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Last Updated on March 11, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 582

Honore de Balzac's 1828 novel, Les Chouans , is set against the historical backdrop of revolutionary France in 1799. At the time, a counter-revolutionary movement had taken shape in the region of Brittany, combining the forces of former aristocrats loyal to the House of Bourbon and a group of fierce...

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Honore de Balzac's 1828 novel, Les Chouans, is set against the historical backdrop of revolutionary France in 1799. At the time, a counter-revolutionary movement had taken shape in the region of Brittany, combining the forces of former aristocrats loyal to the House of Bourbon and a group of fierce guerrilla fighters known as the Chouans.

As the novel begins, the Chouans, seemingly led by the roguish Breton, March-a-Terre, but in reality led by the youthful Marquis de Montauran, ambush a detachment of Republican troops escorting a group of Breton conscripts under the command of Colonel Hulot. Although, after a bloody battle, the National Guard of Fougere comes to the rescue of the Republican troops, the Chouans' attack has been effective, allowing the potential conscripts to escape.

The French authorities begin to realize that conventional tactics will fail against a guerrilla army fighting on its own ground. So, for the sum of 300,000 francs, the Minister of Police, Joseph Fouche, engages Marie de Verneuil, a woman of great beauty and charm, to spy on Montauran while seducing him. Also dispatched with her is another government spy, Corentin.

Hulot is assigned to escort the coach of Mme. de Verneuil and her maid Francine across Brittany to Mayenne, with Corentin following at a distance. While stopping to dine at Alencon, they meet Madame Gua and her putative son, Monsieur du Gua St. Cyre. It's obvious to all that this woman is much too young to be the young man's mother, and there is speculation at the inn that he is, in fact, the Chouans leader, "The Gars," aka the Marquis de Montauran. March-a-Terre puts in an appearance, and is recognized by Mme. Gua as her former lover, Pierre.

As the journey continues, Mme. Gua and her alleged son now share the coach with Marie de Vernueil and Francine. It soon becomes clear to all that Marie and "The Gars" are falling in love. When they next speak privately, Marie accuses "The Gars" of being the leader of the Royalist troops, which as a Republican, she despises. He denies the charge, claiming a false identity.

The travelers reach the Chateau Vivetiere, upon which the Chouans have planned an attack. Captain Merle, charged with the security of Marie after the angry departure of Hulot, fears for her life when Mme. Gua accuses her of being a spy. Merle's adjutant, Gerard, advises Marie to leave immediately, but now consumed by her love for "The Gars," she refuses. By a series of serendipitous events, she manages to escape with her life when the Chouans attack.

There is an extended exchange of plots and counterplots by Republican and Royalist forces, as each side strives to gain the upper hand, with Marie de Vernueil terribly torn between them, due to her blind love for "The Gars." Finally, through the machinations of Corentin, who has been persistently trying to separate Marie from "The Gars" for the sake of the Republic, she is deceived into believing that he has cheated on her with Mme. Gua. With Marie as an accomplice, Corentin lures "The Gars" to a house to meet with her, unaware that it is surrounded by Republican troops led by Hulot. They realize that Corentin has deceived Marie about "The Gars"'s betrayal, and they decide to marry immediately. Marie warns her new husband about the troops surrounding the house, and he leaves in a disguise. However, despite Marie's efforts, when the Republican forces attack the house, both she and her new husband are killed.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1205

In the years after the Revolution, the French Republic had many enemies. Abroad, the remaining monarchies watched the new government with cold disapproval; at home, the survivors of the old aristocratic regime intrigued with all the dissident groups at odds with the central government in Paris. In Brittany, peasants and smugglers, who came to be called Chouans, finally joined the aristocrats in guerrilla warfare against the Republic.

To put down the outbreak, Hulot, who commanded the Republican garrison at Mayenne, was on his way from Fougeres with his conscripted Bretons. He was uneasy, for the Chouans were active and would make every effort to rescue their comrades. When the Chouans did attack, he was partly prepared. Although all of the conscripts escaped, Hulot’s vigorous defense got his Republican troops safely back to Mayenne. A short time later, Hulot was ordered to escort the mail coach from Mayenne to Montagne. Passengers in the coach were Marie de Verneuil and her pretty maid Francine, who had become objects of great curiosity when they stopped at the inn in Mayenne. With them was a third traveler, Monsieur Corentin, a small, secretive man whom Hulot suspected of being a secret agent for the Republic. At Alencon, the two women accepted an invitation to breakfast with Madame du Gua and her supposed son, the Citizen du Gua Saint-Cyr. Marche-a-Terre, a Chouan skulking nearby in his rebel uniform of goatskin, observed the party with distrust and sent a message to Madame du Gua, warning her to beware of Marie, whom he suspected of being a Republican spy.

