The Physiology of Marriage by Honoré de Balzac

Physiologie du Mariage
The Physiology of Marriage

This is an odd work. George Saintsbury comments that “The Physiology of Marriage” and its companion piece “Petty Troubles of Married Life” “belong quite apart from the action of the “Comedie Humaine”, and can only be included therein by virtue of a special dispensation on the part of their author.” Saintsbury goes on to call them “grim, almost sardonic essays”. He also comments that “At times he [Balzac] seems honestly to be trying to analyze a particular phase of his subject; at other times he appears to be ridiculing the whole institution of marriage. “ This is ironic since Balzac was not married when writing the work, though Saintsburgy gives him credit for an occasional flash of keen penetration. This summary will try to provide a flavor of the work as might be appropriate in discussing a work of essay, but it will not be comprehensive because of the nature of the work.

Balzac begins by stating that marriage is not an institution of nature and observing that marriage operates differently in different societies. These comments were made by someone in the presence of Napoleon, and Bazac says they made a ‘profound impression upon the author of this book.” Balzac seems centered on the issues of ADULTERY, which I capitalize as he does in his text. He claims that marriage is “generally modified by adultery” and that the number of unhappy homes is greater than the happy homes. To be honest, this premise as a hint as to what is to come in this work does not much make me want to read it. He talks of perhaps writing a satire upon marriage wherein a husband and wife find themselves in love with each other for the first time after 27 years of marriage. I can only wish he’ll include this satire in this work, but in browsing through it the pages look dismally absent of anything other than Balzac’s cynical and often poorly formed opinions of women and marriage.

I should note in fairness that after reading almost the entire “Comedie Humaine” I am not a fan of Balzac’s treatment of women and find his assumptions that he is an expert on women entirely without basis. While there are many aspects of Balzac’s works I admire, in my opinion this is his biggest failing: his flashes of insight are overwhelmed with his ignorance.

Balzac devotes a number of pages in the opening of “The Physiology of Marriage” to his vision in writing the book. He relates an anecdote about a dying Countess who becomes fixed on a spot on the floor where a log had rolled out of the fireplace. She springs up out of bed to put the log back into its place, and her eyes remain fixed on the spot on the floor until she dies. When her heirs dig up the plank, they find the remains of her husband, for whom she had been allegedly grieving the past 10 years. To further support his case against marriage, Balzac then tells about being privy to the conversation of two refined ladies who observe that women almost always take lovers and that their lovers are below their own intellect and selected mainly for their looks. Balzac states he is setting out to “arrange matters which represent what everybody thinks but no one dares to say [about marriage]”. He presents his case of marriage in essay form and supports it with the use of anecdotes. Scattered throughout are what he calls aphorisms, his own principles of truth about marriage.

MEDITATION I “The Subject”

The object of his work is to prove that “Marriage unites for life two beings who do not know each other…that life consists in passion, and that no passion survives marriage.” He goes on to say that marriage as an institution is necessary for the preservation of society and its property but is contrary to nature. He asks himself for whom is he writing this work. After all there are exhaustive numbers of writings on marriage. He declares he writes for the “Disciples of Panurge”. Panurge is a character from Rabelais’ “Pantagruel”. He’s a libertine and Wikipedia says

“In French, reference to Panurge occurs in the phrase mouton de Panurge, which describes an individual that will blindly follow others regardless of the consequences. This, after a story in which Panurge buys a sheep from the merchant Dindenault and then, as a revenge for being overcharged, throws the sheep into the sea. The rest of the sheep in the herd follow the first over the side of the boat, in spite of the best efforts of the shepherd.”

Balzac wants to classify the secret motives of women so that married men can “put their finger on each movement of their wives’ heart, as a table of logarithms tells them the product of a given multiplication.”

MEDITATION II “Marriage Statistics”

Balzac wants to provide a survey on the number of married women eligible for romantic entanglements in France. He calculates 30 million inhabitants of France, approximately 15 million females. He subtracts from this figure 9 million women to reduce the total to 6 million by claiming these 9 million women are disparaged as common, women without money, fineness of skin, and cleanliness. Women who do less than lounge around and think about how best to present themselves in society do not count in his figures. This is the side of Balzac that I personally cannot find pleasing. “But the man of sentiment, the philosopher of the boudoir, while he eats his fine bread, made of corn, sown and harvested by these creatures, will reject them [the common woman] and relegate them, as we do, to a place outside the genus Woman.”

Now Balzac subtracts another 2 million women from his calculation as being too old (over 40). We are down to 4 million women. Another two million is subtracted because the females are too young for romance: that makes the total now 2 million. And then he discusses that 100,000 as too ugly or sickly for consideration, another 100,000 are in the church, and an undetermined number aren’t quite the right age for serious romance There are also a half million prostitutes and women of the trades, actresses, chambermaids, etc. I’m not sure about Balzac’s math or process of elimination, but no matter. Balzac finally resolves that there are about one million married, refined women in the right age range in his world of society. He subtracts another 200,000 to account for the newly married, the ill, the pregnant, etc.

Balzac’s final total is 800,000 women who are likely to violate married faith, but in subsequent meditations he bounces back to the bottom line of one million women and then finally to 400,00 women. He proclaims that the following meditations will determine how many of the one million women are honest women, and how many are virtuous women.

MEDITATION III “Of the Honest Woman”

Balzac’s definition of an honest woman is not what one might expect. Rather it is a rather flippant description of characteristics of an acceptable lover for a young blade of Paris: she’s married, she’s under 40, she’s not paid for sex, she has a private carriage, she’s not her own cook, she’s married to someone with money, she’s well-spoken, etc. The bottom line is she has at least 6,000 francs a year if she lives in the country, 20,000 in Paris, in order to afford the list of characteristics of an honest woman. Somehow Balzac has trouble with his math again, for he reduces this population to about 400,000 of his one million women on account of lack of the proper funds. But it seems that he already reduced the women of France much earlier excluding those without money. Balzac never was very good with figures!

MEDITATION IV “Of the Virtuous Woman”

Balzac notes that women marry around the age of 20 and drop out of the romance market about 40, while men are romantic from about 17 to 52 or more. Without going through Balzac’s questionable numbers game, it is sufficient to note that there are about three million men available to “pay homage to honest women.” He reduces this by non-philandering husbands, unappealing, clergy, etc. to about one million. These men probably have at least a total of three million “adventures” – and there are only about 400,000 “honest” women.

Balzac upon revealing these numbers says that manners are the hypocrisy of nations. “If the God of goodness and indulgence who hovers over the worlds does not make a second washing of the human race, it is doubtless because so little success attended to first.” He declares physical love is a craving like hunger except more violent and less frequent. Balzac claims there are a few virtuous women – those who die young in their first child-birth, those who are exceptionally ugly, the religious, etc. Balzac seems to disparage these virtuous women as having something wrong with them.

Since men marry 10 years later than women, and there are more of them in the proper category, it is inevitable that they seek the passions of married women – their other choice being those common women who are beneath them. They could marry younger, but likely would make unwise choices in their youth. They could remain celibate, but that seems unlikely and wouldn’t be respected. So, married men, accept the knowledge that your wife will indeed have lovers in her prime.

MEDITATION V “Of the Predestined”

Certain characteristics incline a wife to entertain lovers. The man of business who is predictably gone at certain times leaves the door open, as does the preoccupied husband – a husband who is so involved in his business or science that he does not pay due attention to his wife. Beware also the old man who marries a young girl and also the tyrant.

Balzac tells an amusing story of a pet ape who picks up a violin and examines it, puzzled as to how it makes music. He turns it over and over, then tries to place it under his chin and play it. But he draws forth only discordant sounds. After a few more attempts “he takes the bow with both hands and snaps it into two pieces across the innocent instrument, source of harmony and delight…the monkey sat down upon the fragments of it and amused himself with stupid joy in mixing up the yellow strings of the broken bow.” And Balzac makes the comparison of the majority of the predestined husbands with “this orang-outang trying to play the violin.” Woman is a delightful instrument of pleasure, but “it is necessary to know its trembling strings, to study the position of them, the timid keyboard, the fingering so changeful and capricious which befits it.”

“Harlequin, when he tried to find out whether his horse could be accustomed to go without food, was not more ridiculous than the men who wish to find happiness in their home and yet refuse to cultivate it with all the pains which it demands. The errors of women are so many indictments of egotism, neglect and worthlessness in husbands.” Balzac goes on to say that men marry for property and/or children – but property and children do not make a man happy. Love is what makes happiness, and it is possible to always desire one’s wife – just as a famous musician does not need more than one violin to execute a piece of music. In short, Balzac provides a catechism of marriage which says for the man not to force himself on the woman, to feel passion for her, to allow her the free will to love him, to appreciate the uniqueness of each pleasure. These comments to be the first of only a few positive comments about women and romance in the entire work.

MEDITATION VI “Of Boarding Schools”

Women educated in boarding schools discuss love and sex and thus are not chaste even if still technically virgins. They develop intimate confidences which go with them into life, and then instead of just a wife to deal with one has several women watching you along with those women’s families and lovers. And what about the mothers of women sent to boarding schools – are they not devious in ridding their house of the wiles of a young girl? Better to marry a young girl cultivated at home.

Balzac also notes that most men marry with about as much concern as buying a stock on the market. He recommends (curiously I thought) “a young lady whose temperament resembles that of the women of Louisiana or the Carolinas.” Also it is better to choose someone not plain but not quite pretty.

Balzac wonders why we lock women up before marriage but allow them to have lovers afterwards – would not the system work far better reversed? She would make a wiser choice of husband if she weren’t driven to take the love of the first comer. We are cautious with young women to fear their submitting to a man who does not love her – but isn’t that often the result of the marriage of an inexperienced young woman? The French method of locking up the young girls and giving the most complete liberty to wives seems to indicate that the French are more solicitous about a woman’s past than her future.

He wonders “whether a wife is forced into infidelity by the impossibility of obtaining any change, or by the liberty which is allowed her in this connection.” I suppose what he means by impossibility of change is change in their husbands.

