With the heading of the start of each chapter, Duhamel writes half a dozen sentences, listing the main points of the chapter

I have collected these and put them in column one.  As they are very brief ad sometimes enigmatic, I explain them in column two.

I think that these provide us with a brief synopsis of the novel – guided by Duhamel as well!

Chapter One

The story begins in the closing months of winter at the start of 1889

Un dîner de  famille.                                                       

An evening meal in their tiny home before they moved, which M. Pasquier called a hovel..                                              

Des nouvelles du Havre

M. Pasquier presents them with a lawyer’s letter, notifying the death of Aunt Delahaie.

Premières considérations sur les lentilles.           

The only meal they could afford was lentil soup followed by a sausage shared between them

Propos dans la nuit.                                                    

The parents talk in bed of inheriting money and furniture from the Aunt



Mlle Bailleul.                                     

The lonely unmarried neighbour who helped the children with their schoolwork & religious instruction

Préparatifs de voyage

Mme Pasquier prepares to go to Le Havre for her Aunt’s funeral and to see the family lawyer there

Un testament compliqué.           

M. and Mme P. get all the furniture. The aunt by-passes the parents and leaves half of her money to the Pasquier children, invested until they reach 21.  
The parents can draw the interest on this capital.  
The other half of the aunt’s fortune is divided into three.  One third to Mme P’s surviving Aunt Coralie and two-thirds to Mme P.’s sisters in Peru
The lawyer has been trying to get legal proof of her sister’s death for 7 years. He expects their death certificates within 4 months.  
Then, M. & Mme P will inherit the sisters’ share in immediate cash

Vengeance posthume.                 

M. Pasquier recognises the terms of the will as the revenge of the Delahaie against him


The Pasquier parents study the figures late into the night            



La rue Vandamme.                         

The apartment block they move into.  The real start of Laurent’s conscious life.

Anatomie et physiologie d'une maison de Paris.  

Description of apartment through the eyes of a little boy

Ce qu'on voit d'un balcon.           

View from their top floor flat

Calculs et projets.                           

How they afforded the money to move 

Contagion des rêves.                    

Spending plans for when the sisters’ money is paid to them in October possibly

Découverte des meubles.           

The arrival of Aunt Alphonsine Delahaie’s furniture

Premier mystère orphique.        

Cécile, the baby of the family, shows her exceptional musical talents with the new piano

Le baromètre.                                  

The Delahaie barometer that lost a drop of mercury the next twenty times the Pasquier moved



Patrons, coupe et couture.                                         

New clothes come with the move and Mme Pasquier makes them herself                                

Origine d'un caractère héréditaire.                         

A Delahaie family tic dating back to the execution of Napoleon’s Marshal Ney. 

Entretien sur les testaments et les testateurs.  

The irresponsible M. Pasquier talks of investing in wild speculation. His wife knows better

Culte du dictionnaire.                                                    

M. Pasquier’s immense effort to learn the meaning of all the words in the dictionary.                           

Comment s'empêcher de dormir

Studying late into the night MP inflicts pain on himself to stay awake.

Une promenade.                                                           

When an official sign tells M. Pasquier: “No Access”,he uproots it and walks in.

Un repas au restaurant.                               

M. Pasquier disillusions them, telling them the blunt truth about the status of the restaurant he invited them to

Chapitre 5


Première apparition de Désiré Wasselin.                              

Désiré takes Laurent on 1st day at school.  Description of Désiré 

Curiosité de Ferdinand.                      
L'école de la rue Desprez.                                                                     

Why was Désiré who was 3 years older than Lauren in the same class  
Description of this school with pupils from poor homes- strict headmaster    

Silhouette et vertu de M. Joliclerc.                          

A teacher who gave him a positive view of benign authority

Une leçon d'arithmétique.                                          

Désiré’s answer to a question betrays his pathetic resignation of character.

Une leçon de choses.                                                    

The excessive role of wine in the pupils’ family life but not so in Laurent’s family

Tristesse matinale.                                                         

Désiré despairs of himself



L'amitié, passion mineure.                                          

M.Pasquier had little time for friendships.  The children introduced them

Héroïsme de mon cher Désiré                                   

He saved Laurent’s life when a stray dog attacked.. 

