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The Vicar of Tours by Honoré de Balzac
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Be careful what you wish for!, February 3, 2015

This review is from: The Vicar of Tours (Kindle Edition)
The wonderfully told story of chubby, innocent Abbe Birotteau, the eponymous vicar. He yearns for promotion to canon, but also to live in the luxurious boarding house, run for clergymen by embittered old spinster Mlle Gamard. Hearing of the delightful conditions enjoyed there by his colleague, "it often made him suffer terribly when he reflected that the death of his best friend could alone satisfy his secret covetousness.....His envy of Chapeloud's apartment became a monomania."
But Birotteau does get his wish and succeeds to lodgings with said spinster, with all her "angles, asperities and crabbedness" - and with one other clergyman in the next apartment, the conniving Troubert . But his life is not to be the joy he imagined...
I love Balzac's writing: his succinct descriptions of the characters. Troubert, whose "priestly speeches are big with vengeance and soft with honied mildness" and poor, weak Birotteau "one of those to whom heaven is hereafter to belong in virtue of the decree 'Blessed are the poor in spirit' " .
Most enjoyable read. ( )
  starbox | Feb 3, 2015 |
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To David, sculptor: the permanence of the work on which I inscribe your name - twice made illustrious in this century - is very problematical; whereas you have graven mine in bronze which survives nations - if only in their coins. The day may come when numismatists, discovering amid the ashes of Paris existences perpetuated by you, will wonder at the number of heads crowned in your atelier and endeavour to find in them new dynasties. To you, this divine privilege; to me, gratitude.
De Balzac.
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Early in the autumn of 1826 the Abbe Birotteau, the principal personage of this history, was overtaken by a shower of rain as he returned home from a friend's house, where he had been passing the evening.
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The Abbé François Birotteau and the Abbé Hyacinthe Troubert, both of whom are priests at Tours, have separate lodgings in the house belonging to the crabby spinster Sophie Gamard in that city. Birotteau is an other-worldly, gentle, introspective type; Troubert, who is ten years younger than his fellow boarder, is very much of the world: he is a careerist devoured by ambition.

Birotteau prides himself on his furniture and fine library, inherited from his friend and predecessor as parish priest of Saint-Gatien de Tours. Without reading all its clauses, or at least without remembering them, he signs a document handed to him by Mlle Gamard, forfeiting his entitlement to his lodgings and making over their contents to her in the event of his vacating his premises for any considerable period. He leaves them for a fortnight’s stay in the country, where he is served with a possession order by his landlady’s lawyer. On returning home he finds Troubert installed in his apartments, in full possession of his furniture and his library, whilst he himself has been moved into inferior rooms.

Birotteau abandons any prospect of a lawsuit to regain his property, as his friends in the provincial aristocracy of Tours gradually withdraw their backing. In return for giving up his rooms he had expected to be appointed to the vacant canonry of the cathedral. Instead, he is demoted to a much poorer parish two or three miles out of Tours. Deprived of his library and furniture, he leaves Mlle Gamard’s, thinking that this will indirectly bring him, through Troubert, the canonry which never comes. Troubert, on the other hand, is first appointed Vicar-General of the diocese of Tours, then Bishop of Troyes, scarcely deigning to look in Birotteau’s direction as he speeds past his colleague’s dilapidated presbytery on his way to his diocese.
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