The Member for Arcis by Honoré de Balzac

Le Député d’Arcis
The Member for Arcis
Also translated as The Deputy of Arcis



April, 1839. Elections are imminent and Madame Marion (a widow), readying her garden for a meeting of forty, is dreaming of an attendance of seventy. When her brother Colonel Giguet expresses doubt about so many, she says the regular visitors to her salon for twenty-four years had better not fail them.

Colonel Giguet, a respected officer in the Grand Army, rises and goes to bed with the sun and is devoted to his roses. His son, Simon, has aspirations of being elected and marrying the wealthy Cecile Beauvisage.

Francois Keller has represented Arcis-sur-Aube for twenty years and proposes passing the seat on to his son Charles, the grandson of Comte de Gondreville. But since this would wound the pride of the newly-risen bourgeoisie who like to think themselves independent, it is proposed that they nominate a strawman who will later be made a pubic official and relinguish the seat to Charles.

Old Notary Grevin, staunch ally of Comte de Gondreville and former mayor, announces his intention to back Charles Keller. Grevin’s son-in-law, Beauvisage, affects independence from Grevin and is allowed to do so because it suits Grevin’s purposes. When Beauvisage hears of his father-in-law’s intention, he declares that, although he has the highest esteem for Charles Keller, he will vote for the first-comer rather than have Arcis remain a “rotten borough”.

The Arcis arrondissement remains divided into factions supporting the Cinq-Cygnes or the Gondrevilles because of the supposed abduction of Senator Malin (now the Comte de Gondreville) by two Simeuse brothers and the resulting trial.

Simon Giguet is described as a long-winded, bilious-looking bore who always dressed in baggy black with a stiff white collar.

The current mayor, Beauvisage, arrives with Achille Pigoult who was loaned the money to purchase Grevin’s practice by the Comte de Gondreville and who Simon suspects could be an enemy.

The owner of the best inn in Arcis, Poupart who married Gothard’s sister, is devoted to the Cinq-Cygnes. Colonel Giguet’s valet cleverly convinced Poupart that he would be doing an ill-turn to the Gondrevilles by backing Simon.

When approximately fifty men are present, Simon calls the meeting to order, saying that his father wishes Beauvisage to preside. When Beauvisage is tongue-tied, Pigoult rushes to the rescue, saying how Beauvisage is placing patriotism before family and more.

Simon then suggests that Fromaget and Marcelin act as inspectors of the ballot, but Pigoult craftily suggests they each vote for two by secret ballot and then announces it will be Monsieur Mollot, the clerk of the court, and Monsieur Godivet, the registrar. When Simon is announced as a candidate, Pigoult cries that they are moving too fast. It appears that there are few in the district who are not indebted to the Comte de Gondreville.

While Simon’s speaking technique is putting the party to sleep indoors, the Ministerial faction (Keller/Gondreville party currently in control) are outside counting the electors entering the Giguet house. As the four officials walk toward the square, M Groslier (superintendent of police) calls Goulard aside and tells him that Charles Keller (their proposed candidate) was killed during the fighting in Africa. Confidential instructions regarding the election are to follow. Shortly they see old Madame Beauvisage talking to the people in the square and Sinot (an attorney to the Royalists of Arcis) rushing to Madame Marion’s house.

Both Goulard and Marest have been turned down in the past as suitors for Mlle Beauvisage and would like to spoil Simon’s chances.

The meeting breaks up and as Pigoult comes out of the house, Vinet asks him what happened. Pigoult replies that all but five (Poupart, my grandfather, Mollot, Sinot, and Pigoult) had promised to use every means in their power to get Simon elected. He mentions that he has made a mortal enemy of Simon, but that he will make sure the Comte de Gondreville hears the calumies said about him.

In addition to vineyards, hosiery manufacturing is important in the area. Workers use middlemen to sell their products in Paris. When in his early twenties, Beauvisage’s mother paid him one hundred fifty thousand francs as his portion of his late father’s estate and advised him to purchase his master’s hosiery business. His energy and astuteness in business enabled young Beauvisage to greatly increase his fortune. Upon his return to Arcis, Beauvisage (of a family faithful to the Simeuses) married Severine Grevin (daughter of an enemy), prompting the application of Louis XVIII’s famous saying: “Union et oubli” (“Union and Oblivion”). After two years of marriage, Severine and her father realized that her husband’s only talent was common sense in business. Severine consulted her father on all subjects, leading her husband to think she was mistress of all knowledge as well as mistress of the house.