MEDITATION VII “Of the Honeymoon”

Balzac cautions against the new husband taking his pleasure in his wife physically with violence. She’ll submit in her innocence, but if she sees that there is to never be pleasure in the act she will eventually rebel. “She will no longer be silent when once she has learned the uselessness of her sacrifices”. Once she has determined this, it is impossible to repair the damage. Later on he notes that if a man – or we presume a woman – once feels aversion, he – she – never returns to love. This is the transition of the honeymoon to the “Red-moon”.

Suddenly Balzac leaps to another of his beliefs about love. The duration of passion is in proportion to how long it took to obtain the woman. If it was no trouble to get the woman, the passion disappears instantly .

Another principle is, “we receive only in proportion to what we give.” Do not give more or less than you receive. “Durable love is that which always keeps the forces of two human beings in equilibrium.”

Balzac cautions against the practice of slowly beginning to neglect one’s appearance, the details of marriage, etc. Indifference kills love. The wife may long for the passion not quite ever fulfilled by the careless husband.

MEDIATION VIII “Of the First Symptoms”

Balzac tells the story of the Minotaur where the half-man, half-bull became – or was all the time without realizing it – whole man and no bull. He now calls this the minotaurization of a husband, which I presume is when a wife starts taking lovers.

All the ‘hungry celibates’, that is the single men aiming to be lovers of married women, are in a conspiracy to work together to dup the husbands. They leave the newly married alone, letting the woman gain experience and then disillusionment with her husband. When the couple reemerges in society for society’s sake, it is time to strike because the wife with an unsatisfied heart has come in search of distraction. The husband is now in danger of being minotaurized and the wife is likely to become ‘inconsistent’. That is, she is now in a consistent plan to appear to fulfill all her wifely duties while taking a lover.

She dresses with more care than ever, but at home she can be gloomy and thoughtful, then laughing and gay. She’ll say she loves you as a sister, and she will be indifferent in lovemaking. Sometimes she’s exceptionally tender, at others sullen. She may take up long-abandoned religious practices. She’ll start asserting herself, no longer delighting in doing your bidding. She’ll start referring to the home as hers – my chamber, my bed, etc. She’ll tell you to butt out of the business of the home. All this will be done under the name of the dignity of women.

And perhaps worst of all she will engage in “rattle-power”. She’ll repeat the same idea over and over the same way on the theory that eventually you will admit them – such as that you have an excellent wife, women often see clearer than men, etc. The shrewd, intelligent, and sarcastic wife has the leisure to meditate a strategy which can turn her husband into ridicule. Once she’s laughed at him, his power has expired and it is the end. A woman lies on emotion, and when the first passion leaves marriage she seeks new passion to feel alive.


Balzac says the mixture of Roman, Gaul, and Frank heritage has produced an odd assortment of traditions in France in the treatment of women. Greece of the hot climate secluded their women, leaving courtesans connected with art and religion to satisfy the first passions of the few young men who weren’t preoccupied with military training. Rome enhanced this seclusion, stressing modesty as a moral obligation. The Gauls integrated respect for women and recognized them as oracles of God. The Francs brought a system of gallantry from the colder climates where the mingling of the sexes was permitted.

“To the East, then, belong the passion and the delirium of passion, the long brown hair, the harem, the amorous divinities, the splendor, the poetry of love and the monuments of love. – To the West, the liberty of wives, the sovereignty of their blond locks, gallantry, the fairy life of love, the sorcery of passion, the profound ecstasy of the soul, the sweet feelings of melancholy and the constancy of love.” These systems are in collision, and the addition of Christianity provided still more divisions in the two principles of servitude and the sovereignty of women.

So French women are still married against their taste and find themselves tempting to take the only reprisals within their power. Balzac again reiterates that young women should have more liberty. “Let us give back to youth the indulgence of those passions, those coquetries, love and its terrors, love and its delights…” Out of this will come experience, confidence, and love in marriage which will have the privilege of comparison. This will eliminate the plague of prostitution and provide through availability the experience of real love affairs. Balzac would support disinheritance so that men would “choose only those who promised happiness by their virtues, their character or their talents.” Women would create happiness in the household and the penalty for infidelity should be severe, that of extreme disgrace.

MEDIATION X “A Treatise on Marital Policy”

This is the beginning of the second part of “The Physiology of Marriage”, this part and the third part proclaiming to tell men how to counteract the subversive behavior of women in marriage.

First off, never believe what a woman says. Second, look for the spirit rather than the letter of her actions. Third, never forget that a woman “is never so garrulous as when she holds her tongue, and is never working with more energy than when she keeps quiet.” Once your suspicions are aroused, be like a man on a tricky horse – always watching the ears of the beast.

If you want to persuade a woman of anything, never try to directly convince her but rather allow her to convince you. Balzac gives as an example a wife who demands expensive jewelry which her husband directly denies due to budgetary concerns. Another wife asks for jewelry, the husband immediately provides her the money graciously, but he lets her overhear his budgetary problems when he asks the author for a loan. In the end, the first wife gets her jewelry and the second wife decided to forego hers – it was enough that her husband is willing to go broke providing her what she wants.

MEDIATION XI “Instruction in the Home”

In short, Balzac advises unless in the rare circumstance where you have married a woman who has been educated like a man, keep your wife away from books. They give her romantic and unrealistic ideas.

MEDITATION XII “The Hygiene of Marriage”

Balzac advises semi-starving the wife (no meat, no wine, etc.) and finding her something physical (perhaps dance) to keep her worn out. Thus she will have no energy for “celibates”. If you, her husband, do not break under the scourge of your will this weak and charming reed, there will be a celibate, capricious and despotic, ready to bring her under a yoke more cruel still; Under all considerations, therefore, humanity demands that you should follow the system of our hygiene.”

MEDITATION XIII “Of Personal Measures”

Insist before marriage that a wife nurse her own children – less time for affairs. Keep her pregnant – less time for exposure to the world.

When danger does arise, divert her intensions with a firestorm, which Balzac calls a blister. One example is a man who proclaims his fortune lost and thus the necessity of repairing to the country, where he diverts his wife with rebuilding the estate and giving her much attention. Similar diversions might be sudden physical complaints, journeys to the continent, etc. It is important to keep such a blister in the back pocket, and to vary them and to understand the necessity of graduating doses.

Subtly belittle the potential lover. Lead the lover to do silly things that will annoy your wife, for example. Tell the lover she likes insolence when she doesn’t, and the lover no doubt will exhibit boorish behavior that makes him intolerable to her. If one has friends in high places, arrange the transfer of the potential lover to another area.

“Study the happy art of being near her and yet not being near her; of seizing the opportunity which will yield you pre-eminence in her mind without ever crushing her with a sense of your superiority, or even of her own happiness. If the ignorance in which you have kept her does not altogether destroy her intellect, you must remain in such relations with her that each of you will still desire the company of the other.”


Balzac suggests that bringing home a wife is like bringing home a parrot and putting it in a cage, and he warns that the apartments must be refurbished frequently to keep happiness in the home. “The least accessory of her apartment ought, therefore, to breathe elegance and taste.”

He advises the husband to take extreme precautions in the way his home is designed so that there is no private access to his wife’s apartments, no place for a lover to hide, no servants not loyal to the master, no maze of bed curtains, etc. His admonitions in this regard are astonishing and extreme – he even bans sofas and ottomans! He suggests the servants keep a double-entry record of all visitors, and that the husband frequently examine his wife’s rooms for contraband – a gift, a note, anything out of place. All this is to be done from the first day of marriage and in a subtle enough manner that the wife assumes this is merely the habits of her husband.

MEDITATION XV “Of the Custom House”

“A husband is, like a spider, set at the centre of an invisible net, and receives a shock from the least fool of a fly who touches it, and from a distance, hears, judges and sees what is either his prey or his enemy.” Watch the celibate when he enters – does he adjust his hair, hum a French or Italian air, adjust his necktie? When inside, does he put on a mask of social convention which hides his relationship with your wife? Does he avoid your eye? Does he exit seemingly moved, perhaps casting a glance backwards? Watch all his movements carefully and you will know your danger.

Similarly watch the wife. Does her expression change suddenly upon noticing you? How does she appear when returning home – is her hair a bit amiss, is she too gay, does her complexion glow? Observation is key to success.

MEDITATION XVI “The Charter of Marriage”

Balzac tells us he has modeled his advice thus far on the behavior of a modern-day Othello, a Council of State, who has a “profound genius which so cleverly disguised the precautions of almost oriental jealousy under the elegance of furniture, beauty of carpets and brightness of painted decorations.”

But what happens when eventually even in this gilded cage the wife asks the right of coming and going at her will and of writing and receiving letters without censure? The Council of State tells him he solves this problem like the government does: he agrees to everything requested but does not provide the means for the execution of the requests. If Madame wants to go out, then she is by her status accompanied by servants. If she wants exercise, her husband always accompanies her, etc. But at the end of the story, it seems that the Council of State detects an intruder by finding a black hair, a color of hair not known in the household. A few days later the Council of State tells Balzac of the innocence of his wife. It seems the black hair is that of the general next door, who was seen this morning climbing over the wall between the two houses.

MEDITATION XVIII “The Theory of the Bed”

It is not natural for a husband and wife to occupy twin beds for sleeping as a man is almost always ridiculous when he is asleep. The twin bed “robs our love of all its illusions, strips it are of the majestic company of its delights and gives it in their stead nothing but what is ugliest and most odious.” If one is preoccupied and the other in the mood for love, there might be disastrous consequences communicated from the different beds. And what if the wife learns her husband is a very heavy sleeper? However, Balzac makes an exception for those older couples – twin beds particularly are convenient for those married 20 years or so – the better to treat illnesses, etc.

Balzac rather likes instead the idea of separate rooms, though he admits this is an uncommon practice. “The married couple who dwell in separate apartments have become either divorced, or have attained to the discovery of happiness. They either abominate or adore each other.” Balzac dismisses this idea as not practical – presumably for the opportunities it might provide for infidelity.

