Angoulême is divided into two classes: the aristocrats of fashionable society and the bourgeois. David Séchard and Lucien Chardon are scarcely aware that they belong to the less privileged class. Lucien is the brilliant, handsome, unstable son of a chemist. David is the sober, kind son of a printer.
David’s father sends him to Paris to learn all the latest innovations in the printing trade. The illiterate father, avaricious and mean, hopes that David will learn how to extract more money from the old-fashioned print shop of Séchard and Son. When David returns from Paris, his father quickly sells him the business at a high price and retires to his vineyard.
Partly because of his friendship with poetic Lucien and partly because of his temperament, David does not prosper. He is always discussing a grand project with Lucien or dreaming of Eve, Lucien’s beautiful sister. Lucien writes some verses that attract attention. Even the aristocrats of the town hear of him, and Madame de Bargeton, a thirty-six-year-old woman married to an old husband, invites him to one of her famous evening gatherings. Eve scrimps to buy Lucien the proper clothes for the occasion. The evening is not an entire success. Few except Madame de Bargeton listen to Lucien’s poetry, but he makes a real conquest of his host.
While Lucien does his best to break into society and win the heart of Madame de Bargeton, David and Eve are quietly falling in love. David strains his resources to the utmost to furnish rooms over the print shop for his wife-to-be, a room at the rear for his mother-in-law, and a comfortable room on the street for Lucien. David is determined to promote Lucien’s literary talent by supporting him. Two days before the wedding, Lucien is surprised in Madame de Bargeton’s boudoir. Her husband, old as he is, fights a duel with a man who gossiped about Madame de Bargeton. Not wishing to face the scandal, Madame de Bargeton decides to go to Paris, and Lucien is to follow her. With a heavy heart, for he knows Lucien’s weaknesses, David drives his friend at night along the Paris road. Safely away from Angoulême, Lucien joins his mistress.
David and Eve marry and settle into their new rooms. Eve is a devoted wife, although foolishly fond of her scapegrace brother. Before her child is born, she begins to grow uneasy. Lucien writes very seldom, and David pays little attention to his business. He is too busy working on an experiment to find a new way to make paper without rags. If he can invent a new process, they will all be rich. Meanwhile the family is desperately in need, for Lucien’s demands for money keep them poor. At last Eve herself takes charge of the print shop.
She has her first small success when she thinks of the idea of printing a Shepherd’s Calendar, a cheap almanac to peddle to farmers, but the firm of Cointet Brothers, rivals in the printing trade, give her so much unfair competition that she makes only a small...
(The entire section is 1218 words.)