Cecile-Renee Beauvisage is the only child of Phileas and Severine. It was rumoured at the time of her birth that her father was actually Melchior de Chargeboeuf who had been sub-prefect and living in Arcis for five years. The rumours died down after the Marquise de Cinq-Cygne, upon hearing the rumours of his connection with enemies of her family, had him transferred. He never returned to Arcis, so the child’s resemblance to him in both appearance and mannerisms was not noted.

Severine ruled the family and kept her husband working in his hosiery business which paid their living expenses and enabled her to invest their interest. In 1830, with a half million francs in capital, the business was sold to Jean Violette (grandson of one of the chief witnesses for the prosecution in the Simeuse trial). The Beauvisage house is one of the best in Arcis and well situated. Severine hides her husband’s intellectual inepititude by feigning jealousy to keep him from paying visits in the evening. This has the added benefit of allowing her freedom in the evenings since her husband retires at eight. However, this life suits him and he is the happiest man in Arcis. Cecile is now nineteen. When asked about Simon, she replies that he bores her, but there is no one else suitable in Arcis.

Madame Beauvisage’s father, Grevin, is seventy-six. He has been life-long friends with the Comte de Gondreville (Malin) who is eighty, although deep down Grevin is resentful of Malin’s political success. He advises his daughter to marry Cecile to an ambitious man and go with them to Paris, leaving her fool of a husband behind. Grevin keeps early hours and rarely ventures beyond his garden. He lived the simple life because he wished to live long enough to guide a grandson-in-law in a political career as he did Malin. But he had planned on Cecile’s marrying Charles Keller who has now been killed. The only choice left in the district is the young Marquis de Cinq-Cygne but Cecile could not be happy there as long as his bitter enemy, the Marquise de Cinq-Cygne lived. As a last resort, he could ask Gondreville to find her a husband in Paris among the dukes of the Empire. He reveals his plans to Severine, including the fact that he purchased the Beauseant Mansion in 1831 and intends it as a wedding present.

A stranger has arrived in town. He is staying at the Mulet inn with his tiger (young boy groom) and his three trunks. It is supposed he is there to purchase land, maybe even the Chateau and he is supposed to be an Englishman. He refused to sign the register. Antonin Goulard (sous-prefet and Simon’s old schoolmate) sends his valet Julien on a spy mission to the Mulet inn to note what is painted on the stranger’s tilbury, along with any other information he can discover. Julien reports that there is a coat of arms on the tilbury which includes a coronet indicating he is a Count. While Julien was at the inn, Princesse de Cadignan’s lady’s maid (Anicette) arrived in a Cinq-Cygne carriage with a letter for the stranger. She wrote down the motto on the coat of arms, “Quo me trahit fortuna”, but it is unfamilar to Goulard. Anicette mentioned to Julien that there are many visitors at the Chateau of Cinq-Cygne and Monseigneur the Bishop of Troyes (Troubert) is also expected, probably to see the stranger. More arrivals are expected, including Monsieur le president Michu who is to spend a few days there.

Goulard learns that the stranger dined at Gondreville that evening and, although he was already in bed, is now preparing to go to Cinq-Cygne. After Goulard relates the findings, Cecile says they will know more soon as her grandfather, Grevin, is going to visit the Comte de Gondreville the next day. She asks Goulard to try, through Julien, to get Anicette to come work for the Beauvisages, adding that her mother will pay any wages. This fits perfectly with Goulard’s plans since he had told Julien to try to get Anicette into town, but not to mention his name, instead to tell her he had heard of a good place.

The next afternoon as the four officials (Antonin Goulard, Frederic Marest, Olivier Vinet and Monsieur Martener) are enjoying their custom of walking and smoking cigars, Simon joins them. Simon tells his old friend Goulard that he hopes he can count on his support. Goulard honestly tells him that his colleague of Bar-sur-Aube would complain if he did not support the government. Simon confesses that his Aunt Marion has gone to Grevin to propose on his behalf for Cecile. As they stand across from the Mulet inn, the stranger returns from Cinq-Cygne. The inn servants open the gate and Goulard follows the tilbury into the courtyard and asks the tiger (Paradis) to tell his master that the sous-prefet would like to see him.

Instead of giving his name, the stranger gives Goulard a confidential note from the Prefet telling him to consult with the bearer about the election, conform to his wishes in every respect and be absolutely secret. He tells Goulard that if the election is managed to the wishes of those who send him to Arcis, then Goulard will be made a prefect and gives him two more letters.

Goulard advises Vinet that the stranger, whom they must not appear to know, said Vinet would receive a letter from his father telling him to make sure that all the people of his department vote for the candidate that the government proposes. Vinet’s promotion depends on this and his secrecy.