Le sacristain patibulaire.                                               

Description of Désiré’s dad 

Grande scène de la malédiction paternelle.        

The melodramatic expulsion of Désiré’s elder brother from his home 

Cri de guerre de M. Wasselin.                                   

A prrrt sound     

Dialogue de l'employeur et de l'employé.            

M. Wasselin’s comic mimicry as he described his quarrels with ever changing employers                                                                 


M. Wasselin’s nail-biting 

Le poulet d'honneur.                                                    

M. Wasselin’s invitations to sumptuous dinners existing only in his imagination.

Deux vers de Lamartine.                                              

A quotation through which his father described him as a degenerate child of a divine breed.

Vues sur l’adultère                                                    

M. Wasselin’s justification of his infidelity



Explorations olfactives.                                                

The multiple smells encountered as they walked home from school.   

Retraites préférées

Places offering sanctuary –especially the top floor balconies  

Intrépidité de mon ami Désiré.                                 

Désiré’s foolhardy crossing over from his balcony to Laurent’s

Querelles et coutumes des Wasselin.                    

Quarrels between Wasselin parents and elder daughter, Solange- ritual cursing of Lucien

Petite scène au trou de la serrure.                          

Private moments of the Wasselin parents seen through the keyhole

La tribu des Courtois.                                                    

Invited to card games with the Courtois on Saturdays- doubtful sportmanship

Peinture a la gouache.                                                  

Laurent’s art lessons from M. Courtois

Chapitre 8


Onirologie familiale.                       

In mid June 1889, with wealth supposedly imminent, the family began to form their dreams for the future 

Projets d'agrandissement.                                         

Plans included extending into the adjoining empty apartment

Vêtements, mobilier, personnel domestique.   

Plans for new winter clothes., carpets, lamps mirrors. Then a maid – or two!

Economies et restrictions.

At their most fanciful, the plans halted. Father told them scornfully they’d hardly enough to see the month out 

L'exposition Universelle.                                                             

They visit the great Paris exhibition of 1889

Bains  chauds.                                                                                   

Mme Pasquier takes the children to the public baths for a wash

Intermède géographique.                                                          

In class, Laurent defines « havre » in personal terms not geographic 

Erreur du XIXe siècle sur la science et la sagesse.              

M. Pasquier believes that education will eliminate human folly.

Visite de Mme. Troussereau.                                    

M. Pasquier’s offensive sister calls.  Can she smell money near? – so hopes Mme Pasquier

Chapitre 9


Guerre de rues.                               

Interschool violent clashes at the end of school year.  Laurent passed unscathed with Désiré’s protection 

Courage de Désiré Wasselin.     

Courage de Désiré Wasselin.      Tribute to the quality of Désiré’s courage

Colères de mon père.                                   

The massive outbursts of temper by M. Pasquier.  A major ordeal of Laurent’s childhood

Croisade pour les bonnes manières.                      

M. Pasquier’s mania for loudly expressing publicly his opinion on other people. 

Esthétique, hygiène et morale.                

M. Pasquier commented on the way looked or behaved.  Bald men should keep hats on...

La colère considérée comme un des beaux-arts.

His performances were of an artiste, (Similarity with anger of M. Wasselin)

La parole et l'acte.                          

His angry words needed an often violent physical act as a climax                                                 

Valeur balistique des lentilles.   

When angry at the lawyer’s delay, he threw a dish of lentils blindly through their open window



Observations incidentes sur le sentiment religieux

The writer relates M. Pasquier’s religious attitudes to currents in French society

Entretien sur l'enfer.                                                     

Mlle. Bailleul and her medieval view of Hell, 

Mlle Bailleul chez les infidèles..                                 

She is shocked that  Mme. Pasquier would wish to go to Hell, to be with Ram

Débuts de mon cher Désiré dans la foi.                 

Mlle Bailleul arranges Désiré’s first communion

Un vœu.                                                                             

The vow Désiré makes that shows his anxiety about and love for his monstrous father.                           

Autres nocturnes.                          

