One of the most pronounced themes in ‘‘La Grande Bretèche’’ is betrayal. But Balzac resists the impulse to portray the act of betrayal as black and white. Instead, the story offers a complex and nuanced consideration of what it means to betray a vow or another human being. The primary act of betrayal occurs between Madame and Monsieur de Merret, but careful readers will notice how this act spawns several other betrayals as well.
Even the original betrayal is not as simple as it seems at first. Yes, Madame de Merret betrays her husband and her marriage vows by taking the Spanish lover. But it quickly becomes more complicated than that. She betrays her religious faith by making a false vow on the crucifix. Finally, in what is the most horrifying act of betrayal in the story, she betrays her lover by allowing her husband to imprison him in the closet. Ironically, Monsieur de Merret uses the sacredness of his wife’s pledge on the cross to silence her efforts to confess her lie and free Feredia, reminding her when she tries to speak during the twenty days it takes for the man to die that she ‘‘swore on the cross that no one was there.’’
From this original betrayal there are many others. Madame Lepas and her husband betray Feredia’s last wishes by keeping the money he had asked be donated to the church. Bianchon betrays Rosalie by seducing her just to get information from her. Rosalie betrays the confidence of her former employees by spilling the story to Bianchon. Finally, Bianchon, the dinner guests—and the readers— all betray the wishes of the late Madame de Merret when we...
(The entire section is 676 words.)