A flash back of two months to Madame d’Espard’s salon in Paris incorporates the past history and current situation of dandy, gambler and perpetual debtor, Maxime de Trailles, now forty-eight. Knowing his dissipations are beginning to seriously affect his health, Maxime has decided he must settle and marry but won’t find a wealthy wife in Paris because they all know his past. In a private conversation with Count de Rastignac (Eugene), Maxime asks him to help him find a wife who bring bring him half a million and then send him as Minister to “some wretched little republic in America” long enough to justify giving him a post in Germany. Rastignac tells Maxime that he must distinguish himself in the coming electoral battle and adds that he will look at secret documents and confidential letters to find the locality where the Opposition will be the strongest. About seven weeks later, Maxime secretly takes a cab to Rastignac’s one morning before dawn. Rastignac tells him that the Ministry candidate for Arcis, Charles Keller, was killed in Africa; the news will be in the papers in two days. He gives Maxime copies of reports, letters of introduction and more verbal information, including the fact that the rival candidate (Simon) desires the seat to further his suit for an heiress. Within an hour, Maxime is on his way to Arcis in his tilbury.

Maxime de Trailles (the Stranger) chooses Phileas Beauvisage as candidate for the government since, as mayor, his name is known to the “mass of indifferent voters”. Advantages: Gondreville party consider Simon a presumptious upstart, minority legitimist and republican parties could support a ridiculous, inept candidate who would reflect poorly on a government which supported him, could cause a split among Simon’s supporters and, personally, it would aid him in his quest for an heiress if he can win over the grandfather, old Grevin.

All begins well, but suddenly another candidate appears! He is introduced by a series of letters.


The characters writing the letters (the L’Estorades, Marie Gaston, Madame de Camps and Charles de Sallenauve aka Dorlange) all appeared in Memoires de deux jeunes Mariees (Letters of Two Brides/Memoirs of Two Young Married Women).

Marie-Gaston left his home following the death of his wife. He is now planning to return and wants a monument for her. He has drawn a sketch and would like the work done by his old friend Dorlange. When the Comte de L’Estorade approaches the sculptor about it, Dorlange was so much hurt by his old friend’s neglect that he initially affected not to know Marie-Gaston. Later he informed the Comte that he was running for political office and would not have time to undertake such a work. The Comte offers Marie-Gaston his wife’s intervention as one who personally suffered from Madame Marie-Gaston’s neglect.

With Louise de Chaulieu (Madame Marie-Gaston) dead, Comtesse de L’Estorade decides to seek advice from Madame Octave de Camps (nee Cadignan and Madame Firmiani in her first marriage). The man who saved her daughter Nais from the runaway horses was not a stranger to her but had been giving her the “most obstinate attention” for three months. She would like him to stop following her and yet is in a dilemma of how to thank him without encouraging him.

Comte de L’Estorade (husband of Renee de Maucombe, Louise’s friend) writes Monsieur Marie-Gaston of the duel between the Duc de Rhetore (brother of dead Louise who was married to Marie Gaston) and Dorlange (who was Marie Gaston’s schoolmate) after Dorlange overhears the Duc slander Marie Gaston. Having no cards with him, Dorlange later presented the Duc with a sketch of the proposed mausoleum with his name and address as designer. Dorlange is shot in the leg and as the Duc helps him to the carriage, Dorlange says, “All the same, Marie-Gaston is an honest gentleman, a heart of gold–” and faints. The Comte mentions that Dorlange now has political aspirations and urges Gaston to dissuade his friend from leaving the field of Art where he has already made a name for himself.

The Comtesse writes to her friend of two schoolboys at Tours. Immediate friends, neither received any visitors in seven years and both were sent to Paris when their schooldays ended. Dorlange was sent to sculptor Bosio and given an allowance to be paid quarterly by a deaf, mute dwarf. He did well and won the Grand Prix at the Salon of 1831. Gaston, with his poems and dramas, did not fare well, but Dorlange generously shared his allowance until he left for his five years of study in Rome. That was the last time they saw each other.

When Marie-Gaston learned of Dorlange’s duel on his behalf, he planned to rush to Paris to see him, but was hindered by a dislocated ankle. He wrote to Comtesse de L’Estorade and begged her to visit Dorlange and express his gratitude. Using the excuse of the mausoleum, and accompanied by her husband and Nais, the Comtesse went to the studio where Nais immediately recognized the stranger who had saved her. Fortunately for the flustered Comtesse, her husband began conveying grateful thanks.