So we are left with the idea of one bed for both. Balzac notes that in England the nuptial chamber is a sacred place with the married couple alone having the privilege of entering it. The sense of touch, the closeness with your wife outweighs the inconveniences of a single bed. “In the single couch we have a faithful interpreter to translate with profound truthfulness the sentiments of a woman, to render her a spy over herself, to keep her at the height of her amorous temperature, never to leave her, to have the power of hearing her breathe in slumber, and thus to avoid all the nonsense which is the ruin of so many marriages.” Surely for all of these benefits a man can learn how to sleep gracefully and see that his slumber is light.

MEDITATION XVIII “Of Marital Revolutions”

At some point your wife will recognize the deceits you have played upon her – those activities which have tracked her movements . There is time before this happens to build a defensive operation. It is time to bring your operation in the open once the Civil War with your wife begins. To justify the secret tyranny of the initial policy and the now overt changes, claim jealousy. Balzac assures that the husband can successfully pose this, for “a man of the world must be an actual fool, if he fails in making a woman believe that which flatters her.” The delight of this strategy is the wife will think since you are jealous she can control you but instead you can bind her absolutely. “O comedy that has no audience, which yet is played by one heart before another heart and where both of you applaud because both of you think that you have obtained success!”

Balzac notes the similarity of this Civil War to a prince’s deception in going to war. “The highest degree of good play on the part of a prince lies in persuading his people that he goes to war for them, while all the time he is causing them to be killed for his throne.”


A lover offers an idealization of the wife, but a husband deals with the practicality of life. Balzac provides a series of aphorisms denoting this, such as “In a lover, the coarsest desire always shows itself as a burst of honest admiration.” Thus it is practically impossible for a husband to keep his wife without a lover after about the age of 30. Extreme measures are required.

MEDITATION XX “Essay on Police”

“The police of marriage consist of all those means which are given you by law, manners, force, and stratagem for preventing your wife in her attempt to accomplish those three acts which is some sort make up the life of love: writing, seeing and speaking.”

First one must set up some mousetraps to determine who is the lover. One technique which he calls “the irresistible” is to lead a dinner table discussion criticizing the profession of the suspected lover to see if the wife cannot resist coming to the defense of the disparaged profession. Another technique “the fallacious” is to catch the wife in faulty reasoning in regards to her movements – she may be careless of her reasoning when she wants to change her plans due to the availability of a lover. Or he might use a “touch and go” mousetrap in which he provides alarming and false information about the suspected lover to see if his wife reacts.

Next, one must examine the matter of correspondence. Balzac states that one cannot prevent correspondence, but that the fact there is correspondence can be used to determine the identity and confront the lover. He tells the tale of a husband feigning severe illness and requesting his wife to write about an urgent business matter. While writing, he detected her writing on the side a note to her lover. He managed to pilfer the letter and trick he lover into a meeting in which he persuades the young man to give up his quest.

The third policing matter is of spies. Servants aren’t good spies because one can’t be sure that the servants are more loyal to the husband than the wife. Children in their naivety however are excellent spies.

Another policing matter are the rules of the house, the most important seems to be is never let your wife go in the country or on the promenade alone. There are too many opportunities for intrigues that would exhaust a husband to track.

The final policing matter of importance is concerning the real amount of your income. Balzac advises that the husband secretly tuck away one-third of his income and give his wife the management of the rest. She will feel well treated and have a sense of responsibility to manage the money well, he won’t be burdened with constant requests and subterfuges for money, and if she does think of taking a lover her management of the money will provide valuable clues.

As a final note Balzac ends with a story that illustrates how such policing can go out of control. An old miser was such a policeman that he rakes at night and studies the footprints the next morning to make sure no stranger entered his domain. His wife falls in love with a man of town with no opportunity for fulfillment because of the husband’s diligence, and at last in desperation the lovers brought about the husband’s death by poison.

MEDITATION XXI “The Art of Returning Home”

If one is suspicious, one should enter home in an upbeat but controlling manner. Balzac gives an example where a nobleman spies his wife at a park with her lover on a fine horse. He throws the lover over the fence and says to his wife, “I blame you very much, my dear creature, for not having told me that I was to love you for two. Hereafter every other day I shall love you for the gentleman yonder, and all other days for myself.”

MEDITATION XXII “Of Catastrophes”

Balzac recommends creating a catastrophe when the stakes are high: “The conjugal catastrophe may be compared to one of those high fevers which either carry off a predisposed subject or completely restore his health. Thus , when the catastrophe succeeds, it keeps a woman for years in the prudent realms of virtue.” His examples seem a little vague, but the idea is to beforehand make sure the wife knows he might kill her or a lover, and when he detects treachery keep the upper hand in how he deals with it. He wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again but not go to such an extreme it will actually threaten the life of his wife.


This is the beginning of Part III, which Balzac labels ‘Relating to Civil war”. Balzac lays out some basic principles by which women in love operate: anything may be expected, her actions are not dictated by reason, she advances erratically, etc.

Balzac declares that “the life of a woman is either of the head, of the heart, or of passion. When a woman reaches the age to form an estimate of life, her husband ought to find out whether the primary cause of her intended infidelity proceeds from vanity, from sentiment or from temperament. Temperament may be remedied like disease; sentiment is something in which the husband may find great opportunities of success; but vanity is incurable.”

The task of the husband is to appear to believe in his wife’s fidelity and to preserve an air of patience, the better to fight the problem and maintain public avoidance of ridicule. She has as allies other women and their celibates, so it is better to remain calm to fight the war.

MEDITATION XXIV “Principles of Strategy”

A woman can create her own catastrophe. One diabolical ruse is to pretend love for someone to whom she is indifferent and dislike for someone she loves. Balzac illustrates the feminine artifice this with several tales, the most elaborate of which involves a countess taking a young man on a journey to meet her husband, with whom she has just agreed to reconcile. The husband thinks the young man is her lover, and before the night is over he is, at least for that night. But the next day another man comes, whom the husband welcomes and eagerly sends away the young man whom he thinks her lover. However, the new visitor is the Countess’ long-time lover, and now her husband welcomes him as a relief from her supposed (and actual for one night) lover. And of course the long-time lover doesn’t have a clue that the Countess made love with the young man the night before.


Balzac discusses the allies a wife might have in the Civil War of marriage. Balzac first lists religion and confession, quoting La Bruyere in saying “Is it too much for a husband to have ranged against him both devotion and gallantry; a woman ought to choose but one of them for her ally.” Balzac appears to disagree but his response is a cryptic dance upon the typewriter keyboard resulting in nonsensical strings of letters and ending …”and in similar vein to the end of the paragraph.”

Next in potential allies is the mother-in-law, who is naturally allied to her daughter. Usually a woman over 40, she is formidable and cannot be checked with techniques useful on a woman under 40. Keeping the mother-in-law at a distance, perhaps in the country if you are in the city, is an excellent idea. Attempting to cause strive between the two is also effective but not for the faint of heart. He cautions the husband against using a policy of living officially on bad terms with the mother-in-law as it usually draws the daughter and mother closer. The resources of a mother in supporting the daughter are vast and varied, and Balzac recommends never allowing an unsupervised visit.

Another source of allies is the boarding school and other intimate friend. Balzac tells a startling tale of an elderly baron married to a young, seemingly devoted wife. Attracted by a society matron, she encourages his affections but then refuses him based on his devotion to his wife, who visits the matron professing her devotion while the baron is hidden in a closet. So the baron separates himself from his wife (which allowes her to have the long-sought company of a lover) in an attempt to win the matron. The matron suddenly takes a tour for her health, and the baron dies shortly afterwards. And the entire scenario had been plotted and executed by the two women, and never suspected by the baron.

Another weapon in the Civil War of marriage is the wife’s maid. Balzac shockingly explains that the wife may put the maid in the way of the husband in hopes that a sexual liaison may result, thus relieving the wife of unwanted sexual duties while at the same time putting her husband in the wrong. The wife will pay her maid extraordinarily well though probably never admitting her knowledge of the liaison. “What husband is stoical enough to resist such fires, such frosts? There, when you see a new harvest of pleasure, the young innocent sees an income, and your wife her liberty.”

A final powerful ally is the doctor, who always caters to his female patients because he knows they make the decisions on who is to be the household doctor. He can intimate ill health which requires a change of scenery (and to a location where a lover is present), or he can recommend extreme tranquility that banishes the husband from the marriage bed.

MEDITATION XXVI “Of Different Weapons”

Balzac’s cynicism is becoming quite oppressive. “Every one of the sentiments which nature has endowed our heart with, in their gentlest form, will become a dagger in the hand of your wife. You will be stabbed every moment, and you will necessarily succumb; for your love will flow like blood from every wound.”

The wife understands your generous sentiment which leads you to respect those who are in pain. She will thus upon demand “metamorphose herself into a pale and sickly woman.” A headache is the weapon of choice as it is easy to feign. “A headache seizes Madame when she chooses, where she chooses, and as much as she chooses.”

Nervous affections are also quite useful. We may call them “vapors”, a recent phenomenon in France. On the plea of her ill health the wife seeks out some distraction which is likely to result in expensive trips to the country, choice gifts, etc. There cannot be a husband so brutal to oppose such desires! And wives use sighs and weeping, or have nervous attacks.

Balzac closes this section with a treatise on modesty. The meaning is not entirely clear, but the general idea is a wife should preserve her modesty in toilet to preserve her allure, and she is despicable if she deliberately exposes herself to immodest behavior to push him away. And yet he later says that lovers ignore modesty.

MEDITATION XXVII “Of the Last Symptoms”

There are two kinds of deception which result in a minotaurized husband: the unicorn Minotaur in which the lovers are platonic, and the bicorn in which the lovers consummate their love. Balzac lists the symptoms of the bicorn love. Symptoms include among others a willingness of the wife to suddenly send her child away to school, suddenly after a long time of aloofness making a marked overture to the husband, a change in energy level, a display of being nonjudgmental, and spending more money than her husband gives her without being in debt.

MEDITATION XXVIII “Of Compensations”

A husband when he has detected he is a bicorn Minotaur has only two recourses: resignation or vengeance. If he decides on vengeance, it should be complete.

However, resignation has its benefits, especially if delivered with a bit of gallantry. The husband might even get benefits of connection and purse from the lover. His wife from exposure to a new lover may even develop more social skills and wit. “Like cosmopolitan travelers she tells tales of all the countries which she has traversed.” She may even undertake to again seduce her own husband at some point in the future..

