Wonderful tale set in the provincial town of Besançon, and focusing on the de Watteville family – the fiercely religious and independently wealthy wife, the ineffectual husband, who absents himself, spending his days working his lathe and 19-year-old daughter, Rosalie. She falls in love with the mysterious stranger who took up residence a few yards away from her family’s home. Through her maid, herself in love with Savarus’s butler, Rosalie intercepts Savarus’s letters to Paris and learns why this brilliant man established himself in Besançon and what he proposes to achieve. She hopes to escape from the dull marriage her mother is planning for her and instead ride on Savarus’s growing success. Will Rosalie help Savarus succeed or will he unwittingly fail unaware of her selfish machinations? Written in 1842, „Albert Savarus” is a work of a circumstance at the same time a personal testimony. In correspondence since 1832, lovers in 1834, Balzac and Madame Hanska were promised to be married. But the death of the old is Mr. Hanski was waiting.

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One of the few drawing-rooms where, under the Restoration, the Archbishop of Besancon was sometimes to be seen, was that of the Baronne de Watteville, to whom he was particularly attached on account of her religious sentiments.

A word as to this lady, the most important lady of Besancon.

Monsieur de Watteville, a descendant of the famous Watteville, the most successful and illustrious of murderers and renegades–his extraordinary adventures are too much a part of history to be related here–this nineteenth century Monsieur de Watteville was as gentle and peaceable as his ancestor of the Grand Siecle had been passionate and turbulent. After living in the Comte (La Franche Comte) like a wood-louse in the crack of a wainscot, he had married the heiress of the celebrated house of Rupt. Mademoiselle de Rupt brought twenty thousand francs a year in the funds to add to the ten thousand francs a year in real estate of the Baron de Watteville. The Swiss gentleman’s coat-of-arms (the Wattevilles are Swiss) was then borne as an escutcheon of pretence on the old shield of the Rupts. The marriage, arranged in 1802, was solemnized in 1815 after the second Restoration. Within three years of the birth of a daughter all Madame de Watteville’s grandparents were dead, and their estates wound up. Monsieur de Watteville’s house was then sold, and they settled in the Rue de la Prefecture in the fine old mansion of the Rupts, with an immense garden stretching to the Rue du Perron. Madame de Watteville, devout as a girl, became even more so after her marriage. She is one of the queens of the saintly brotherhood which gives the upper circles of Besancon a solemn air and prudish manners in harmony with the character of the town.

Monsieur le Baron de Watteville, a dry, lean man devoid of intelligence, looked worn out without any one knowing whereby, for he enjoyed the profoundest ignorance; but as his wife was a red-haired woman, and of a stern nature that became proverbial (we still say “as sharp as Madame de Watteville”), some wits of the legal profession declared that he had been worn against that rock–Rupt is obviously derived from rupes. Scientific students of social phenomena will not fail to have observed that Rosalie was the only offspring of the union between the Wattevilles and the Rupts.

Monsieur de Watteville spent his existence in a handsome workshop with a lathe; he was a turner! As subsidiary to this pursuit, he took up a fancy for making collections. Philosophical doctors, devoted to the study of madness, regard this tendency towards collecting as a first degree of mental aberration when it is set on small things. The Baron de Watteville treasured shells and geological fragments of the neighborhood of Besancon. Some contradictory folk, especially women, would say of Monsieur de Watteville, “He has a noble soul! He perceived from the first days of his married life that he would never be his wife’s master, so he threw himself into a mechanical occupation and good living.”

The house of the Rupts was not devoid of a certain magnificence worthy of Louis XIV., and bore traces of the nobility of the two families who had mingled in 1815. The chandeliers of glass cut in the shape of leaves, the brocades, the damask, the carpets, the gilt furniture, were all in harmony with the old liveries and the old servants. Though served in blackened family plate, round a looking-glass tray furnished with Dresden china, the food was exquisite. The wines selected by Monsieur de Watteville, who, to occupy his time and vary his employments, was his own butler, enjoyed a sort of fame throughout the department. Madame de Watteville’s fortune was a fine one; while her husband’s, which consisted only of the estate of Rouxey, worth about ten thousand francs a year, was not increased by inheritance. It is needless to add that in consequence of Madame de Watteville’s close intimacy with the Archbishop, the three or four clever or remarkable Abbes of the diocese who were not averse to good feeding were very much at home at her house.