Dorlange remarked on the Comtesse’s resemblance to a member of the mysterious Lanty family and unveiled a statue showing the Comtesse herself “in the guise of a saint, crowned with glory.” It is Saint Ursula which was commissioned by a convent in the provinces. While trying to recreate the young lady from memory, Dorlange happened to see the Comtesse and, not at liberty to ask her to sit for him, took every opportunity to see and study her. Nais pipes up to say: “Oh! I have often seen you following us.” Dorlange goes on to say that he would have found out her name and address and asked her to view the statue prior to sending it to the convent and, if the likeness displeased her, changed it with a few chisel strokes.

When they finally discuss Marie-Gaston, Dorlange says he will not forgive, but he will forget and wishes Marie-Gaston would stop dwelling on his grief and find consolation in work and study.

Dorlange changed the face on his statue of Saint Ursula, but before he doing so, he made a mould and used a miniature for a statuette of the Comtesse which he sent as a gift, adding that the mould was now broken.

Dorlange goes several evenings a week to the Cafe des Arts and has became interested in politics. One evening a waiter warned him he was being watched by the police and later pointed out a little old man. The following Sunday, Dorlange happened to hear a talented organist and waited near the door of the organ loft for him to appear. It was the man from the Cafe! And stranger yet, he was followed by the dwarf from whom he received his quarterly allowance. Dorlange follows the organist and discovers from the porter that his name is Jacques Bricheteau. The man, whom Dorlange believes could inform him of his parentage, denys all, slams the door in his face and moves the next morning.

Dorlange receives a letter from Sweden which begins “Monsieur my Son” but it is unsigned. The letter says that Dorlange’s mother died in childbirth and his father had to leave Paris shortly afterward. The father made a fortune in another country and rose to a high government position. He would like his son to follow in his footsteps, but first he needs to be elected to the Chamber in France. He will send a quarter million francs to him via the Mongenod Brothers (bankers). He is to purchase land, shares in a newspaper and sculpt the state of Saint Ursula.

Dorlange writes Marie-Gaston of the woman whom the Comtesse de L’Estorade resembles. In 1835, Dorlange’s last year in Rome, Desroziers arranged for him to copy a statue of Zambinella. Through this he met the De Lanty family and begin giving lessons to the daughter Marianina. They moved to Paris and when Dorlange returned to Paris, he visited the family but met with a cold reception.

At the 1837 Salon, Dorlange saw the family with Maxime de Trailles. As he watched and listened, Max pronounced Dorlange’s entry atrocious and Marianina responded: “How fortunate you came with us! Without your enlightened knowledge I might, with the rest of the good public, have thought this statue admirable. It is a pity the sculptor is not here to learn his business from you.” At this point, the landlady of the building where Dorlange had his studio blurted out that he was right behind them, causing Marianina to blush.

After his success at the Salon and having been made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, Dorlange determined to call on the De Lanty family again. His reception was worse than before as he was told that it was discovered that Marianina had been writing love letters to him and had been sent to a convent. Dorlange told Monsieur de Lanty that he never received the letters and broke off the conference in response to numerous gestures by Comtesse de Lanty. The next morning Abbe Fontanon called to see Dorlange with an explanation. Several weeks prior, Monsieur de Lanty awakened in the night to find an intruder in the house and deduced that it was an admirer of his daughter. Marianina confessed to her mother and they concocted a plan to name Dorlange and went so far as to have Marianina write letters which they then hid in the garden for the dog to find. Dorlange discovers that all this was told to the Abbe, not by Marianina, but by her mother. He doubts the truth of the story as he trusts neither the De Lantys nor the Abbe who has a poor reputation.

Dorlange will be a candidate at Arcis-sur-Aube. The Comte de L’Estorade feels that the Opposition made a very poor choice and Dorlange will not have a chance of winning. The Comtesse receives a note that Armand has been ill all day. As her husband is out, Dorlange accompanies her and on the return trip, she finally hears the story of the woman she resembles. Back at the L’Estorade Mansion, the Comte scolds his wife and delights in telling Dorlange that his candidacy was discussed at the ministry dinner and was doomed to suffer an overwhelming defeat.

Dorlange writes his old friend Marie-Gaston that he has received a letter of instructions written in a domineering tone. He was told to ship the statue of Saint Ursula to the Ursuline Convent at Arcis-sur-Aube. He is to follow within a few days after announcing his candidancy to the Paris press. Dorlange suggests that Marie-Gaston could also enter into politics or at least return to his literary pursuits to help distract his mind from the past. He also urges him to make use of his home during his absence instead of returning to his own at Ville-d’Avray.

When Dorlange went to the bankers Mongenods for another quarter million francs which were to be awaiting him, he found them addressed to M. le Comte de Sallenauve, otherwise Dorlange, sculptor. Mongenod Senior could give no explanation other than that the funds had been forwarded through a Dutch banker.