MEDITATION XXIX “Of Conjugal Peace”

Balzac looks with gloom upon his own description of marriage. He observes a couple, the wife in her fifties and the husband seventy – it is an old friend, a Marquis. The Marquis assures Balzac that in the winter of his life a man denies that love has any existence ever in life. He finds his wife useful to care for him in his old age, and to ensure that she does so he enriches her while he is alive but leaves her nothing after he is dead. He declares that love promises everything and fulfills nothing. He says, “If you could enjoy for two minutes the riches which God dispenses to the enlightened men who consider love as merely a passing need which it is sufficient to satisfy for six months in their twentieth year; to the men who, scorning the luxurious and surfeiting beefsteaks of Normandy, feed on the roots which God has given in abundance, and take their repose on a bed of withered leave, like the recluses of the Thebaid! – AH! You would not keep on three seconds the wool of fifteen merinos which covers you…”

Balzac suspects he is right but defiantly refuses to state this in his book. He’d rather attempt to “discover some social utility in their [the celibates and honest women] passions and follies.”


And indeed Balzac decides the business of infidelity contributes greatly to the economy of France in gifts purchased, debts paid, theatre tickets bought, special foods purchased, etc. He declares his book is written “by advising husbands, to make women more self-restrained and consequently to impart more violence to passions, more money to the treasury, more life to commerce and agriculture.” He observes as a final comment Napoleon’s comment about marriage: “If man never grew old, I would never wish him to have a wife!”

Balzac includes with a postscript in which he tells one final story about a wife outwitting her husband. He assures the woman telling the story: “If I marry, I am bound to be unexpectedly outwitted by some infernal trick or other; but I shall in that case, you may be quite sure, furnish a model household for the admiration of my contemporaries.”

A final personal comment which I cannot resist: as a woman very happily married for over 40 years, I feel very, very sorry for Balzac and his society friends. To not know what love is, to never have the feeling of unconditional love, is to not know life.

Read it here

Summaried by Pamela, February 2012


The Chouans by Honoré de Balzac

Les Chouans
The Chouans


  • Hulot – leader of demi-brigade
  • Pierre March-a-Terre – a leader of Chouans
  • Gerard – Hulot’s adjutant
  • Merle – Hulot’s captain
  • Clef-des-Coeurs – Hulot’s soldier who has his wits about him
  • Beau-Pied – Hulot’s soldier, a young sergeant with a sense of humor
  • Lebrum – Hulot’s sub-lieutenant
  • Larose – one of Hulot’s men who he asked to beat about the heights above the road before the Chouan attack
  • Gudin – patriot conscript who warns Hulot of Chouan strategy
  • Abbe Gudin – his uncle, with the Chouans’ Sacred Heart organization
  • Vannier – patriot conscript sent back to Fougeres for help
  • Pille-Miche, also called Cibot – one of March-a-Terre’s men, left to approach the coach
  • The Gars – noble leader of the Chouans, sent by princes and English, real name the Marquis of Montauran
  • du Gua St.-Cyre – young man at inn with mother (supposedly), from Paris, middle height, wore uniform of the Ecole Polytechnique (navy), noble, fair and curling hair, brilliant blue eyes, delicately cut nose – but he is really The Gars
  • Madame du Gua – his mother (supposedly), really the former lover of Charette, a leader of the Royalists
  • Coupiau, later given the Chouan name of Mene-a-Bien – driver of coach
  • d’Orgemont of Fougeres – third passenger in coach, a neutral banker
  • Count of Fontaine – leader of Royalists in La Vendee
  • Count of Chatillon – leader of Royalists in La Vendee
  • Count of Suzannet – leader of Royalists in La Vendee
  • Abbe Vernal – leader of Royalists in La Vendee
  • Chevalier de Valois – leader of Royalists in Orne
  • Marquis of Escrignon – leader of Royalists in Orne
  • The Troisvilles – leader of Royalists in Orne
  • Marie, de Verneuil – woman in coach, beautiful, suddenly with gold, government escort but must be Royalist, ci-devant, on some enterprise proposed by Corentin. Her real identify in question, but she has powerful papers saying the Republican Army is to do her bidding
  • Francine – her maid, 26, fair-haired, from around Alencon, blue eyes, commonly dressed, was Marche-a-Terre’s sweetheart seven years ago
  • Corentin, stranger following coach, 22, fancy dress
  • Baron du Guenie, l’Intime, friend of The Gars at the Chauteau who warns The Gars about Marie
  • Major Brigaut – at the Chauteau, from Marais, comrade of the late Merciers, called La Vendee
  • Longuy – Aid de camp of the Chouans, at Chauteau with The Gars
  • La Billardiere – son of a counselor in Parliament of Brittany, name is Flamet, at Chauteau with The Gars, Royalist
  • Comte de Fontaine – Vendean chief at Chauteau
  • Mustached man – at Chauteau with The Gars, wants to kill First Consel with a sword



It is September 1799, and over one hundred peasants and townspeople from Fougeres in Brittany are being marched to Mayenne (department just to the east of Brittany) as new conscripts for the Republic, as requested by Napoleon. Napoleon’s wars with the Austrians in Italy, the Prussians in Germany, and Russia are going poorly. Napoleon’s in Egypt, and war is not going well there either. Balzac mentions that the area of Vendee, Brittany, and lower Normandy had been at peace as orchestrated by a General Hoche four years ago – but Royalist insurrection is again rising. It is not clear whether these men are to be pressed into foreign service or service to fight the Chouans. A new law had just been proclaimed that “these new levies are specially enrolled to oppose the Chouans and can never be drafted over the frontiers on any pretext whatsoever”. One of the reasons for calling up the levies was to actually remove possible insurgents from their homelands. Balzac notes that Brittany is “surrounded by enlightenment, but the beneficent warmth never penetrates it”. The land is furrowed with ravines, torrents, lakes, marshes, and hedges; there are no roads or canals, and the people remain backward and stubbornly independent. The people’s biggest influence is their local priest, who greatly encouraged past insurrections against the Republic as Chouans, who use the royalist and religious issues as excuse for plunder.

The marching men are quite a hodgepodge of people dressed in everything from goatskins to copper buttons! The majority wore goatskins, white crudely-spun cloth breeches, and dirty red wool hats. Some wore felt broad-brimmed hats, round jackets with square side pockets, waistcoats. Much talk about sabots, which are wooden shoes. A very few wore red or yellow waistcoats with copper buttons, blue linen breeches: “they looked like poppies and cornflowers in a field of wheat”. Most of this last group wore iron-bound shoes, silver studs on their collars, and even carried flasks of brandy. A few townspeople had still different costumes with round bonnets or flat or peaked caps, high boots or shoes with gaiters, etc. Even though they are Republic conscripts, very few of them are Republicans “for almost every one who composed it had taken part against the Government in the war of four years ago”. The faces of the conscripts show misery and dejection. This assemblage consisted of “men who were nearly all ill satisfied at being thus directed upon Mayenne, there to be submitted to a military discipline which must shortly clothe them all alike, and drill a uniformity into their march and ways of thinking which was at present entirely lacking among them”. They seem to scan the woods as they march and hang back from their escorts as much as possible.

The body of troops heading this march number 150 and report to the chief of the demi-brigade (new Republican term for colonel), Hulot. This detachment is stationed at Mayenne. They are called Blues because in the early days of the Republic they wore blue and red uniforms. Hulot is leery of his conscripts, suspecting they allowed themselves to be herded across the land only to procure arms for themselves. He moves out towards his Mayenne strength without waiting for late arrivals as a precaution. He keeps secret the doings of both the Royalists in La Vendee and the bad news of Napoleon’s foreign wars, as instructed by his superiors. He also has his troops secure the ammunition and rations so the conscripts can’t determine the length of the journey. He wants to make a beeline for Ernée in Mayenne because he knows the Chouans are at loose in the district and he fears his conscripts’ joining them.


As the troops and conscripts climb the Pelerine mountains, about half way to Ernée, the view back from Fougeres is spectacular. The valley of the Couesnon extends from the Pelerine back to Fougeres, which occupies one of the highest points on the horizon. Its castle is the center of communications and holds a view of the entire basin. Mountains rise on all sides, and in the basin is meadow land with quick-set hedges and trees and lots of shadows and lights. There are also rich woods, fields of buckwheat and rye. You can even catch an occasional distant view of water from streams. It is a beautiful sight, one which no doubt the conscripts are reluctant to leave for parts unknown.

Hulot sees the conscripts lagging behind and suddenly a stranger, later identified as Marche-a-Terre, appears on the scene. He’s a big man dressed crudely and appears not very bright. At first the officers think he’s a conscript, but think it is strange the way he simply appears on the scene. Hulot questions him, and he gives the answers of an imbecile. Hulot is about to dismiss him as a threat when he suddenly notices that he is covered with thorns and other debris as if he has been traveling a long distance through the woods. He realizes suddenly that Marche-a-Terre is a Chouan and that there are no doubt enemies lurking behind the hedges. The famous peace of General Hoche is now at an end, the Chouans are undoubtedly ready to attack. Peace seemed possible after the Ninth of Thermidor, when Robespierre was executed, but with the war uncertainties there is fear the Republic will be abandoned by Bonaparte and unable to make a stand among its foes. The various factions want positions and gold to better survive the anticipated future.

Hulot remains cool, he is the consummate officer totally loyal to the Republic. He speaks to his adjutant Gerald and captain Merle and tells them of the troubles in Paris with the Directory’s administration of the foreign wars. A prominent general, Bernadotte, has resigned and been replaced with Milet-Mureau, who is past his time. And with all the problems in the foreign wars, the Vendeans and Chouans are again rising. The Chouans have even intercepted Hulot’s own couriers twice. Napoleon’s head of internal security Fouche found out that Louis XVIII has sent a leader to the interior to help stir things up, perhaps with the help of the English. A ci-devant” (former noble) who calls himself “The Gars” is this leader.

