The narrator of the book first meets Dominique de Bray at Villeneuve. Dominique lives at the large Château des Trembles with his wife and two children. The mayor of the commune, he is shy, unpretentious, and a friend to all in the community. On St. Hubert’s Day, Dominique is visited by Olivier d’Orsel, a wealthy, solitary man with captivating manners and a passion for luxury, who retired from social life. A few days after his visit, Olivier tries to commit suicide. This event leads Dominique to tell the narrator about himself.
Orphaned at an early age, Dominique grew up at Villeneuve. In his youth, he became a lover of the outdoors. He was cared for by Madame Ceyssac, his aunt, who provided him with a tutor named Augustin. The two differed greatly in temperament. Dominique was emotional, wild, and loved nature; Augustin was well-read, exact, practical, and apparently oblivious to nature. When he was not tutoring Dominique, he would remain in his room, writing plays and letters. After four years, the time came for Dominique to go away to school. Augustin went to Paris with high hopes of his own success.
Dominique went to live with Madame Ceyssac in her mansion at Ormesson. At school he befriended young Olivier d’Orsel, who also had an estate near Les Trembles. Dominique, who was a good student, helped Olivier with his schoolwork. Too shy to admit it, Dominique fell in love with Madeleine, Olivier’s cousin. At night he would spend his time writing poetry. He also kept up a correspondence with Augustin, who warned him against confusing Olivier’s love of pleasure with the true goals in life.
Dominique was surprised when Madeleine married Monsieur de Nièvres, a well-established gentleman. After the ceremony Dominique was in despair because he realized that he loved a married woman. After graduation, Dominique and Olivier went to Paris. There they saw Augustin, who grew to like Olivier but had no esteem for him. Olivier, in turn, esteemed Augustin without liking him.
Dominique, trying to forget his love for Madeleine, buried himself in his literary work. He went to libraries and lectures, and he read through the small hours of the night in the belief that the austere routine was good for him. After a few months, however, he burned his writings because he thought them stale and mediocre. Olivier, who saw what Dominique did, told him to find other amusements and affections. Augustin, on the other hand, simply said that he would have to begin again. Augustin, who experienced setbacks of his own, never complained. Having guessed Dominique’s...
(The entire section is 1060 words.)