When Dorlange arrives at Arcis, the diligence is met by Jacques Bricheteau, who instead of running away this time, smiles, tells him they are almost at the end of the mystery and escorts him to meet his father after warning him that his reception will probably be cold and dignified.

After determining that Dorlange has no objection to their political aspirations for him, the two men tell him of his family history. Francois-Henri-Pantaleon Dumirail, Marquis de Sallenauve, returned to France from the Emigration in 1808 and met his illegitmate son’s mother. She died after giving birth. Soon afterward, the Marquis was implicated in a conspiracy plot and fled the country after asking his fellow countryman Jacques Bricheteau to care for his son. Bricheteau originally kept the boy’s identity a secret for fear of government retaliation against his father. Then, during the Restoration, Bricheteau feared the remaining Sallenauve family would be the enemy of this natural son of the Marquis.

That evening the trio go to the office of Maitre Achille Pigoult to sign the papers necessary for Dorlange to take the name of de Sallenauve and be recognized officially as the son of the Marquis. Pigoult’s father recognized both the Marquis and Bricheteau (who is also the nephew of the Mother Superior), satisfying his son’s legal scruples. As the father is still keeping the location of his current home secret, the Chateau d’Arcis which was newly purchased for the son, is used as his official domicile. Very early the next morning, the Marquis departs without saying farewell to his son.

Marie-Gaston writes the Comtesse de L’Estorade from Arcis where he has gone in response to Dorlange’s letter expressing perplexity about his father. He tells her about all that has happened to Dorlange, including his chances to win the election. Mother Marie-des-Anges is expected to be a great support as she seems to have influence with all factions.

Marie-Gaston writes to the Comtesse de L’Estorade about the large banquet held at the Chateau to celebrate the dedication of the statue of Saint Ursula. The guest list was large and included people from the opposing political camps who were expected to decline. Sallenauve’s resemblance to Danton is noted and he explains that he is too young to be Danton’s son.

The Sallenauve party have left the Hotel de la Poste and are now living at the Chateau. Their former landlord keeps them up to date on Max’s doings because of his rivalry with the owner of the Mulet.

A Parisian journalist has arrived in Arcis and at the same time, a Mademoiselle Antonia Chocardelle with a bill signed by the late Charles Keller. Left largely on her own, Antonia takes up fishing and is spotted by Beauvisage. He is quite taken by the sight and, being a former fisherman, decides to give her some instruction during which they were spotted by his wife. Everything probably would have blown over except for the big fuss the woman makes and the severe scolding she gives her hen-pecked husband. After her tirade, the entire town soon learns of the happenings by the stream and yet more political followers desert the Beauvisage camp.

Antonia causes another stir in the town when she has an interview with Mother Marie-des-Anges and gives her the bill for ten thousand francs against Charles Keller and tells her to keep the money for the poor. The Mother Superior had been looking for a way to discuss the election with the Comte de Gondreville, but hesitated because of the recent loss of his grandson. The bill gave her the perfect excuse and she didn’t waste the opportunity. The Comte, upon leaving the convent, went straight to his friend Grevin who was later heard remarking “that certainly his son-in-law was too much of a fool, he had compromised himself with that Parisian woman, and would undoubtedly lose his election.”

Simon Giguet was the first speaker at the preliminary meeting which was held in a large dance-hall. Much laughter ensued when Achille Pigoult rose and announced that the absent Beauvisage was unwell. He added that Madame Beauvisage wished them to transfer their support to Simon Giguet. Sallenauve was well received and feels his election is certain.

Sallenauve relates the history of the woman who is his model and housekeeper. One night when her abusive husband returned home drunk with a pistol, threatening to kill her, she waited until he was asleep and lit a charcoal brazier. She passed out, but survived. Her husband died. The judge cleared her and a priest gave her absolution. She wanted to leave Italy and begged Sallenauve (then Dorlange) to take her with him. Luigia had a talent for singing and, although pious, had dreams of going on stage. Sallenauve hired a tutor for her and she is now ready to appear in public. Sallenauve realizes that as a future politician, the living arrangement will leave him open to gossip which would damage both their reputations, but fears she knows too little of Paris to live safely on her own at once. He would like to beg the assistance of the Comtesse. Sallenauve also mentions that Mother Marie-des-Anges will discover the convent where Mademoiselle de Lanty is.

In a brief letter Marie-Gaston tells the Comtesse that, although the Ministerial party tried to use the riots in Paris against them, Bricheteau saved the day and Sallenauve won by a landslide.