The three officers turn to watch Marche-a-Terre, who shows not the slightest sign of discomfort under such close scrutiny. Guerilla warfare was new to the soldiers, so they are not sure what is to happen next. Hulot tells Gerard to move in on Marche-a-Terre and to kill him if he acts suspiciously. He tells Merle to order ten men and a sergeant on the summit just above where they are presently located. This area makes a plateau with a wide road and you can see the road to Ernée from there. He recommends he take Clef-des-Coeurs, who “has his wits about him”. Hulot then has his soldiers stand at ready for combat while he searches with his eyes for signs of the Chouans. The soldiers take Hulot’s cautions seriously because they know he is skilled and courageous. Hulot then orders Merle to dispatch sub-lieutenant Lebrun and twelve stout soldiers to the rear of the conscripts to support the few patriots there in case of revolt. He then picks out four resolute men and asks them to beat about on both sides of the heights above the road to see if they can flush out the Chouans. He knows he might be sending them to their death. Merle comes back from his dispatch of soldiers to the rear, and Hulot sets the rest of the troop in order of battle in the middle of the road. They start to regain the summit of the Pelerine. Suddenly Marche-a-Terre begins a whistle that sounds like a screech-owl. We are told here that the nickname ‘Chuin’ arose because in the dialect of this country ‘Chuin’ means screech-owl – a later corruption of the word turned it into Chouan.

Gerald is ready to kill Marche-a-Terre, but Hulot stops him because he wants to use him as a kind of barometer to the enemy’s movements. He posts two soldiers to guard him, and again Marche-a-Terre acts dumb. They wait. After a time the cry of a screech-owl is heard from far away. The conscripts are drawn together. The officers discuss the sad state of political affairs and say the army would step in before allowing the foreigners or the princes to take over. The two soldiers who were sent ahead to the left on the heights above the road return and report seeing nothing, but the soldiers sent to the right have not come back. While Hulot is talking to the two soldiers, Marche-a-Terre again cries out a sharp whistle, then gives each of his guards a blow with his whip handle. The Chouans in the woods emit savage yells and begin firing from the wood – killing seven or eight soldiers. Five or six soldiers took aim on Marche-a-Terre, but they did not hit him – he had climbed the slope “with the agility of a wild cat” and disappeared into the woods above. The wooden shoes he had been wearing rolled down into the ditch and it was easy to see the great iron-bound shoes which were always worn by the Chasseurs du Roi (Hunters of the King). The new conscripts made a dash for it into the woods “like a flock of birds scared by the approach of a passer-by”. The soldiers fire upon them but miss because every man set his back against a tree for the first shot and then fled while the rifles were being reloaded. The two soldiers sent to the right to scout now appear, but Marche-a-Terre appears from the woods and shoots them with one shot. He again disappears without injury.

Hulot orders his company forward, but the Chouans do not attack. Hulot thinks their purpose was to steal his conscripts and that there will be no more battle. He decides to march double-time to Ernée to escape them. A patriot conscript named Gudin advises Hulot that the Chouans have undoubtedly brought arms for the conscripts just escaped and that they will pick the soldiers off in the woods before they can get to Ernée. He shows Hulot evidence of the passage of a large body of men. Hulot makes Gudin corporal of his townsmen and authorizes Gudin to appoint a townsman to return to Fougeres for help from the National Guard and the Free Companies. Gudin sends Vannier on this task. Gudin remains beside Hulot as they prepare for the next siege. Hulot has ten men to his left, ten men to his right, and two wings of twenty-five men each under the command of Gerard and Merle. The Chouans number three hundred. A sudden discharge at close quarters caused a lot of deaths, but the Republican wings flanked the Chouans – death to many more Chouans. Passionate fighting by the Republican wings redressed the disparity in numbers, and the battle evened with many men killed on both sides.


Hulot notices a man, not Marche-a-Terre, that seems to be their leader. Marche-a-Terre is by his side. He makes an effort to see his face and finds him to be about twenty-five, fair hair, sparkling eyes, delicately cut features tanned by the sun, of middle height, gracefully made. A glimpse of a broad red ribbon looked to be a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Louis ribbon. Hulot taunts him, but the Chouans restrain their commander and keep him safe. The Chouans fight even more valiantly after a Chouan voice reminds the troops that it was here that Lescure fell. Finally the National Guard from Fougeres arrives, and the Chouans fall away in an expert manner. A mortally wounded Chouan reveals that the name of their leader is The Gars, indeed the very ci-devant that Hulot has heard about earlier. The wounded Chouan dies, and it is revealed that he has a tattooed heart in a bluish color, a token that the wearer had been initiated into the Brotherhood of the Sacred Heart. The name “Marie Lambrequin” is tattooed underneath, assumed to be the Chouan’s name.

Hulot’s soldiers bury their dead and resume the march over the Pelerine and down the other side to Ernée. Hulot reflects this is the beginning of a new kind of warfare: never before had such a considerable body of troops been attacked. He also notes that “The Gars”, a new general sent over to France by the princes, must have his own name and title concealed after the custom of Royalist leaders. Hulot wonders why they attacked – they lost about one hundred men while Hulot lost about fifty. Although they got about 150 recruits, Hulot knows the conscripts could have just faded into the woods without such an attack by the Chouans. He thinks they are after something else. Hulot looks up and sees a portion of the Chouans on the summit of Pelerine even before the National Guard is quite out of earshot on their way back to Fougeres.

Back in the Chouan camp one of the soldiers, a member of the Hunters of the King, wonders the same thing. He accuses Marche-a-Terre of making them fight just to save his own skin. Marche-a-Terre glares back at his accuser and states that he, Marche-a-Terre, is in command and that if all had fought as he did they would have wiped out the Blues. He implies the attack was to keep the Blues from protecting the coach (which carries 20,000 pounds) that is due to come through at any time. Obviously there is hostility between these two, and eventually “The Gars” has to break it up. When told that they plan to attack the coach, “The Gars” is appalled and chastises his troops. He does not want to be any part of such robbery. This does not please the troops, who are to receive a portion of the proceeds.

Suddenly a young woman appears. We don’t know her name, but she obviously has some influence. She supports the coach robbery and makes light of The Gars‘ concerns, teasing him about his objections. She feels they are so in need of money that it is OK and that it is robbing those who have in effect robbed them. She herself is desperate because money promised by her mother has not arrived. “Have not the Blues robbed us, and taken the property of the Church?” “The Gars”, now referred to as the Marquis, tells her he must absent himself during this coach holdup, that he cannot sanction it in his presence. There is obviously some relationship between the Marquis and the woman, but she cannot prevail on him to stay for the coach event. The young woman reflects, and we learn that she is of noble blood and took part in the revolution before becoming an anti-revolutionist.


Meanwhile the stage coach, a very old contraption, starts between Ernée and Fougeres with a driver, Coupiau, and three passengers. The youngest one, a man, claimed to be a patriot and carrying three hundred crowns. He was dressed in a goatskin cloak and breeches of good cloth and a good waistcoat, all signs of a well-to-do farmer. He carried two pistols and asked the others if they were Chouans. The second man, about forty, was dressed in black and seemed to be a man of the cloth. We later discover him to be the Abbe Gudin, uncle of the Gudin with Hulot. He assures the young man they are not Chouans but seems curiously sympathetic to their robberies. By the way the driver and young man act he deduces that it is driver, not the young man, who has money on board. The third person is a nonentity, and no one pays any attention to him at all. “he was one of those tiresome and inconvenient people who travel by coach as passively as a calf that is carried with its legs tied up to a neighboring market”. But he is secretly quite alert. When Coupiau hears the firing at La Pelerine, they decide to put up at the end on the road and hide the coach. The Republicans of Hulot ride past the inn hurrying to reach Ernée and do not see the coach. Young Gudin joins the Blues as they go by, much to the chagrin of the his uncle the Abbe. Coupiau brings his coach back on the road and resumes the trip to Fougeres.

Marche-a-Terre sees the coach, and the Chouans rush it. The unknown traveler cowers in the bottom. The farmer in the coach turns out to be Pille-Miche (also called Cibot), one of Marche-a-Terre’s men. The Abbe and Pille-Miche seem to be on the same side, the side of the Chouans. Marche-a-Terre takes a bag of gold, giving the lady and the priest a share. “The Gars” returns and gives the young woman a letter. It is from her mother, and the money they have just robbed from the coach was money she was sending to her. The priest gives her back his share. The young lady tells Marche-a-Terre to go towards Mortagne where the Blues continually transmit large sums of money to Alencon for the war. She expects him to make up the money there and return her mother’s money when they are successful. She cautions Marche-a-Terre not to tell “The Gars” of the mission. We still do not know who the young lady is, but it is obvious she is in a relationship with “The Gars”.

The coach goes on, but Pille-Miche and Marche-a-Terre stop it a little later to take a look at the mysterious third passenger. When they ask the passenger who he is, he says he is a poor linen-draper. They don’t buy that, especially since driver Coupiau is shaking his head out of sight of the passenger. The passenger then admits he is d’Orgemont of Fougeres, a banker. Marche-a-Terre observes he is neither a good Chouan nor genuine Blue – he bought the property of the Abbey of Juvigny. He demands three hundred crowns of six francs each. He protests but agrees to pay them at the farm at Gibarry where lives Galope-Chopine, the cousin of Pille-Miche. Marche-a-Terre is pleased with the driver Coupiau for his performance and gives him the new Chouan name of Mene-a-Bien. After the Chouans leave, d’Orgemont reveals that he has 10,000 francs hidden in his shoes. It is too late for Coupiau/Mene-a-Bien to alert the Chouans.


Napoleon has been made dictator, and Hulot’s responsibilities appear to increase. But somehow he ends up with the job of escorting two mysterious women across Brittany to Mayenne. He is not pleased!

At the inn, The Three Moors at Alencon, these two women, Marie de Verneuil and her maid Francine, are escorted to an upstairs room to dine. The Three Moors is not a savory place. We don’t really understand who Marie and Francine are, but we find out she has papers which say that her word goes in everything to do with the Republic. There is a third person, Corentin, who seems to be following de Verneuil. There are some hints that Marie is there to undertake a project with Corentin. Marie acknowledges him but seems a bit hostile. Marche-a-Terre mysteriously appears briefly at the inn, scares the innkeeper to death, and sets up in the outbuildings to watch the inn. We hear the hooting of owls at inappropriate times throughout this segment, which are obviously Chouan calls. Supposedly Mlle de Verneuil was killed in the revolution. We know that she is former nobility, and some of the characters suspect she is sympathetic to the Royalists.

