Thursday, August 4, 2011

Balzac, “Le Réquisitionnaire” (1831)

“Le Réquisitionnaire” (The Draftee) is a slight short story has some typically Balzacian elements: the provincial society west of Paris (here in Carentan, Normandy), the all-too-recent Reign of Terror, and its effect on the aristocracy.

The heroine, the widow Madame de Dey, has retreated to this quiet town, hoping that its innate conservatism will resist the worst of the Terror and allow her to preserve her estate for her son, who has emigrated to serve the exiled Bourbon monarchy. She receives a letter from the son informing her that he is in prison in Paris, caught in some secret mission, though he has made plans to escape and will arrive in Carentan in disguise as a draftee in three days.

The tale has strong elements of suspense, growing suspicion, and sudden reversal, In Balzac’s provincial society everything gets noticed, and the unusual purchase of a hare in the market almost gives the game away. All the town’s society, including the agent of the Terror (a young man interested in marrying the widow), conspire to keep the secret. In the end, after a skillful narrative twist, both mother and son are dead,

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