The Red Inn

THE HUMAN COMEDY – Honoré de Balzac XVth volume of works of Honoré de Balzac edited by widow André Houssiaux, publisher, Hebert and Co, successors, 7 rue Perronet – Paris (1874)

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THE RED INN (1831)

Work dedicated by Honoré de Balzac: TO MONSIEUR LE MARQUIS DE CUSTINE

Analysis of the work Also published in 1831 in the Revue de Paris, L’Auberge rouge is the story of a secret crime on which an immense fortune rests. All in all, a very Balzacian story, on a theme that goes back to Balzac’s youth and can be found in other novels. Alain greatly admired Balzac’s skill in this tale, which seems to the reader to be an enigmatic adventure from his youth that an old German recounts over dessert: the story so overwhelms one of the listeners that his confusion betrays him. Alain may object that, in this particular case, Balzac uses coincidences and signs that would have made Conan Doyle blush. This ingenious detective-story is, in the final analysis, no more than a prop. L’Auberge rouge is a striking application of a theory that would be developed the following year in Louis Lambert, and which lies at the heart of Balzac’s physiological system. “There, in our opinion,” declares Félix Davin, “apart from the details of this composition (he means: the skill of the storyteller) meet the most severe deductions from the general theme (of Philosophical Studies).” What Balzac wants to show is an example of his theory on the power and autonomy of thought. An idea that settles inside us lives inside us, develops and lives as an inner being over which we have no control. Every idea that is born and germinates within us exists and manifests itself through intentions, desires and temptations. These forms taken by the idea – this is Louis Lambert ‘s central thesis – are our true actions, those dreamt of and willed by our inner selves, and which therefore reveal the insidious self that hides within us. What we call our acts are merely a repetition, a realization, of these inner actions conceived by our unconscious: In Louis Lambert, Balzac calls them re-actions, i.e. actions projected into reality, thereby having a second existence, a legal existence in the eyes of men as acts. But our inner actions, though they escape human judgment, are inscribed in our inner life and even in our physiological life as if they had actually been performed. This is the essence of the Balzacian thesis of the materiality of thought. Young Prosper Magnan’s criminal temptation, even if repelled with horror, is just as serious as the crime he didn’t commit in the end. And he is guilty, he feels guilty for having conceived this crime, which he has committed in himself without actually committing it. That’s the real tragedy and the real question of conscience. The full importance of this in Balzac’s thinking can only be sensed by the subject noted on his Album , which was never realized: “Le Grand Pénitencier qui meurt tué par le confessionnal où il fait en pensée tous les péchés qu’on lui accuse” (“The Great Penitentiary who dies killed by the confessional where he thinks out all the sins he is accused of”). Laure Surville, the novelist’s sister, assures us that the subject of L’Auberge rouge is a “true story”. Despite some ingenious research by the Balzacians, its origins have never been found. Short story written by the author in Paris in May 1831

History German banker Hermann, visiting Paris, dines in the company of high society. And at the end of the meal, he tells a strange story he heard while imprisoned in Andernach during the Napoleonic wars. (He had been arrested as a sniper by the French). The crime was committed in 1799. Two military surgeons spend the night at an inn, sharing their room with an industrialist who has fled hostilities and who confesses, over dinner, to carrying a considerable amount of gold and diamonds. One of the two surgeons (Prosper Magnan), deeply impressed by this revelation, can’t fall asleep and imagines how easy and fruitful the industrialist’s death would be for him. When he finally falls asleep, he’s awakened by a commotion: the industrialist has been murdered, and with a surgical instrument. Prosper Magnan is innocent, but arrested, convicted and shot. As the German banker Hermann unfolds his story, the narrator of “The Red Inn” is listening in. However, he is seated opposite another guest whom he sees gradually decomposing over the course of Hermann’s story: it’s the real murderer at the same table as him, unbeknownst to him. This man, Jean-Frédéric Taillefer, we later learn, is the father of Victorine Taillefer, who we meet again in Père Goriot . Jean-Frédéric Taillefer, who had become a great financier and was showered with honors, gradually fell apart as the story progressed. His opulence, due to this crime, has not prevented painful memories (but not remorse, it’s true), and Taillefer is seized by a nervous crisis from which he dies shortly afterwards. As for the Balzacian narrator, he immediately guessed the truth. But he’s in love with Victorine Taillefer and has qualms about marrying an heiress whose fortune is covered in blood. He asks his friends for advice, and they all recommend marriage – where would you go if you had to look for the origins of fortunes? is their conclusion. Picture 2 Confusion with a news item In film adaptations, this text is often confused with the Auberge de Peyrebeille in Ardèche, the scene of a high-profile criminal case that also bears the name L’Auberge rouge. Balzac’s novel has nothing to do with this event. Maintaining the confusion, the Gallimard in 2007 reprinted the novel, previously published in the “Folio 2Euros” collection in 2004, using a reproduction of the film poster on the cover of the new printing, which retained the ISBN of the 2004 edition. L’Auberge rougereleased in 2007, a film whose subject has nothing in common, apart from the title, with Balzac’s short novel.

The characters Hermann: German merchant Prosper Magnan: Military surgeon, shot in 1799. Had a mother quoted in the same book. Another Prosper Magnan is featured in The Physiology of Marriage. Jean-Frédéric Taillefer : (Beauvais 1779 – Paris 1831) A food supplier under the Empire and a military surgeon, he kills and robs a wealthy merchant during a stopover at the Auberge Rouge. His fellow soldier Prosper Magnan (asleep at the time of the crime) was suspected and convicted. He was eventually shot. Thanks to the stolen money, Taillefer climbed the social ladder: twice married, he had two children from his first marriage: Frédéric, killed in a duel by Franchessini in 1820, and Victorine. He completed his military career with the rank of captain, and took on the role of financier. Now a banker, he rubbed shoulders with the great names in finance, including Nucingen. He also organized sumptuous receptions and orgies in his private mansion on rue Joubert. The world of Paris meets there. At one of these receptions, he is overcome by the memory of his crime, after one of the guests tells him about the events that took place at the Auberge Rouge. He succumbed shortly afterwards, overcome with remorse. Victorine Taillefer: Natural daughter of Jean-Frédéric Taillefer. A poor boarder at the Pension Vauquer, she became a wealthy heiress on the death of her father.  

1) Source analysis: Preface collected in tome XXIV France Loisirs, 1987 according to the full text published under the auspices of the Société des Amis d’Honoré de Balzac.

2) History source and additional notes: Universal encyclopedia Wikipedia.

3) The genealogy and character notes are taken from Félicien Marceau’s “Balzac et son monde” Gallimard and Wikipedia.

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