift of her share of the estate, retaining only the income. This made enemies of Mlle Habert and the Colonel although they both pretended friendship in hopes of revenge for having their hopes spoiled.

At Court, the temporary guardian Monsieur Auffray presented medical evidence showing that Madame Lorrain was well justified in removing Pierrette from the Rogron home and that guardianship should be transferred permanently.

Vinet cried out in court about all the fuss being made for a girl who was carrying on with a cabinet maker. He then talked to all the party leaders and made it a political battle.

Meanwhile, as the Frappier home was considered unsuitable for Pierrette due to the noise, she was moved with much pomp to the Auffray house. That evening, the Rogron room was very crowded as Vinet had successfully stirred up the Liberal party.

The Courrier de Provins was the first paper published after the incidents and included a clever article “which placed the Rogrons above suspicion”. The Ruche (Bee-hive) of two days later was unable to reply, for fear of libel, more than to say to let justice take its course.

The Family Council was delayed until December at which time the Tiphaines were in Paris for the Chamber leaving that party without its leader. But to no avail as Rogron was removed from guardianship and the charge of ill treatment would go to public court with the trial set for March, 1828.

Chapter X: Verdicts — Legal and Other

Bathilde’s marriage to Rogron was accomplished and her salon was well attended, especially since Tiphaine’s father died and he sold their home in Provins.

Doctor Martener and the entire Auffray household are charmed by Pierrette’s sweet disposition. Bianchon comes to Provins and brings Deslein in March, 1828, to perform a radical operation as a last hope.

The trial begins and Desfondrilles goes to the Auffray home for an examination of Pierrette where he sees her about to receive the last sacrament. Pierrette rallies briefly and begs everyone to forgive her cousins as she has done because judgement belongs to God alone. She asks her grandmother to leave all she has to Brigaut and one thousand francs to Adele. Pierrette then “ceased to suffer”.

Brigaut returns to the Frappiers where he makes Pierrette’s coffin. Frappier tells him to make the lid slide in a grove so Pierrette’s friends won’t have to hear him nail the lid down. Upon returning to the Auffray home, Brigaut discovers that the Rogrons have ordered an autopsy thinking that if she died of a brain abcess they would be guiltless. Brigaut forces them to withdraw by threatening them physically and it is decided to bury her quickly before they return.

The Court now declares there is no ground for further action.

Brigaut joined the Royal Guard and initially “behaved like a man seeking death”. He now heads a battalion and is considered an excellent officer. When off duty, he remains alone.

Madame Lorrain died in Paris in 1829, the year after Pierrette’s death.

The Rogron faction all did well and none showed remorse.

Read it here

 Summarized by Dagny, March 2010


2 comments on “Pierrette

  1. scamperpb says:

    Such a dark tale, presumably written by Balzac to illustrate the ruined France ruled by greed and factions willing to comprise their morality for power and wealth. Pierrette becomes the pawn of not only her cruel cousins but also of the opposing royalist faction. As the sole inheritor of the Rogron fortune, she becomes an obstacle to various parties who want to marry Sylvie or Jerome-Denis. Both the royalist and liberal factions are willing to see her mistreated and die because to get her out of the way benefits them. They all rise in power and wealth and make up stories about what caused her death that allow them to look the other way – even though most of them initially welcomed her to their town and seemed to genuinely admire her. Where was God in all of this – Balzac seems to think perhaps God abandoned France in this despicable time.


  2. Bixiou says:

    A very dark tale indeed, filled with melodrama and (if truth be told) more than a little Romantic bathos. It ends, however, with the realist Balzac observing petty, brutish humanity and life in a very, very cruel way—the bad people go on living their lives, and hardly anybody thinks about poor Pierrette. The very ending may be ironic, in the same sense that Browning saw the end of religion at the end of “Porphyria’s Lover.”


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