The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard Summary

Summary (Essentials of European Literature)

Bonnard was a retiring philologist, a Member of the Institute, and a bachelor. Therese, his maid, looked after him firmly; she was the real mistress of his domestic arrangements. Bonnard, his mind stuffed with anti-quarian lore about the old abbeys of Paris, lived mostly in the past.

One day a sickly bookseller called and unsuccessfully showed him some cheap editions. Although he bought no books, Bonnard was moved by the thin, intense man. When he inquired of Therese, she told him that the bookseller, Monsieur Coccoz, lived up in the attic under a leaky roof with seldom even a fire, and his wife had just had a baby. Moved to pity, Bonnard sent up some logs for the indigent couple to burn.

Shortly afterward, he heard that the husband had died. Therese sniffed virtuously at the widow, who had far too many admirers. Bonnard saw the beautiful Madame Coccoz only once on the stairs. She showed him her healthy baby and remarked on his kindness in sending firewood.

Ten years later, Bonnard read in a catalog of a manuscript of the GOLDEN LEGEND, a work he wished very much to own. He finally tracked it down, discovering that it was owned by Signor Polizzi, who lived in Sicily. The Italian refused to lend the manuscript, but he invited Bonnard to come to Sicily to read it at his leisure. Although it was a long, hard trip for a shy man of letters, Bonnard set out for Sicily.

On the island he met Prince Trepof, a Russian, and his beautiful wife, whom Bonnard never associated with the young widow he had met once on the stairs years before. They were rich travelers who had nothing to do but to look for matchboxes for the prince’s collection. The princess gently decried her nomadic existence, but she adored her husband.

Signor Polizzi’s house was difficult to reach. Bonnard had to make the last part of the trip by mule litter. When he at last arrived, he found that Polizzi, a slippery jack-of-all-trades, had given the GOLDEN LEGEND to his son, who had opened a shop in Paris. While Bonnard was making the long trip to Sicily, the manuscript had all the time been in a bookshop not far from his apartment. Furious at the unkindness done him, Bonnard poured out his bitter story to the sympathetic princess.

Back in Paris, Bonnard went to the son’s shop; there was the manuscript. The son refused to quote a price on it because he was putting it up at auction. When the sale took place, Bonnard hopefully bid up to six thousand francs, but someone always outbid him. To his consternation, he found that it was Polizzi who had successfully bid on the manuscript. The dealer was acting as agent for a client who had instructed him to buy back the manuscript at any cost.

Back in his apartment, while Bonnard was gloomily thinking of his troubles, a young boy was shown in. The youngster gave him a package from his mother and disappeared, but not before Therese had seen the carriage. The package contained a make-believe log. Inside was a card from the Princess Trepof and a profusion of violets. Under the flowers, Bonnard found the manuscript. Just then, Therese lumbered in to ask what Madame Coccoz was doing...

(The entire section is 1298 words.)