Hulot was also uneasy. He was sure that Madame du Gua’s son was really the Marquis de Montauran, called Gars, the fiery leader of the Chouans. At last, he forced his way into the dining room to question the man. Marie was attracted to the handsome young man and came to his aid by producing a paper, countersigned by the Paris ministry, which notified all local authorities to obey the bearer. Ordered to retire, the old soldier was furious at having to obey a woman. A loyal Republican, however, he released the son and announced his intention to resign his commission.

Since all were bound for Fougeres, the next day Madame du Gua and her son set out in a carriage with Marie and Francine. Marie’s letter had procured them an escort of soldiers to guard them through the dangerous Chouan territory. Once while they were ascending a long hill, Marie and the son walked up behind the coach. Their bearing was almost loverlike, and Madame du Gua seemed strangely jealous for a mother. Marie had little success in learning who the son really was. She in her turn was reticent about her own past.

Under an aristocratic leader, the Chouans ambushed the coach but were driven off by the Republican guard. The Chouan chief took the opportunity to whisper a warning against Marie to young du Gua.

After the excitement, Madame du Gua announced that they were close to the family estate at Vivetiere, and she and her son invited their companions to spend the night at the chateau. When the son promised safety for Marie and Francine and supper for the guards, the whole party went to the castle. Once inside, Marie saw that the hall was filled with insurgents who had come to lay plans for continuing the war against the Republic. Marie then realized that Madame du Gua’s supposed son was in reality the Marquis de Montauran, the famous Gars. She also knew that she had fallen in love with the handsome rebel.

Despite Montauran’s promise of safe conduct, the jealous Madame du Gua ordered an attack on the Republican guard. Under the fierce Marche-a-Terre, the Chouans massacred the guards and took Marie and Francine prisoner. Marche-a-Terre, however, saved Francine, whom he recognized as his former sweetheart. He was also able to rescue Marie, after Madame du Gua had turned the girl over to the smugglers, and the two women were returned to Fougeres in the coach.

In Fougeres, Corentin rented a house for Marie and installed her as a great lady. She was tormented by her memories of Montauran and wondered if he really loved her. While walking near the city limits, she saw Madame du Gua and Montauran with a band of skulking Chouans. When Madame du Gua tried to kill Marie with a rifle shot, while Montauran looked on, Marie’s love for him turned to hatred and a desire for revenge.

Marie tucked a jeweled dagger in her bodice and set out to kill Montauran. During her search, she ran from some roving Chouans and took refuge in a cellar. In an abandoned scullery, she found Marche-a-Terre and his band torturing a miser to get his gold. After helping the miser to escape, he was told of a nearby sanctuary, the cottage of Galpe-Chopine, who worked both for the Republicans and the Chouans. Galpe-Chopine’s wife Barbette helped Marie to return to Fougeres.

When Marie learned that the Chouans planned to give a ball, she resolved to attend. She induced Galpe-Chopine to guide her to St. James, where the aristocrats were gathering. By her great beauty, Marie attracted the admiration of all the men, and when she revealed that she was the daughter of the Duke de Verneuil, she removed the smirch on her reputation. Montauran was fascinated anew and escorted her from the ball.

Marie told Montauran her true story. Although she was only the natural daughter of the duke, she had been recognized by him. Unprovided for after his death, she had accepted the guardianship of a seventy-year-old friend of her father. Then, to her horror, she was accused of being the old man’s mistress. After two years of adventures, she became the wife of Danton. When he died, she entered the service of the Republic. Her present mission was to win the love of Montauran and betray him to the government. Even after hearing her story, Montauran could not restrain his love for her.

In Fougeres, Corentin, now revealed as an agent of the Republic, determined to use Marie as a lure to draw Montauran to his death. The lovers finally decided to get married and flee the intrigues of France. A priest was procured, and a small altar was set up in Marie’s drawing room. Then Marie sent word through Barbette to Montauran. Under cover of dense fog, Montauran slipped into Fougeres, and the marriage ceremony was solemnized. Corentin, however, had been on the lookout and warned Hulot, commander of the Republican garrison, that the rebel leader could be captured easily. Hulot stationed a heavy guard around Marie’s house, but because of the fog he could not be sure that Montauran was actually in the drawing room.

In the morning Marie, seeing the guard, roused her husband. In Chouan clothes, Montauran attempted to escape over the wall but was shot and captured. Meanwhile, Marie had put on Montauran’s dress uniform and had gone out the street door. She, too, was shot down. The lovers were carried to the barracks and died there.

Disgusted with spies and intrigues, Hulot drove Corentin out of town.

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