After the defeat in Arcis, Maxime de Trailles returns to Paris and rushes to the home of Colonel Franchessini who has just been elected by one of the “rotten” boroughs. After Maxime relates the story of the defeat, the Colonel advises him, “But, my dear fellow, political horizon apart, don’t let that million slip through your fingers.” Maxime assures him that the hoped-for marriage is only delayed and that the Beauvisages will still be moving to Paris, especially as the mortifying defeat made it impossible for them to stay in Arcis. They have purchased the Beauseant Mansion and Maxime will be in charge of directing repairs and furnishing.

Another part of Maxime’s salvage plan is to discover Sallenauve’s parentage and he asks Colonel Franchessini to request the assistance of Monsieur de Saint-Esteve, the current head of detectives. When the Colonel demurs a bit, Maxime says he thought Saint-Esteve was totally at the Colonel’s command for helping get him released from prison. The Colonel says he will do his best but it will take some time. As soon as Maxime leaves, Colonel Franchessini sends a secret message to Saint-Esteve requesting a meeting.

Colonel Franchessini and Rastinac discuss Vautrin and his anger at Rastignac for refusing his help. The Colonel tells Rastignac to be careful about angering Vautrin who now goes by Monsieur de Saint-Esteve and is rich and leading a respectable bourgeois life, although his aunt Jacqueline Collin who lives with him “still dabbles in certain dirty jobs.”

Rastignac goes to see Comtesse de L’Estorade to glean information about Sallenauve and have her arrange an “accidental” meeting. Only the Count is home, but he tells Rastignac that there is to be a children’s ball which Nais had long been desiring and, as her saviour, Sallenauve will be a sort of guest of honor.

During the year before his election, Sallenauve studied and learned about various matters which would pertain to his political career. At the children’s ball, Monsieur de Camps is impressed by Sallenauve’s knowledge. The arranged accidental meeting of Sallenauve and Rastignac takes place.

On returning to Ville d’Avray, Sallenauve discovers that Marie-Gaston has left for Paris with an Englishman he knew in Italy. Marie-Gaston’s old retainer, Philippe, gives Sallenauve a letter which the Englishman left for him in secret and after reading it, Sallenauve exclaims that they have a three hour start on him and rushes after them.

Philippe brings a letter he found addressed to Comtesse de L’Estorade. The Comtesse reads it but refuses to allow her husband to do so. When she hears a scream from her youngest child, the Comtesse rushes out dropping the letter. Her husband reads it. Marie-Gaston wrote that he planned to commit suicide in order to be with his deceased wife. He adds that the Comte will die of liver disease and urges the Comtesse to then marry Sallenauve as she will be much happier with him than with a man she married reluctantly and it will make for a much more pleasant foursome when they are reunited on the other side.

While M de L’Estorade and M de Camps are visiting Rastignac, Jacques Bricheteau arrives trying to locate Sallenauve. A letter from Sallenauve arrives while he is there and the Comtesse tells him to contact Sallenauve in care of Dr. Ellis in Hanwell, England.

Sallenauve’s letter reveals that the Englishman, Lord Lewin, pretended to go along with Marie-Gaston’s suicide plans and said there were some high waterfalls in South America where he had always dreamed of dying and invites Marie-Gaston to accompany him there. In reality he planned to place Marie-Gaston under the care of the specialist Dr. Ellis. Sallenauve is following them there, taking care not to be seen by Marie-Gaston and requests that the Comte make his apology to the President of the Chamber for missing the first sessions.

When the two men return, they say that Rastignac told them compromising discoveries had been made about Sallenauve in Arcis and the Comte absolutely refuses to take Sallenauve’s part with the President. A flashback relates the details of the compromising discoveries that Rastignac mentioned to M de L’Estorade and M de Camps who in turn mentioned it to their wives. Maxime de Trailles and Vinet told Rastignac that they have heard from two different sources, Madame Beauvisage and Vinet’s son Olivier, about a peasant woman from Romilly who arrived in Arcis on the last market day saying she is a Sallenauve and should be considered an heir. When Maitre Pigoult dismissed her, she went to the market square with a legal practitioner who had accompanied her from her village and loudly proclaimed her status. Legally it is felt that she has no case at all, but one never knows with a lengthy lawsuit and politically it could be very damaging to the newly-elected deputy Sallenauve. Rastignac states that the government will not get involved, but words it in such a way as to encourage the pursuit of the claim, especially as the Beauvisages have undertaken to pay all expenses. Maxime and Vinet decide that Maxime should place the matter in the hands of Desroches while Vinet lays low so as to appear uninvolved if he is called upon to speak of it in the Chamber.

