The Chouans

by Honoré Balzac

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Balzac shows how a great general can twist jealousy and human emotion, making social interaction a war zone equally as dangerous as a typical battlefield.

The insurrections of Brittany had nothing fine or noble about them; and it may truly be said that if La Vendee turned its brigandage into a great war, Brittany turned its war into a brigandage.

This quote belies the viciousness and persistence with which the Chouans fought. Historically speaking, the Chouans were a formidable group in the resistance. Their version of guerrilla warfare made them very difficult to defeat, and they went about stealing and plundering from their enemies, thus making war into a "brigandage" or plundering. Le Gars, or Marquis de Montauran, was their leader at the time, and he was a charming and effective leader, galvanizing the troops and making them fight all the more viciously. In the story, mirroring the true history of the events, many soldiers defected and joined the Chouans during the war, being intrigued and convinced by the charismatic leader.

"My child," she said to Francine, "I understood yesterday what it was to live for love; today I know what it means to die for vengeance. Yes, I will give my life to seek him wherever he may be, to meet him, seduce him, make him mine! If I do not have that man, who dared to despise me, at my feet humble and submissive, if I do not make him my lackey and slave, I shall indeed be base; I shall not be a woman; I shall not be myself."

Marie de Verneuil has been tasked with finding, seducing, and capturing the leader of the resistance, because he is practically untouchable otherwise. They believe if they bring in a beautiful, wealthy woman to seduce him, they can entrap him and draw him out. This quote is also a piece of foreshadowing for many reasons. Marie will bring him low, humbling him before her, because the two will fall madly in love. However, she will experience both of the emotions she states at the beginning of the quote by the end of the novel—she will be filled with vengeful rage and attempt to have him killed because she believes he loves another, and then she will realize her mistake and try to save her husband, thus living for love.

Suddenly the silence was broken by the tramp of men and Corentin entered the guardroom, preceding four soldiers who bore on their guns, crossed to make a litter, the body of Montauran, who was shot in the thighs and arms. They laid him on the bedstead beside his wife. He saw her, and found strength to clasp her with a convulsive gesture. The dying woman turned her head, recognized her husband, and shuddered with a spasm that was horrible to see, murmuring in a voice almost extinct, "A day without a morrow! God heard me too well!"

In the final pages, Marie and her husband are killed by the execution order that she herself had given. By the end of the book, Marie has been given command over some of the operations, including whether or not to execute the rebels. Corentin convinces her that Montauran loves another, and she gives orders to have all the rebels executed. Realizing her mistake, however, she tries to save him, essentially becoming a rebel herself. The two die hand in hand after being shot multiple times. Prior to this, Marie had pleaded with God to either save her husband or let her die. She realizes in the end that God answered her prayer, and the two will both die together.

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