The Chouans

by Honoré Balzac

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Balzac wrote this novel early in his writing career, and it is controversial in its themes and message. Balzac became fascinated with the Chouans, a historical people, on his vacation to Brittany. He learned of the vigilant and fierce rebels who were led by a charismatic leader, the Marquis de Montauran, who galvanized his region against the "Whites," the aristocratic leaders of the day. He was well known for converting his enemies to his own side, which is depicted in Les Chouans.

When Balzac was writing this novel, the nation was several decades removed from the infamous revolution, and people had moved past the class issues and separation that was prevalent at the time. However, some readers and critics were still scandalized by the concept of a relationship between the aristocratic woman, Marie de Verneuil, and the rebel leader of the Chouans. It was, however, Balzac's first critical success, and the book that propelled his career into something that would sufficiently generate income for him.

What's interesting are the parallels in this book to other famous romances with forbidden love leading to the death of the lovers. In this story, the two parties fall deeply in love, but they are separated by warring parties (similar to the Montagues and Capulets in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet). They are physically separated and it seems as if their love will be lost, as when Romeo was banished from Verona. Marie is led to believe that Montauran loves another woman, as Romeo is led to believe that Juliet is truly dead. Both couples ultimately die in one another's arms.

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