Maxime goes to see Desroches at his home and is told that they do not have a legal case. However, Desroches advises that the peasant woman should give a petition for prosecution to the President of the Chamber of Deputies. It will be refused, but will also be public and picked up by the newspapers resulting in Sallenauve’s reputation being damaged. Desroches will not prepare the paperwork and does not want his name even mentioned. He recommends Massol for the job. As Maxime is leaving, he chances to ask Desroches where he is dining that evening. Desroches replies that Madame de Saint-Esteve is giving a dinner with the director of the London opera-house and others regarding a theatrical venture and he has been asked to look over the contracts. The press will be there to immediately start the publicity.

Another flashback relates that Herrera/Vautrin happened to hear Luigia singing at the Church. he rushed to his aunt, Madame de Saint-Esteve, who happened to have sent Luigia to Madame Fontaine for a consultation a few days earlier.

Around 1830, when Vautrin was very discouraged by the death of a friend he left the criminal world and is now head of detectives and is relentless in persecuting his former accomplices. But he is now bored with police work and is interested in politics.

Jacqueline Collin, reportedly once a mistress of Marat’s and skillful in the use of poisons has not reformed. But having made a large amount of money and now going by the name of Madame de Saint-Esteve, she can be choosier about her projects. She’s very inventive with the promotion of her marriage agency. She does not advertise in the papers, but has flyers designed by Gaudissart distributed in the country and abroad. She hires nice carriages to wait outside her office and well-dressed people to come and go and sing her praises. She dresses up and attends weddings, arriving in a carriage with servants. It is supposed that she arranged these matches. When Madame Fontaine’s clients are curious about their future husbands, the fortune teller mentions they will meet a handsome man and blatantly adds that the wedding will never come about without the assistance of Madame de Saint-Esteve’s agency. Vautrin’s aunt returns the favor by sending some of her clients to the “famous” Madame Fontaine who never makes a mistake.

Vautrin tells his aunt about the engraver/forger who was running from him, at which point, Jacqueline Collin says he is too easily recognized. Vautrin, a master of disguises in the past, says that wearing no disguise now has vastly increased his popularity with prospective clients. When Vautrin mentioned that he lost his man in the Church, Jacqueline Collin guesses that he was listening to a singer and tells him she knows her identity. She briefs him of Luigia’s situation and how shocked she was that Luigia and Sallenauve had been living together platonically.

Jacqueline (or Mme de Saint-Esteve as she is currently styling herself) doesn’t have as easy a time gaining Luigia’s trust as she expected, even after sending her to the fortune teller, Madame Fontaine.

Vautrin says that if Luigia is an “honest woman” then he doesn’t want to ruin her, adding that he knows a really respectable man who will get her on to the stage on honorable terms, without asking for anything in return. Jacqueline is flabberghasted that there could be such a person. It turns out that Vautrin has decided to take Rastignac’s advice and reinvent himself with a spotless reputation. “You may tell your Italian that Count Halphertius–a great Swedish lord, crazy about music and philanthropy–takes a great interest in her advancement.”

Chronologically in the story we’re now at the point when Sallenauve told Luigia that they must part. The next morning, Vautrin receives a note from his aunt that Luigia had run away from Sallenauve and come to her for an introduction to her respectable friend. She tells him to get into his disguise and come to meet the singer.

When Vautrin arrives at his aunt’s, even she would not have recognized him had she not known by which name he would be announced. Vautrin chuckles as he tells his aunt that Sallenauve came to him for assistance in locating Luigia. He also briefs her about his visit to the Englishman who had come to France to get a singer and financing for a London opera company.

Just after Jacqueline leaves her sitting-room to get Luigia, Ronquerolles bursts in. Of course he does not recognize Vautrin and Vautrin plays with him verbally. Vautrin leaves and since her plans for Luigia have changed, Jacqueline picks a quarrel with Ronquerolles and tells him about Count Halphertius and that she doesn’t know Luigia’s whereabouts since she ran away from the sculptor.

As soon as Ronquerolles’ coach is heard driving away, Vautrin, having snuck in the back way, enters the sitting-room. They chuckle about Ronquerolles as Vautrin had overheard most of the interview, then Jacqueline gets Luigia from her room and introduces her to Count Halphertius. He promises not to make advances toward Luigia or to expect anything from her except for keeping up appearances. There will be gossip and she must not have any lovers while he is her patron.

Luigia’s small audition was a success. Vautrin plans to go to London with the Englishmen to investigate the finances, etc. He asks his aunt to plan a dinner party which Count Halphertius will host and to include journalists (for publicity) and an attorney to go over the contracts on the spot. This is the dinner party which Desroches told Maxime he would be attending.

