Colonel Chabert by Honoré de Balzac

I leeerrve 19th century classics -(a lot of them anyway)!   And Balzac is way up there in my favs.   Balzac was a pioneer of literary realism and it shows early on in this odd little novella  – (loc 46 – Kindle)

The stove-pipe crossed the room diagonally to the chimney of a bricked-up fireplace; on the marble chimney-piece were several chunks of bread, triangles of Brie cheese, pork cutlets, glasses, bottles, and the head clerk’s cup of chocolate. The smell of these dainties blended so completely with that of the immoderately overheated stove and the odor peculiar to offices and old papers, that the trail of a fox would not have been perceptible.

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Colonel Chabert
Honoré de Balzac
1832 / 80 pages
rating – 9
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Don’t just skim by all that stuff – there are character and period revelations there as well as enough sensory detail to draw the reader right smack dab inside the setting.

One day the Maitre Derville,  attorney-at-law gets a strange new client – a man who says his name is Colonel Chabert and that he died in the battle of  Eylau where he supposedly fought alongside Murat.  Now he’s been living as a bottom-feeder of the socio-economic pile for some time and he’s just finally decided to return to Paris to reclaim his old life.

The reason Colonel Chabert went to see Derville is he is the lawyer of his wife – or ex-wife – or widow – whatever.   It gets complicated because Rosine remarried and now has two children,  her fortunes have increased,  she’s quite happy with her life.  But Chabert’s appearance is a threat to all that.

The politics gets pretty heavy here as the story unfolds between the days of Napoleon I through the Restoration to life under Louis XVIII with Louis Philippe almost on stand-by.  It’s not a big deal to know the specifics – only that times have changed and that some people have changed with them and others have not.

And the ending is … well – yikes.