A woman who calls herself Madame du Gua arrives with her supposed son, M. du Gua St.-Cyre. Madame du Gua claims to be thirty-eight, and no way is she that old. And by the way, supposedly the du Guas were killed in a coach robbery the day before. The behavior between her and M. du Gua, a member of the navy, implies that they are not mother and son. There is some instant attraction between M. du Gua and Marie, and they seems to be trying to figure out who the other is while mostly ignoring each other. At some point there is speculation that M. du Gua is “The Gars”! When Hulot enters the dining room, he challenges M. du Gua, asks for his papers and starts to take him off for further questioning. There is enough paleness and tremors going on with Marie when discussion of hoot-owls and Chouans comes up to make one think that indeed somehow they are involved – and yet they have a Republican escort.

Marie and Francine started at Alencon, which is east of Mayenne, and are headed to Fougeres, farther east in Brittany.

Merle comes to assist Mlle de Vermeuil in Hulot’s place. He tells her that it put out Hulot to find “his general wearing a mutch”, which is a Socttish women’s close-fitting cap. But Merle notices she is quite firm and comfortable with command and thinks Hulot had better do her bidding if he wants to advance. Meanwhile, Madame du Gua sneaks out to talk with Marche-a-Terre. She orders him to kill Mlle de Vermeuil if he determines she is a traitor. “And if, after you have made all these inquiries, you find that is not her name,….you will shoot her down without mercy, as if she were a mad dog.” Francine has tiptoed up behind Madame du Gua and overhears her. When Madame du Gua leaves, she greets Marche-a-Terre, whose first name is Pierre. We learn that she is his former sweetheart, that they haven’t seen each other in seven years and that Marche-a-Terre still cares for her. Francine asks if Madame du Gua ordered the killing of her mistress Vermeuil and threatens to never see Pierre again if he carries out these orders. Francine tells Pierre that her mistress was brought up in Francine’s house and has taken charge of her, giving her enough money to buy her uncle Thomas’ big house and tuck some funds away in savings. When Pierre tells Francine the churchmen have told the Chouans to fight, Francine worries that the Blues will kill Pierre, and then plaintively says “And then what would become of me?” Astonishingly, two tears roll down Pierre’s checks. He assures Francine he loves her, but she insists the King comes before her. Marche-a-Terre leaves after this disquieting conversation and orders his group of thirty Chouans, who were sleeping in the hay, to the open country.


Mlle de Vermeuil, Francine, Madame du Gua, and her son board the mail coach and depart. Balzac reminds us that Mlle de Vermeuil has a highly wrought temperament which had marked her out for the storms of passion. M. du Gua studies her and an undercurrent of flirtation is going on. They get out and walk together during an uphill journey. Madame du Gua is not pleased and trails behind them. Eventually Marie and M. du Gua talk of love, and Marie says she has never been in love and may never be. The conversation goes on, and M. du Gua suddenly tells Marie he is not in the service of the Republic and could go with her wherever she is going. This seems to upset Marie. She then says she knows he is “The Gars”, the Royalist Chief. Marie assures him that he is abhorrent to her because she is a Republican, but it is obvious she is conflicted in her feelings toward him. She tells him she and Francine will go back to Alencon and will order Merle and the troops to give him safe passage and warns him his life is in danger. She demands that he acknowledge that he is indeed the Marquis of Montauran. To stop her leaving du Gua says he is the Vicomte de Bauvan, an emigrant under sentence of death, a friend of Montauran. He says he came back to be near his brother and out of love of France. He’s on his way to Brittany to see if any of his property remains. Marie believes him, but he is lying of course. He is really “The Gars”, the Marquis of Montauran. Lots of love talk: “I could wish to share in the larger life of a man, to be wedded to lofty ambitions and great thoughts.” They go back to the coach deep in thoughts about each other.

There is an attack on the road, but it turns out it has been made by the Chouans to warn “du Gua” aka “The Gars” that Marie is not to be trusted. “Mistrust the girl whom you met at the sign of the ‘Three Moors!'” said the Chevalier de Valois, a member of the Royalist Committee from Alencon. Napoleon’s security chief Fouche has supposedly sent a female operative to work her way into “The Gars'” camp, and it is suspected it is Marie. We suspect it too because of the conversations between Francine, Marie, and Corentin (who shows up again menacingly on this trip). Marie is obviously truly in love with “The Gars” and is in conflict. “The Gars” himself is shaken by the warning. Marie promises him safe passage even after he more or less admits who he is.


The coach and escort leave to road and go to the country home of “The Gars” for rest. We are introduced to other Royalists such as Baron du Guenie, Major Brigaut, Longuy, La Billardiere, the Comte de Fontaine, and a mustached man who wants to kill the First Counsel and will be famous.

“Madame du Gua” keeps trying to get Marie killed – she knows she is treacherous and she is jealous of the love between her and “The Gars”. But “The Gars” makes it quite clear that no Blues or Marie will be killed while at the Chateau. Marche-a-Terre and eighty-seven Chouans are in the woods around the Chateau and appear to be planning to attack the sixty-five Blues in spite of “The Gars'” orders to keep them safe. Francine appeals to Marche-a-Terre to not harm Marie. He tells her it is not his decision but he will do what he can.

Hulot’s lieutenants Merle and Gerard are concerned about security at the Chateau de Vivetiere. Gerard orders Beau-Pied and Clef-des-Cours to reconnoiter. They miss discovering the hidden Chouans as Clef-des-Cours pauses for a drink of cider. Gerard meanwhile advises Mlle Marie de Verneuil to leave immediately. Blinded by love for Marquis Montauran (“The Gars”), she feels perfectly safe and refuses to leave. She reflects on how she has shifted into the Royalist camp of her beloved.


The Abbe Gudin arrives and Montauran signals him to keep silent. Merle and Gerard become increasingly nervous in the obvious Royalist camp. Were they in a trap? Was Mlle de Verneuil a dup or an accomplice? The Abbe whispers a few words which eventually reach “The Gars”: Marie is a traitor. “The Gars” turns to the Abbe to ask if this is true. When assured that it is, “The Gars” says “I would give my life to have my revenge at this moment.” All eyes turn with scorn to Marie. Merle and Gerard jump up and demand their swords just as the Chouans attack the Republicans outside. Montauran rushes out. Most Republicans are killed, and Pille-Miche kills Gerard. Merle is spared as a future prisoner to be exchanged. In the dining room Mme du Gua openly accuses Marie of planning to give up Montauran to the Republic. Marie says she could have given him up a score of times but instead saved his life. Marie and Mme du Gua fight, and Marie’s clothes are torn and her breast lacerated. The letter giving her carte blanche cooperation of the Republicans in the localities frequented by “The Gars” is read. Montauran returns and stares with apathy as Mme du Gua turns Marie over to Pille-Miche to “do whatever you will with her.” Marie becomes indignant and tries to stab Montauran with a sword, and she is dragged from the room by Montauran and Pille-Miche. Outside, Francine shrieks for Pierre Marche-a-Terre to help Marie.

For some reason Montauran releases Merle, who quickly departs hoping to rescue Marie (whom he hopes to make his wife). Pille-Miche shoots Merle in spite of knowing that Montauran has spared him, then sees Merle has Montauran’s glove (which means safe passage), and flees in fear. Montauran hears the shot and thinks it was for Marie. Pierre manages to buy Marie from Pille-Miche and tells her to flee with “The Gars'” glove. He urges Francine to return to him within the week. Beau-Pied rises from the pile of Republican soldiers alive and accompanies Marie and Francine in her coach to toward Fougeres. Mme du Gua is enraged when she sees the coach flee.

Montauran talks over the war situation with M de Fontaine. They think the Chouans are no match militarily for the disciplined Republicans but hope with their help they can fight their way to Paris. “The Gars” says that Autichamp, Suzannet, and the Abbe Bernier are to move towards Paris as he does and that they should be within thirty leagues of Paris in three weeks. M. de Fontaine says he’s heard that the Republic is sending 60,000 men and General Brune to fight the Chouans. However the Marquis doubts this as that will leave no one for the Italian campaign of Napoleon. Besides, he’s heard that Brune has been directed against the English at Holland and General Hedouville will take his place.


Marie and the coach make it safely to Fougeres, where she is forced to show her letter for safe entry. Corentine calls upon her and commented that she almost got “The Gars”. She asks him not to speak of the matter. Corentine has secured the Papegaust’s Tower, a fine house, for Marie’s headquarters. Marie “sat alone, absorbed in plans for getting the Marquis into her hands alive. For the first time she had known a life in accordance with her inmost wishes; but of that life nothing remained to her now but the longing for revenge – a revenge that should be absolute and unending. This was her sole thought, her one passionate desire.” Hulot visits Marie, who tells him she will avenge the loss of his soldiers. She urges Hulot to aid in letting Montauran think she still loves him. Hulot asks Marie why she stopped him from taking Montauran at the inn, and she says she was not sure at that time that he was “The Gars”. Hulot doubts Marie will give up Montauran because she is still in love with him, but Corentin says that is why she will – and if she doesn’t, well, then, he will be around to step in.

