(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At the court of Louis XV of France, Armand de Richelieu plots with Madame Jeanne du Barry, the king’s favorite, to replace Monsieur de Choiseul as the king’s minister. They consult Count de Fenix, who turns out to be the reputed sorcerer Joseph Balsamo; ten years earlier the necromancer had predicted that Madame du Barry would one day be queen of France.

Balsamo uses his wife, Lorenza Feliciani, as an unwilling medium for his sorcery. Through her he gives Richelieu and Madame du Barry compromising information contained in a letter sent by the duchess of Grammont to her brother, de Choiseul, showing that the minister is encouraging the revolt of parliament against the king and attempting to bring about war with England. Fortified with this information, Richelieu forces the king to dismiss his minister.

The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, standing in the crowd gathered outside the palace after the king at a “bed of justice” had defied parliament, is urged to attend a secret meeting at which he will be initiated into the mystic order of Freemasonry. Rousseau declares he could do more for the world by not joining the order. The chief of the council, who is Balsamo, reads a communication from Swedenborg that warns them of a traitor among them.

To demonstrate to the surgeon Marat, a member of the secret fraternity, that body and soul can be separated and then reunited and that the soul has a greater knowledge than the body, Balsamo hypnotizes one of Marat’s patients. As the patient’s crushed leg is amputated, Balsamo makes the patient sing. He also hypnotizes Marat’s maid, draws from her an admission of the theft of her master’s watch, and, still in the condition of sleep, makes her repeat the contents of a letter she could not read while awake.

Andrée, daughter of the impoverished Baron de Taverney, has recently been saved from the violence of a mob by Gilbert, a son of the people, but she is ignorant of this circumstance because Balsamo brings her home in his carriage. After the woman has been settled at the Trianon through the request of the dauphiness, her beauty charms the king completely, and he commissions Richelieu to present her with a necklace worth several million livres, but she declines the gift. Richelieu, escorting de Taverney through the gardens after they had supped with the king, is heard by Gilbert, hidden in a dense thicket, advising the baron to send his daughter to a convent. Philippe, Andrée’s brother, who holds a commission in the royal army, pays a farewell visit to his sister; she confides to him her fears and forebodings. After his departure, Andrée weeps. Gilbert approaches and declares his love for her, but Andrée rebuffs him.

In his mansion, Balsamo is summoned to Lorenza’s room, where she begs him to release her so that she can retire to a convent. When he refuses, she plunges a dagger into her breast. After commanding Lorenza to sleep, Balsamo ascends to the chamber of the alchemist Althotas, who reminds him that in a week the aged man will be one hundred years old, by which time he must have the last three drops of blood of a child or a young female to complete the elixir that will preserve him for another half century. Balsamo, having promised his help, is returning to the sleeping Lorenza when he is interrupted by the arrival of Richelieu, who has come for a special sleeping draught for Andrée. Richelieu has already left instructions that a love potion be given to the king that will cause him to fall in love with the first woman he sees upon waking.

Gilbert overhears Nicole, Andrée’s maid, tell her lover that Richelieu arranged for them to escape together after first drugging Andrée and leaving her door unlocked; later he sees them ride off. Andrée, plunged into a hypnotic sleep by the drink, descends the stairs of her apartment in a trance and passes the astounded Gilbert. A flash of lightning discloses the concealed figure of Balsamo, who orders Andrée to tell what has happened at his house in Paris after Lorenza had tried to kill herself and he put her to sleep. Andrée, describing Lorenza’s flight, tells how she has taken with...

(The entire section is 1701 words.)