The requested guests are assembled at Mme de Saint-Esteve’s for the dinner party with the Englishman, Sir Francis Drake, and Vautrin in his persona of Count Halphertius arriving last. The dinner was a rather quiet affair as all these men, loaded with wit, had been advised not to risk offending the “chaste ears” of Luigia. They ate and drank, but they could not be said to have dined. Bixiou is bored and also a bit suspicious of the Count’s identity. He decides to test it by speaking of Sweden and Vautrin, by the aid of a book he studied, carries off his impersonation of a Swedish nobleman well. After dinner, La Luigia’s singing is extremely well-received. The contract is signed and Luigia is to leave the next day for London with Sir Francis Drake.

Sallenauve is still at the asylum (Hanwell) near London to be with Marie-Gaston who is worse. Jacques Bricheteau visits him to warn him of the political plots against him and tell him of the cold reception he received from the the l’Estorades. When consulted, the doctor advises Sallenauve to return to Paris as there is nothing he can do to aid his friend at this time.

Upon arriving in London, Sallenauve sees posters advertising Signora Luigia at Her Majesty’s Theatre. The house is sold out, but Sallenauve is able to privately purchase two seats. Sallenauve is as enchanted by the performance as the rest of the audience.

The performance ends just in time for Sallenauve and Bricheteau to catch the last boat for France, but when Bricheteau turns around, Sallenauve has vanished. In a discussion with Luigia at her hotel, Sallenauve learns that she had loved him the past two years, since he made no personal advances toward her thinks the he was indifferent or disgusted by her past life. Yet, she admits that had he made advances, she would have felt that he despised her. She accuses him of loving Madame de l’Estorade and he informs her that his only interest there was her resemblance to the woman he loved before he had even met Luigia. She tells him how Madame de Saint-Esteve introduced her to the foreign Count and how his vanity insists that the world think he is her lover–which she will never be as no one else will be able to win her heart, adding that he should not believe the gossip he will hear of her. Back at his hotel, Sallenauve tells Bricheteau that had a jewel in my hands and flung it away.

The Chamber has opened without Sallenauve and his party lost one important position by one vote. The president failed to report the receipt of Sallenauve’s letter saying he needed to be absent which led to the gossip that he had fled to avoid the investigation into his use of a name to which he had no right. Maxime de Trailles wrote a lengthy letter to Madame Beauvisage trying to salvage his position as future son-in-law after the loss of the election.

On the day when Sallenauve’s week’s leave of absence from the Chamber is up, the l’Estorades and Madame Octave de Camps are in the gallery. During the discussion and speculation of Sallenauve’s absence, he arrives and refutes all arguments, adding that an unnamed person (L’Estorade) was supposed to explain his absence to the President of the Chamber.

A vote regarding the admission of Sallenauve to the Chamber is called for. “Almost every member present rose to vote in favor of the admission of the new member; a few deputies of the Centre abstained from voting on either side.” Monsieur de Sallenauve was admitted and sworn in.

Read it here

Summarized by Dagny, November 2011 – January 2012


One comment on “The Member for Arcis by Honoré de Balzac

  1. scamperpb says:

    This story starts well but wanders off in too many intrigues, too many personages, too much everything. In reviewing this work after having just finished reading it a few months ago, I didn’t even have the heart to try to follow the story line. Dagny gets a gold star for her summary – so very difficult.

    There’s a tendency to put the blame the for the expansiveness of the story on the fact that the story was finished after Balzac’s death, but really it is not an unfamiliar situation with Balzac. It’s lke he has all these story ideas in his head, and also his list of “Human Comedy” characters, and he gleefully tries to cram as many plot lines and as many of his characters as he possibly can into one long work.

    It is interesting to note that Golda didn’t even really try to provide a full synopsis in his book of Balzac synopses. In case anyone reading this is confused and would be refreshed by a short commentary, here’s Golda’s comments, brief and to the point:

    “This story concerns Comte Maxime de Trailles, an aging rake who is constantly in debt. Eugene de Rastignac, who has become a minister, is preoccupied with a delicate legislative election which is to take place in Arcis-sur-l’Aube and whose outcome could prove to be rather unpleasant. He thus appoints Maxime to be in charge of an intelligence mission. The latter arrives incognito and tries to have elected a candidate who is most favorable to the government. Giguet, a lawyer and candidate for the opposition, believes himself to be already elected. De Traillles, however, has chosen another mediocre candidate, Beauvisage, who has made a considerable fortune in knitted goods and who has become mayor of the city.”


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