The Chouans converge at Fougeres. Marie spots the Chouans approaching with the Marquis and Madame du Gua, who shoots at, but misses, Marie. Marie grabs a dagger and takes off out of the town, over high cliffs, etc. in pursuit of the Marquis. It becomes dark and she is afraid but continues. She eventually comes upon “The Gars” in a house, where he is sitting dejectedly. She appears at the window and flees when he sees her. She runs, is heavily pursued and hides in a cellar. She hears footsteps coming down the cellar stairs and scrambles up to the top of a low wall which separates the cellar from the staircase. A stranger in goatskins passes under her without seeing her. As the stranger flashes a light, Marie see that the cellar is an unused kitchen and that there is a short, stout person bound from head to foot energetically emitting agonized entreaties. Horrors, the stranger is Pille-Miche, the very man she had been given to by “The Gars”! Pille-Miche makes a fire and implies he will roast his victim, who is the owner of the house, M. d’Orgemont, the banker from the coach. Pille-Miche raps his carbine against various parts of the room in search of the gold he knows M. d’Orgemont must have hidden. Marche-a-Terre and two other Chouans arrive and announce they have seen the ghost of their dead comrade Marie Lambrequin. Marche-a-Terre gives the new soldier Galope-Chopine (his cousin) a lecture on honest soldiering and tells him he can recognize citizens on their side because they will be given “The Gars”‘ glove – now with a green ribbon fastened to it as extra assurance they are friends after the incident at “The Gars”‘ chateau.

The Chouans turn their attention to M. d’Orgemont and seem to begin to roast him over the fire in earnest in order to find out where his gold is hidden. The scene is so startlingly gruesome that Marie involuntarily cries out dramatically, “Unbind him, you savages!” The Chouans think Marie a ghost and fee in terror. Marie swiftly unbinds M. d’Orgemont with her dagger, and they hide in a secret compartment before the Chouans return with an outraged Madame du Gua. Marie and M. d’Orgemont climb some stairs to a hidden room whose walls are stacked with gold. Bizarrely the body of M. d’Orgemont’s brother is there, unburied because when alive he took the republican oath and thus is not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. We later find he was actively persecuted by the Abbe Gudin and others.

M. d’Orgemont is beside himself at Marie’s viewing his riches and even thinks of marrying her to preserve his secret. He thinks of nothing but money and is known as the miser. Marie assures him money means nothing to her. She pushes aside a picture and suddenly sees “The Gars” talking with Abbe Gudin. “The Gars” is planning a ball at St. James in order to better assess the political position of the locals; the Abbe is opposed. “The Gars” tells the Abbe that M. Hyde de Neuville and M. de d’Andione have been having a conference with the First Consul over the question of restoring Louis XVIII and he wants to impact these deliberations.

Marie and M. d’Orgemont wait for the Chouans to leave. Marie again swears revenge on “The Gars”, perhaps at the upcoming ball. Then the voice of Galope-Chopine calls the coast clear – he is apparently in the employment of M. d’Orgemont, a double agent of sorts. M. d’Orgemont lends Marie ten crowns and tells her if necessary she can find asylum by seeking it from the wife of Galope-Chopine (also known at Big Cibot – his cousin Marche-a-Terre is known as Cibot). M. d’Orgemont leaves Marie with instructions to pay him back the ten crowns and with a renewal of the offer of marriage. He even offers to lend her money at a good rate of five per cent. As she leaves, he decides to redesign his secret chamber a bit, just in case, though he thinks “she looks to me like a good sort of girl.”


Marie wanders to the brink of the crags of St. Sulpice and stops for the night. She can hear the sounds of armed men and horses. At daylight she sees the shocking scene of three thousand Chouans attacking the castle at Fougeres. It looks grim for the town except for the fact that Hulot is there and fighting back. The Chouans did not realize he had clandestinely returned to Fougeres with an artillery. Hulot has concealed a battery on a height and fires it to clear the road momentarily of Chouans – after which a company makes a sortie from the St. Sulpice gate and opens fire on the Chouans. They are mowed down, but other Chouans have climbed the rocks and reached the promenade – Fougeres is clearly under siege from all sides. Hulot’s troops persevere, mowing down the enemy wherever they appear. In a half hour the Blues, with the loss of less than a hundred men, are in command. The Chouans fade back into the guerilla warfare of the hills. “The Gars”‘ bold stroke had come to nothing. He would not have made the attack if he had known Hulot had fortified the town after the massacre at the Vivetiere chateau of “The Gars”.

Marie is transfixed by the battle but eventually flees to the Galope-Chopine safe house. It is a shockingly crude dwelling – the translator’s note tells us the Chouan nickname of Galope-Chopine means “toss-pot”, a name well earned. Madame Barbette hides Marie behind some curtains at the head of the bed, a place she calls “the priest’s hole”. No sooner has she been hidden than a new arrival appears and asks to be hidden – the dinner guest at “The Gars”‘ chateau – the very person who exposed Marie and brought about the slaughter of the Blues there. Barbette leaves the house in case the Blues come so they won’t find her in collaboration. The dinner guest, revealed as the Count de Bauvan, hides under the bed, sees Marie’s feet and her disheveled hair, and laughs at her. The Blues show up, and Marie orders Beau-Pied to take charge of the Count and deliver him alive at Fougeres. She has a plan.

Marie makes a dramatic return to Fougeres in her Chouan garb, disheveled hair, gun in hand, dirty. She greets Francine, asks for a bath and her prettiest clothes. After cleaning up she sends for the Count and finds that Hulot has ordered him shot. She appeals to Hulot to release the Count to her and invites both Hulot and the Count to dinner. Marie uses all her feminine wiles to play up to the count, to court him. He tells her what he whispered at “The Gars”‘ chateau: that Marie had been the mistress of the Marquis of Lenoncourt. Marie laughs, whispers in the Count’s ear so Hulot cannot hear. The Count is surprised, falls on one knee, and offers apologies and all services to Marie. The Count reveals the details of the ball at St. James, asks for his protection and secrecy as she attends the ball, and recognition that she indeed is the daughter of the duc de Verneiul. Count de Bauvan agrees, and Marie escorts him out of town. She sees Hulot and Corentin on her return and tells them she will go to the ball. She turns down Corentin’s offer as an escort with contempt, but Corentin “meant so to control her by means of her passions that one day she should be his.” Francine prepares Marie for her journey to the ball. She will dress in a Greek costume, asks Francine to borrow some old crowns from Hulot (she has only newly minted coins), and instructs Francine to sew a bit of green ribbon on “The Gars”‘ glove. She practices the call of the screen owl.

Marie and Francine embark at midnight for St. James. At Galope-Chopine’s cottage she makes the call of the owl to call him out, shows him “The Gars”‘ glove (with the newly added green ribbon), and asks for donkeys and his escort. He complies. It is rough going through the rugged countryside with hedges of broom, a country constructed for advantages to the natives for guerrilla warfare. “Mlle de Verneuil now understood how pressing was the necessity that the Republic should stamp out rebellion rather by means of police and diplomacy than by futile efforts on the part of the military.” As they travel, Galope-Chopine redirects them to a cove in the forest where Abbe Gudin is giving an inspirational sermon and war pep talk to the Chouans. He is riveting and even has Francine in a religious state. Marie stays in the shadows while the Abbe claims more miracles and blesses the guns of the Chouans. Galope-Chopine’s “cheeks and forehead were puckered with unconcealed joy as he looked at his gun; religious conviction had infused an element of fanaticism into his elation so that, for a moment, the worse propensities of civilization seemed to be manifested in his barbarous features.”

Marie, Francine, and Galope-Chopine make their way to St. James, the site of the upcoming ball. Sights of newly recruited peasants are everywhere. They are still dressed crudely in their native dress and have few weapons. Marie’s party makes their way to an inn, where, with difficulty, she secures a tiny room of no great merit. Marie gives Galope-Chopine four crowns and dismisses him. Marie and Francine prepare Marie for the ball in her Indian muslin costume. She is beautiful and stands out from all the other women at the ball.


Before the ball begins, “The Gars” is having a bit of a problem with his leaders, who want written promises of titles and wealth in exchange for fighting for the King. The Chevalier Rifoel du Vissard wants money and a greater rank, the Abbe Gudin wants the Archbishopric of Rennes, the smuggler Cottereau wants the title of Monsieur and to be promoted to Colonel, the Count de Bauvan demands to be the Grand Master of the Rivers and Forests of France, another wants the Governorship of Brittany, another a barony, etc. Only M. du Guenie and Major Brigaut ask for nothing. Finally “The Gars”, disappointed in his men, shows them the paper from the King which empowers him to govern in his name Brittany, Normandy, Maine, and Anjou and to acknowledge the services of the officers. “All eyes were fixed on the King’s signature, when the young chief, who was standing by the hearth, flung the letter into the fire, ‘where it was burned to ashes in a moment.” “I will no longer command any but those who see in the King, a King; and not a prey for them to devour. Gentlemen, you are at liberty to leave me –‘ The Gars exclaims. A cry of ‘long live the King’ went up, and the immediate crisis is averted.”

The Count de Bauvan greets Marie at the ball, escorts her around, and spreads the word that he was mistaken and she is truly the daughter of the duc de Verneuil. “The Gars” is transfixed but avoids her most of the evening. Mme du Gua is observant that “The Gars” is watching Marie and tells him she would gladly put Marie in the Marquis’ hands and see him happy with her. He asked why then did Mme du Gua try to kill Marie? “Because I wished her either dead or in your arms. Yes! I could have given my love to the Marquis of Montauran on the day when I thought that I discerned a hero in him. Today I have for him only a compassionate friendship! he is held aloof from glory by the roving heart of an opera girl.”


The Marquis tries to talk with Marie, but she starts to walk away. He dramatically grabs a firebrand from the hearth and asks her to grant him an audience as long as he can hold it in his hand. He wants to apologize for doubting that she was the daughter of the duc. One look and it is obvious that they still love each other. Burnt hand later, they are reconciled, and she tears strips from her handkerchief and dresses his wound. The Marquis, at Marie’s request, rides back with Marie and Francine to the outskirts of Fougeres, where Marie tells her story. She is the illegitimate daughter of the duc de Verneiul, who acknowledged her before his death. She was taken under the wing of the seventy year old Marechal Duc de Lenoncourt, one of her father’s friends, after his death. He became her guardian and helped her when her half-brother protested her father’s will which was in partial favor of Marie. But it seems that Paris thought she was Lenoncourt’s mistress even though their relationship was more like father and daughter, and her reputation was ruined. She asked that Lenoncourt marry her to save her reputation, but at the last minute he bolted. “One day … I found myself Danton’s wife.” She became suicidal but was rescued, we presume by Corentin, who wanted her for himself and perhaps persuaded her to undertake the mission of making The Gars fall in love with her so she could betray him for 300,000 francs. Of course, Marie instead falls in love with “The Gars”, and all bets are off. Marie dramatically says “I am only a dishonored creature and unworthy of you…I should despise you if you were weak enough to marry me.” She promises not to betray him and declares she will return to Paris.

