Colonel Chabert by Honoré de Balzac


Colonel Chabert by Honoré de Balzac

French fiction

Original title – Le Colonel Charbert

Translator – Andrew Brown

Source – Library book

I was looking at what gaps I should fill in the breadth of the blog and it is classics from around the world I have reviewed a lot of French novels and novellas over the time of this blog but not many classic works from France I have always had in mind to work through the works of Balzac and Zola the two great figures of 19th century French literature. So when I saw this on my last library visit it seemed like a great foot in the door of Balzac a writer who wrote early in the morning and drank too much coffee over the years. This book sounds like it had hints of other books like count of monte Cristo where identity is an issue. The question in a time before photos and id are so tied up in computers how do you prove who you are.

When he saw the solicitor, the stranger gave a start, and shuddered convulsively like poets when an unexpected noise distracts them from a fertile reverie in the midst of night and silence. The old man promptly took off his hat and stood up to greet the young man; the leather lining of his hat was doubtless thick with grease, for his wig remained stuck to it without his noticing, and revealed his bald skull horribly mutilated by a transversal scar that began at the crown of his head and expired over his right eye, forming a long, thick, prominent seam.

The sudden removal of this dirty wig, which the poor man wore to conceal his wound, did not make either of the two men of law feel like laughing, as this split skull was such a terrible sight. The first thought suggested by the appearance of this wound was: “His intelligence has leaked away through it!”

“If he’s not Colonel Chabert, he must be a proud old trooper!” thought Boucard.

In The lawyers office a dishovled od man is he what he claims he is Colonel Chabert

An old man turns up at Dervile the lawyer’s office and he claims to be Colonel Chabert a long-dead Colonel a close ally of Napoleon. The staff in the offices wonder and tease this disheveled old man. He was a cavalry officer and is sent to the battle of Eylau. This is where he was seriously injured in the battle. So when he is found on the battlefield they thought he was dead so was buried in a shallow grave. When he awakens and escaped his grave and is reborn without a memory he is here to claim what is his in the time he was away his wife whom he had met when she was a prostitute has moved up the ladder and is now a countess with her husband a man of ambition. He has returned to get his life back and his wife and hopes Dervile will help him. But this is a post-Napolean era a new world.

The old man gestured with his hand, and seemed to he mulling over some secret sorrow with that grave and solemn resignation that characterizes men who have gone through the blood and fire of battlefields. Monsieur,” he said, with a kind of gaiety, for this poor Colonel could after all breathe again: he had emerged a second time from the tomb – he had just melted a layer of snow more difficult to dissolve than the one which had long ago frozen over his head, and he breathed deeply as if he had just escaped from a dungeon. “Monsieur,” he said, “if I’d been a handsome fellow, none of my misfortunes would have happened. Women believe men when they stuff the word ‘love into every phrase they utter. Then they come running, they dash here and there, they go out of their way for you, they plot, they corroborate your version of events, they do their damned best for the man they like. How could I have ever persuaded a woman to take my side?

He is a dirty old man now and not the dashing Cavalary officer he once was !

I saw this as a perfect intro to Balzac I do have a number of other books by him. This as a short Novella seemed a great intro and it was it isn’t a heavy story just a man trying to regain his life a sort of anti-Count of Monte Cristo a turn down in fortune. Chabert’s entrance into the lawyer’s office reminds me of Pip’s reaction in Great expectations when he sees Magwich. The book itself has been made into six films over the years you can see why it has a lot in a little book the war. The journey of Chabert from the grave to the Lawyers’ office alongside this is his romance and marriage to his wife. Then her life after she thinks he died in the war. Then the final bit him trying to get his life back and being mocked is where the book starts and where it ends in a way. Have you read Balzac where should I move on to next with Balzac

Winstons score – +A A slim intro in Balzac.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tonymess12
    Jan 31, 2023 @ 12:15:11

    I’ve read quite a bit of Balzac Stu, he’s a bit of a “go to” when I find I’m in a reading slump. A few years ago I posted a “Suggested Reading Order” for his Comedie Humaine, see link. Good luck with delving further.


  2. MarinaSofia
    Jan 31, 2023 @ 12:24:27

    Balzac is great but he does go ON a bit in his longer novels, cramming in all of his research and personal or political opinions, so this novella was probably a very good introduction to him without putting you off. I’ve just finished his Lost Illusions, which I really liked for about two thirds but one third really draggged.


  3. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Jan 31, 2023 @ 14:42:03

    I like these short Alma books – such a good way to get to know an author!


  4. Jane
    Jan 31, 2023 @ 15:58:17

    I read my first Balzac last year, Eugénie Grandet, and I loved absolutely all of it and will definitely read more.


  5. Jane Stivarius
    Jan 31, 2023 @ 16:08:13

    If you’re going to read Balzac’s Commedie, even if you don’t have a Kindle, I suggest the Delphi Kindle version which you can use on your browser. It has a complete “dictionaire” of all the characters. When I read the entire collection, I found this most helpful


  6. Lisa Hill
    Jan 31, 2023 @ 21:23:11

    Years ago I joined a Yahoo Reading Group (remember them?) to read the entire Comedie Humaine. I was working like a dog at the time and before long I got left behind, but I plugged away at it by myself just reading one short story each week and the longer ones in school holidays. In this way Balzac became a dear friend, like some cranky old relative that you visit each week and listen to their little rants.
    I’d kept up with the group all this time and so it was that I set up a collaborative blog which is all about our shared experience of reading Balzac. It’s at and among its treasures are some wonderful (and often funny) comments about the books. Plus, what you might find useful is the story descriptions to help you choose which ones to read:
    A whole group of us contributed to it, but you can find my commentaries from the drop-down categories box under the heading ‘Contributors’. They are not reviews because they have plot spoilers but they are not summaries because they comment on the larger themes that emerge as you read more and more of his stories.


  7. Trackback: Stu’s 2023 journey January | Winstonsdad's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

January 2023


%d bloggers like this: