The Collection of Antiquities

THE HUMAN COMEDY – Honoré de Balzac Seventh volume of works of Honoré de Balzac edited by widow André Houssiaux, publisher, Hebert and Co, successors, 7 rue Perronet – Paris (1877) Scenes from provincial life Picture 2


Signed, TO MONSIEUR LE BARON DE HAMMER-PURGSTALL, AULIC ADVISOR, AUTHOR OF ” L’ HISTORY OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE”. Dear Baron, Picture 3 You have taken such a keen interest in my long and vast history French mores in the nineteenth century century, and you have granted such encouragement to my work, which you have thus given the right to attach your name to theone of the fragments that will make part. Aren’t you one of the most serious representatives of the conscientious and studious Germany? Your approval does must don’t order any others and protect my business? I’m so proud to have him obtained that I tried to deserve it at continuing my work with the same intrepidity that has characterized your studies and the search for all documents without which the literary world wouldn’t have had the monument you’ve erected. Your sympathy for the labours you have known and applied to the interests of the brightest Eastern society, has often sustained the ardor of my veils occupied by the details of our modern society: won’t you be happy to know, you whose naive goodness can be compare to that of our own La Fontaine? I hope, dear Baron, that this token of my appreciation veneration for you and your work come to you find à Doblingand reminds you, and all your family, of an important of your most sincere admirers and friends. De Balzac.

Analysis of the work This short story, published in 1838, is a study of the lives of poor young men with noble names, who set out to find a future in Paris. Many of them will get lost in the hustle and bustle of Parisian life, whether it’s gambling, the desire to shine, unhappy love affairs or financial bankruptcy. In contrast to Rastignac, the young, handsome, distinguished Comte d’Esgrignon, an impoverished provincial nobleman (Alançon), but skilful and bold, succeeds where Rastignac fails. Le cabinet des Antiques is a parallel story to La Vieille F ille. It takes place in Alençon around the same time as the events described in La Vieille Fille. The old nobles, whose daily presence Balzac evokes in the Desgrignons’ large glass-fronted salon with windows overlooking the square, nicknamed “the cabinet of antiques” by post-revolutionary youth. The old men who gather every evening at the d’Esgrignon home are the survivors who escaped the turmoil of the Revolution. They’re from the last century. As with all the author’s descriptions, that of the “d’Esgrignon” clan is both touching and amusing in its old-fashioned way. Like figures in a museum, they’re dressed in the finery in vogue under Louis XVI, and have retained the ideas and prejudices of the period. It’s a well-known fact that ideas, mores, modernity and all the new technologies that are born in Paris, and that change so often with the fashions, have little hold on the “square” mentalities of the majority of people in the provinces, and take a long time to be accepted. Inhabitants of the provinces have the same opinions about nobility and social structure as they did not during the reign of Louis XVI, but during that of François1er. This other version of provincial still life is, with the study of this noble family, in a higher social rank than that of Mlle Cormon’s salon in La vieille fille. We’ll see that Balzac has also changed the names of some of his characters. In fact, it’s easy to guess that Sieur du Bousquier, husband of Mlle Cormon in La Vieille fille, has become du Croisier, husband of Mlle Cormon in Le cabinet des Antiques. The small town of Alençon, where La Vieille Fille and Le Cabinet des Antiques take place, may seem to be asleep, but in reality, like so many other provincial towns, it is in a state of incubation. The hatreds that would develop in the years to come, culminating in the revolution of 1830, were already in germ in the rivalries dividing the aristocracy and the liberals.

The d’Esgrignon family The Hôtel d’Esgrignon d’Alençon was demolished during the French Revolution and replaced by two factories. Stripped of his fortune and much of his land and personal property, the sole remaining branch of the d’Esgrignon family (Marquis d’Esgrignon, aged approx. 40 – not yet a father) bought this old family house, with its gable, weathervane, turret and dovecote, where the seigniorial Bailliage, then the Présidial, had once stood, and which had belonged to his illustrious family. Charles,Marie,Victor,Ange,Carol, marquis d’Esgrignon or des Grignons according to ancient titles. Carol was the glorious name of one of the most powerful chieftains who once came from the north to conquer and feudalize Gaul. Courageous, never yielding to the Commons, Royalty, Finance or the Church, they were once charged with defending a French march. Their title of Marquis was both a duty and an honor, and not the pretence of a supposed office: the fief of Esgrignon remained their property until the Revolution of 1789. True provincial nobility, ignored in 1800 for 200 years by the Court – pure of all alliances and sovereign in the States – respected by the locals. For thirteen hundred years, the daughters of this House had been regularly married off without a dowry or put into a convent. The cadets had taken up positions as soldiers, bishops or married into the Court. A cadet of the House of Esgrignon was an admiral, made duke and peer, and died without posterity. This is why the Marquis d’Esgrignon, head of the eldest branch, refused to accept the title of Duke. During the years of unrest, some d’Esgrignons were beheaded. Frankish blood remained noble and proud until 1789. The Marquis d’Esgrignon, the character in this story, didn’t emigrate, he had to defend his Marche. The respect he had inspired among the country folk kept his head from the scaffold. Unfortunately, the hatred of the Sans-Culottes was strong enough to consider him an émigré during the time he was forced into hiding. In the name of the sovereign people, the District dishonored the land of Esgrignon. The woods were sold nationally and some parts of the fiefdom were saved. The château and several farms were returned to Mademoiselle d’Esgrignon, a minor, by the Republic. Chesnel, the marquis’s faithful steward, bought back with his own money and in his own name some of the estate assets to which the marquis was particularly attached, such as the church, the presbytery and the château gardens. The Marquis was unable to occupy his château after the abominable years of the Terror, and it was plundered and dilapidated. Half-ruined, the marquis’s financial means did not allow him to commit to repairs. What’s more, as the Edict of Pacification had not yet been adopted, the Marquis refused to settle there until the new government in place (Constitutional Monarchy, Second Restoration) gave him back his arms.