At a ceremonial dinner given in honor of I know not whose wedding, at the beginning of September 1834, when the women were standing in a circle round the drawing-room fire, and the men in groups by the windows, every one exclaimed with pleasure at the entrance of Monsieur l’Abbe de Grancey, who was announced.

“Well, and the lawsuit?” they all cried.

“Won!” replied the Vicar-General. “The verdict of the Court, from which we had no hope, you know why–”

This was an allusion to the members of the First Court of Appeal of 1830; the Legitimists had almost all withdrawn.

“The verdict is in our favor on every point, and reverses the decision of the Lower Court.”

“Everybody thought you were done for.”

“And we should have been, but for me. I told our advocate to be off to Paris, and at the crucial moment I was able to secure a new pleader, to whom we owe our victory, a wonderful man–”

“At Besancon?” said Monsieur de Watteville, guilelessly.

“At Besancon,” replied the Abbe de Grancey.

“Oh yes, Savaron,” said a handsome young man sitting near the Baroness, and named de Soulas.

“He spent five or six nights over it; he devoured documents and briefs; he had seven or eight interviews of several hours with me,” continued Monsieur de Grancey, who had just reappeared at the Hotel de Rupt for the first time in three weeks. “In short, Monsieur Savaron has just completely beaten the celebrated lawyer whom our adversaries had sent for from Paris. This young man is wonderful, the bigwigs say. Thus the chapter is twice victorious; it has triumphed in law and also in politics, since it has vanquished Liberalism in the person of the Counsel of our Municipality.–”Our adversaries,’ so our advocate said, “must not expect to find readiness on all sides to ruin the Archbishoprics.’–The President was obliged to enforce silence. All the townsfolk of Besancon applauded. Thus the possession of the buildings of the old convent remains with the Chapter of the Cathedral of Besancon. Monsieur Savaron, however, invited his Parisian opponent to dine with him as they came out of court. He accepted, saying, “Honor to every conqueror,’ and complimented him on his success without bitterness.”

“And where did you unearth this lawyer?” said Madame de Watteville. “I never heard his name before.”

“Why, you can see his windows from hence,” replied the Vicar-General. “Monsieur Savaron lives in the Rue du Perron; the garden of his house joins on to yours.”

“But he is not a native of the Comte,” said Monsieur de Watteville.

“So little is he a native of any place, that no one knows where he comes from,” said Madame de Chavoncourt.

“But who is he?” asked Madame de Watteville, taking the Abbe’s arm to go into the dining-room. “If he is a stranger, by what chance has he settled at Besancon? It is a strange fancy for a barrister.”

“Very strange!” echoed Amedee de Soulas, whose biography is here necessary to the understanding of this tale.

In all ages France and England have carried on an exchange of trifles, which is all the more constant because it evades the tyranny of the Custom-house. The fashion that is called English in Paris is called French in London, and this is reciprocal. The hostility of the two nations is suspended on two points–the uses of words and the fashions of dress. God Save the King, the national air of England, is a tune written by Lulli for the Chorus of Esther or of Athalie. Hoops, introduced at Paris by an Englishwoman, were invented in London, it is known why, by a Frenchwoman, the notorious Duchess of Portsmouth. They were at first so jeered at that the first Englishwoman who appeared in them at the Tuileries narrowly escaped being crushed by the crowd; but they were adopted. This fashion tyrannized over the ladies of Europe for half a century. At the peace of 1815, for a year, the long waists of the English were a standing jest; all Paris went to see Pothier and Brunet in Les Anglaises pour rire; but in 1816 and 1817 the belt of the Frenchwoman, which in 1814 cut her across the bosom, gradually descended till it reached the hips.

Within ten years England has made two little gifts to our language. The Incroyable, the Merveilleux, the Elegant, the three successes of the petit-maitre of discreditable etymology, have made way for the “dandy” and the “lion.” The lion is not the parent of the lionne. The lionne is due to the famous song by Alfred de Musset:

Avez vous vu dans Barcelone ... C’est ma maitresse et ma lionne.

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