Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 459
On All Saints’ Day, Theodore takes chrysanthemums to place on the grave of his uncle, Alexandre Mortin, with whom he lived as a child and whose heir he has become. At the cemetery, he meets someone who introduces himself as Dieudonne, or Dodo for short, the pet name that Theodore used for his uncle. Theodore takes up residence in the Mortin crypt, where he works at sorting his uncle’s papers.
Alexandre himself never succeeded in organizing his many notes relating to the life of the village; he merely gathered all the gossip and history he could find in his wanderings around the town. Much of the material that he assembled concerned the misdeeds of his neighbors. For example, Magnin’s wife cuckolded him, but rumor also claims that he had an affair with the Cruchet girl. Alexandre’s own sister-in-law also proved to be unfaithful, running off with a Spanish juggler.
Stories also circulate about Alexandre, particularly regarding his relationship with Theodore. According to one version, Alexandre compelled the boy to live with him instead of with the boy’s own mother because they were having a homosexual affair. Another version maintains that Theodore took advantage of his uncle’s debilitated condition to forge a will that left him the sole heir. Other accounts are more sinister still, claiming that Theodore stabbed or strangled his uncle and then robbed him. Still others say that the old man was killed by his housekeeper, Marie, or by her nephew, Louis.
Whatever the truth about the relationship between Alexandre and Theodore, the latter does accept the responsibility of trying to organize his uncle’s papers, just as Alexandre tried to make sense of all the notes that his brother Alfred bequeathed him. Yet when Theodore dies, he has made no more progress than either of his relatives had. He leaves the Mortin house to the parish, which decides to convert the attic into the public library. Theodore’s niece, Mademoiselle Moine, the town librarian and president of the Dieudonne Foundation, inherits the task of classifying the Mortin papers, which will reside in what is now both the local archive and the Mortin ancestral home.
Together with the older members of the Dieudonne Foundation, Mademoiselle Moine at length produces a three-hundred-page manuscript volume, which Mademoiselle Francine de Bonne-Mesure agrees to bind. The book is then chained to a desk, where one may consult it but not take notes. Yet some who visit the library claim that no manuscript volume is there.
As the novel ends, the narrator returns to his grave to await, he says,"the resurrection of the dead.” Meanwhile, the village routines continue as always. Madame Buvard dies, the corn grows tall, and Marie “methodically grows leeks, parsley, and tomatoes.”
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