The story It is set around 1820. The only son of the Marquis d’Esgrignon, the only heir, is the instrument of the surprises and catastrophes that occur throughout the story. Like courtiers, the d’Esgrignon’s friends gathered around the marquis and his sister every evening. Raised as a young prince, Victurnien d’Esgrignon has almost all the qualities of a prince: he’s handsome and charming, he’s raised like a child king, and like the egotist he is, he knows how to woo and manipulate those around him to achieve his ends. His family sent him to Paris to complete his education and acquire the best teaching. A young man from the time of the Valois, full of preconceived ideas, is sent to Paris, to a society where everything has changed: the king, the nobility, ideas, the mechanisms of power. The old-timers at the Cabinet des Antiques think that the king is going to give Victurnian a regiment to show off against the Imperials. They are unaware of the new Gouvion Saint-Cyr law, which now democratically regulates rank and promotion conditions. Little do they suspect that the money his parents gave him to maintain his “rank” at the king’s court will in fact be used to turn Victurnien into a debauchee who will ruin the family’s years of savings and wisdom in a matter of months. The nobility chosen by the d’Esgrignon clan exasperates the susceptibilities and stirs up the jealousies of a small town by rigorously sidelining the nouveau riche, those bourgeois to whom their wealth or functions gave rank. These newcomers have a powerful, wealthy and ambitious leader by the name of du Croisier. His hatred of the d’Esgrignon clan is that of an ousted parvenu. This will be the mainspring of the drama. The destruction of Victurnien, a proud, carefree young man who sinks into ruin, damning himself for the love of his mistress, the Countess de Maufrigneuse, an unattainable young woman who puts on angelic airs, plays the role of purity and costs so much. A cold, unfeeling woman, Diane de Maufrigneuse energetically led the exhausting and expensive life of the great stars of society life, eating into Victurnien’s family fortune in the space of a few months. In order to get by, Victurnien fell into financial debt, which led him to borrow from du Croisier (a false friend and sworn enemy of the d’Esgrignon family). Victurnien, cornered, falsified a bill of exchange from du Croisier to avoid losing face and honor in the eyes of the world. Only by a miracle was he saved from the trap set by his adversary, which could have landed him in court. Disasters show the quality of souls. In The Cabinet of Antiques The happy ending is only possible thanks to the love of two donors: Armande d’Esgrignon and the notary Chesnel (former steward to the d’Esgrignon family, now a notary, this good man remained the Marquis d’Esgrignon’s servant as well as his notary, private secretary and businessman. Both will love Victurnien as their own son. They symbolize absolute dedication.

Sources analysis/history: Preface compiled from the complete works of the Comédie Humaine (tome X) published by France Loisirs 1985 under the auspices of the Société des Amis d’Honoré de Balzac.

The characters Mme Du Croisier: Wife of Sieur Du Croisier, also known as Du Bousquier. Character portraying Mlle Cormon in La Vieille Fille (previous short story). Friends and regulars come here every Thursday to play boston. Du Croisier (Du Bousquier): (1760) Initially a food contractor, he later became Receiver General in Alençon. He married Rose-Marie-Victoire Cormon (1773). He is undoubtedly Flavie Collevile’s father. M. D’Esgrignon père: Father of the Marquis, who in his old age had married the granddaughter of a traitant ennobled under Louis XIV. This marriage was considered a horrible misalliance by the family, but of no importance, since it had only resulted in a daughter, Armande. Mlle Armande d’Esgrignon: Marquis d’Esgrignon’s half-sister, Victurnien’s aunt and adoptive mother. As an old maid, she would dedicate all her love and life to this idolized child. Marquis d’Esgrignon: (1749-1830) Charles, Marie, Victor, Ange Carol, marquis d’Esgrignon, father of Victurnien, who married Mlle de Nouastre, who died in childbirth in 1802. The de Nouastres family was of the purest noble blood. Widowed when Victurnien was born, this only son was to be the soul, the suzerain, the blessed child of this old family. Victurnien d’Esgrignon: Born in 1802, he is heir to the Marquis d’Esgrignon. Raised as a young prince by his aunt, father and family circle, he is a handsome young man, full of grace, wit and charm. A prodigal son, he will have the carefree, selfish and ignorant nature of a young lord of ancient times. Notary Chesnel: Former steward of the House of Esgrignon, private servant to the Marquis and trusted advisor on the family’s financial affairs. He was to tutor the young d’Esgrignon, loving and raising him with the love of a father. He hid, concealed and paid Victurnien’s ill-considered debts, which ruined both this good man and the d’Esgrignon family. Esgrignon family coat of arms: The Desgrignon escutcheon bears Or two bends Gules, with the motto: cil est nostre qui fut prise au tournoi de Philippe Auguste, and the knight armed Or holding on the right the lion Gules on the left. At the time of writing, this crest is 900 years old. Balzac endowed Victurnien d’Esgrignon with imaginary weapons, which he emblazoned as follows (in “Les Rivalités – Le Cabinet des Antiques”)'Esgrignon.svg/120px-Blason_imaginaire_Balzac_d'Esgrignon.svg.png

No Comments
Post a Comment