Marie returns to Fougeres, where she pretends to Corentin that she is setting a trap for “The Gars” and lies to him about where she is to meet him. (“The Gars” has sent her a note to meet him at Galope-Chopine’s house.) Corentin knows she is in love with “The Gars” and is watching her every move, but he is initially persuaded that Marie is telling the truth about a meeting place and gives Hulot the information. But he discovers her treachery and lights out after her with some of Hulot’s men. Corentin reflects that he has been systematically removing supportive people from Marie and thinks when she loses “The Gars” she will turn to Corentin as her savior.

“The Gars” and Marie meet at Galope-Chopine’s house, embrace, and Marie tells him he must not seek for her again, that it puts him in great danger. Lots of passionate talk and angst. “To be your wife, and incur the risk of one day being burdensome to you? Rather than face that fear, I choose a transient love, but a love that is true while it lasts, though it should lead to death and misery in the end.” Somewhere in all this talk “The Gars” says “if on the morning of the day after tomorrow you see smoke rising from the crags of St. Sulpice, I shall be with you in the evening. I will be your lover, your husband, whatever you would have me be. I shall have dared all things.” Marie appeared to about to relinquish herself to “The Gars” when she is warned that the Blues are close. “He would have taken me, and perhaps have laughed at me afterwards,” she said to herself. “Ah! If I could bring myself to believe that, I would kill him, Ah! not just yet!” So we do not know for sure if she is on “The Gars”‘ side or not – she’s for him if she finds his love to be true, ready to kill him otherwise – or is she playing a game at which even she is not sure of the rules?


The Blues surround the house, and by Marie’s appearing first, “The Gars” barely manages to escape, eagerly pursued by the young Gudin, who gets caught in the fire of the Chouans. Hulot rescues him, reflecting that if he loses Gudin he will never make another friend. In the aftermath of the fire between the Blues and the Choauns, it is discovered that the Abbe Gudin, young Gudin’s uncle, has been killed. The soldiers find a bag of gold on him and divide it up. Young Gudin is sorrowful and makes no move to claim the money even though he is his next of kin.

Galope-Chopine’s wife Barbette waits anxiously for Galope-Chopine to return from the fighting and even sends her son out to look over the dead to make sure he is not among them. Finally Galope-Chopine returns and tells Barbette that there is in inquiry underway to find out who committed treason by telling the Blues that “The Gars” was in Galope-Chopine’s house. Barbette turns pale and says it was her but she is innocent. The little band of Blues were dressed as Chouans, and she told them “The Gars” was at her house because she believed them Chouans. Both Galope-Chopine and Barbette are worried because they know the Chouans won’t accept this explanation. Galope-Chopine tells Barbette of the next duty: “To-morrow morning you must make a heap of faggots on the crags of St. Sulpice to the right of St. Leonard, and set fire to them. That is a signal agreed upon between “The Gars” and the old rectorr of Saint Georges, who will come and say a mass for him.” Galope-Chopine tells her “The Gars” is going to go to Fougeres to see Marie, to marry her and take her away with him. Galope-Chopine is to hire horses and have them ready along the Saint Malo Road.

The next morning Galope-Chopine arranges for the horses and sends Barbette off to the crags for her duties. But then Marche-a-Terre and Pille-Miche show up and ask for Galope-Chopine’s ax. They view him as a traitor and don’t believe his story about how the Blues found out about “The Gars”‘ location. Galope-Chopine is laid on the table, and his head it cut off – to be hung by a nail in the doorway. Marche-a-Terre and Pille-Miche calmly wash up and leave the house.

Barbette and her son return, find the head, and are horrified. Then and there Barbette turns Blue and makes her son vow to fight the Chouans with the Blues. She has a plot afoot to betray “The Gars” to get her revenge. She thrust her son’s foot in the bloody shoe left at the murder scene and tells him, “Never set a shoe on your foot without remembering how this one was full of blood that the Chuins spilt, and kill the Chuins!” She grabs her son and a hidden bag of gold and tears out of the house towards Fougeres, stopping by St. Sulpice to stoke her fire of faggots.

Meanwhile Marie waits for the sign of the smoke at St. Sulpice. She has truly given herself over to love for “The Gars”. “Slowly the fierceness and uncontrolled outbursts of her passions had been subdued by the influence of the even warmth that true love brings into a life.” She tells Francine she will be the Marquise de Montauran by nightfall and thinks with great pleasure of a life as the Marquise with the responsibilities and cares of marriage and motherhood. She fusses over the room, preparing for the arrival of “The Gars”, but she as yet cannot see the smoke at St. Sulpice because of the fog.

Barbette comes to Fougeres and tells Hulot about “The Gars”‘ plans, pointing to the smoke at St. Sulpice as proof. Hulot questions her sharply and asks her why she betrays the Chouans. She points to her son’s blood-stained foot and tells Hulot that the Chouans butchered her husband as a calf. She gives Hulot her money of two hundred crowns and asks him to take her son and train him as a Blue. The money is twelve years of Galope-Chopine’s savings. She figures the Chouans will find her and kill her. Corentin hears all of this and points out that “The Gars” will be hard to take and that Hulot has a letter ordering him to obey Marie. Hulot is aggravated at Corentin’s talk.

Corentin goes to Marie and tells her he knows that “The Gars” is coming as indicated by the smoke and knows that Marie has no intention of betraying him. Marie flings herself at Corentin’s feet and asks what it will take to save Mountauran. She offers him 300,000 francs, and they appear to make a deal.


The weather worsens and visibility is low. It is hard to watch Marie’s house. Corentin decides to use Barbette’s son to identify “The Gars” when he comes to town. Marie and Francine wait anxiously. They hear shooting, and a little later a Blue gives Marie a note from Hulot. It says that his troops intercepted a messenger of “The Gars”, and he sends the message to Marie. We know that it is a fake note from “The Gars” in which he gloats over his conquest of Marie and calls Mme du Gua his angel and makes plans to return to England with Mme du Gua. Marie falls for the note and vows to kill “The Gars”. Francine tries to give her some wise advice: “…be the victim of your lover, as so many another has been, but do not be his mistress or his executioner. In the depths of your heart you can keep his image, and it need not make you cruel to yourself. If there were no joy in love when hope was gone, what would become of us, poor women that we are. The God of whom you never think, Marie, will reward us for having submitted to our lot on earth – to our vocation of loving and suffering.”

Marie’s not buying it and declares that Corentin is a noble creature compared with “The Gars”. She goes to find Hulot, and Corentin goes after her. Four men sneak into Marie’s house undetected while all of this is happening. Hulot assigns Gudin and ten men to watch Marie’s house. He hopes Gudin will killThe Gars” so Hulot will not have to bother with a trial later. Corentin sends Barbette’s son into Marie’s house with her. The soldiers wait in the night. Pille-Miche and Marche-a-Terre wait outside the city – they with their men are to somehow to rescue “The Gars” from Marie’s house. Corentin hears them but is not sure what he heard; then he is distracted by Mme du Gua entering the city. Corentin pretends he doesn’t recognize her and follows her. Mme du Gua meets with the Chouans and instructs them to find a ladder and position it at a side of the house’s tower that is not surrounded. There are horses waiting. But Mme du Gua tells the Chouans to stab Marie if she tries to follow him! Corentin goes off to warn Hulot and points out their position. Hulot orders fifty men to the base of the cliff below the drop-off point. Corentin tries to get Hulot to enter the house, but Hulot prefers to wait for attack. Corentin then pulls rank, drawing a letter of authority from the Minister of War. He is the real authority. While they are arguing about this, Galope-Chopine’s son comes up and announces that “The Gars” is going along the Rue St. Leonard.


Meanwhile Marie and “The Gars” meet, lots of accusations, but eventually they figure out the Corentin supplied the letter. All is well, and they are to be married right then. The Priest and two witnesses have been brought with “The Gars”. Dinner was even served after the marriage ceremony. They spend the night, but Marie feels sure tomorrow they will all die. In the morning Marie shows “The Gars” the soldiers and confesses she is responsible for them. Just when all seems lost they hear the stifled cry of a screech-owl. Montauran changes into a Chouan’s costume and slips out the window with Pierre. Just before he descends Marie, now dressed in his old costume, gives him a last embrace. The Blues fire, Gudin and two men are wounded. They capture an escapee at St. Leonard’s Gate, thinking it “The Gars”, but find it is Marie in “The Gars”‘ clothing. She has tried to save “The Gars” by acting as a decoy. Corentin then comes with four men carrying “The Gars”, whose legs and arms were broken by the gunshots. He is laid beside Marie. He grabs her hand, and she murmurs dying “A day without a morrow!…God has heard me indeed!” They are dying. “The Gars” asks Hulot to write his brother of his death with his last wishes that he not bear arms against France, but never forsake the service of the King. Hulot promises this service, and “The Gars”, with a movement of his head, thanks him. Hulot then turns to Corentine and tells him to never enter his sight again or he will kill him. Corentin mutters as he leaves, “There is another of your honest folk who will never make their fortunes.”

Marche-a-Terre lived to be an old man and was known to be a very honest fellow. Pille-Miche died on the scaffold.

Read it here

See also this summary

Summary by Pamela, October – November 2006

The Chouans, by Honoré de Balzac

Les Chouans
The Chouans

Since 2007 there has been a helpful plot summary and background info about the French revolution on Wikipedia,  but when I read The Chouans in 2006 I  found it a bit confusing. What follows is my interpretation of events…

Les Chouans is set in the aftermath of the French Revolution (and the execution of Marie Antoinette and Louis the XIV) when Napoleon is in power but there are outbreaks of civil war. The Royalists are still in rebellion and they have used the local Chouans to create an insurgency. Hulot, a professional soldier, has been sent to suppress it, and he’s the only one in the whole story whose loyalty doesn’t waver. He serves France, and he fights according to his code of honour. Continue reading