Further night-time musings. With family finances desperate, M. Pasquier considers briefly giving up his studies.  Privately his wife regrets the impositions that her husband’s ambitions impose on the family.



Défection de Joseph.                    

Joseph decides to leave school to start a business career. M. Pasquier sees him contradicting his own ideal. 

Laurent le bon élève.                    

Laurent is an excellent scholar at his school in the rue Desprez, where he finds escape from family tensions.

Intérêt de Mme. Tesson pour les affaires du Havre.       

The concierge greeted Laurent each day with : “Still nothing from le Havre”

Une lettre du notaire.                   

The evening in early winter 1889, when Laurent sees the lawyer’s letter in Mme Tesson’s empty lodge.

Le lavoir de la Gaité.                      

Désiré and Laurent go to the public laundry to tell his mother.  They return together.  It’sa false alarm

Fugue et retour du piano.           

Unable to manage, they pawn the piano, but Cécile is distressed and they pawn personal things instead



Nuits d'hiver.                    

The winter 1889/1890 was a dark tunnel

Frayeurs et fantômes.  

Laurent was very worried. He had nightmares with ghosts of the lawyer, of the two sisters etc.  All demanded money

Maux d'oreilles.               

Laurent has ear abscess that bursts.  His mother takes him to hospital

Connaissance de l'hôpital.           

Laurent’s vivid memory of the treatment room

Poisson rouge et canari.               

The goldfish and the canary that his pain earned him

Excursions au mont-de-piété.

They pawn- pictures, crockery, the mantelpiece, the wall clock.  M. Pasquier is sorry for the children, but his wife not mentioned

Apparition d'une comète.

(“Plans sur la comète” are schemes far from fruition)     M. Pasquier happily announces that they are to be expropriated (By the railway company for a station extension)



Petit duel Delahaie-Pasquier.

Mme. Pasquier says the Delahaie family made money after land they owned was expropriated. Her husband sneers

Miracles et fantaisies de l'expropriation.

Stories of the enrichment of lucky Parisians, who were expropriated during redevelopment of Paris during the Second Empire

L'animal antipoli­tique et la philosophie individualiste.

M. Pasquier was a loner and hated politics.  Laurent asks if he makes him too sympathetic

Espé­rances délectables.                              

M. Pasquier hopes for compensation of F10 000-12 000 – even as a tenant

L'amicale des locataires.               

M. Wasselin forms a tenants association and takes 2 subscriptions. Désiré is happy about his dad

Apologie des chemins de fer.    

In a flowery speech, M. Wasselin praises the march of progress the railway represents.

Préparatifs d'exode.                      

The Pasquier look for alternative accommodation

Décadence et mort d'une grande pensée.          

The affair drags on and is finally forgotten.  Désiré secretly returns one subscription to Laurent



Nouvelles considérations sur les lentilles.

Some words of praise for lentils which still monopolised their diet

Correspondance avec la chambre des notaires.

M. Pasquier frightens his wife by reporting their lawyer to the Chambre de Notaires, writing under her name 

Projet de voyage en Amérique.                               

M. Pasquier’s grandiose plan of going to Peru himself upsets his wife but is quickly forgotten

Paul Glaser­mann ou la tentation.             

Moneylenders offer them money at exorbitant rates of interest.  M. Pasquier disgusted but strongly tempted

Calcul élémentaire.                                        

Mme. Pasquier is able to calculate the offer accurately, whereas M. Pasquier is deceived 

M. Laversin, M. Bottone et Mlle. Vermenoux ou Vermenouze.  

To get some money they take in lodgers. Their three unfortunate experiences of  lodgers.  One a wanted anarchist!

Déclarations d'indépendance.                   

Mme. Pasquier rules their sanctuary will not be violated again



Première communion.                 

Désiré and Ferdinand. Conflicting views on how Désiré looked

L'enfant humilié.                           

Ferdinand fails his exams. M. Pasquier is furious. 

Justice maternelle.                        

Mme. Pasquier defends her least gifted son  - as she will do for the rest of her life !

Une minute de faiblesse.            

In moments of depression, M. Pasquier thinks of giving up his studies and getting a job                 

Vêtements de confection.          

To make it possible for him to continue Mme. Pasquier takes in sewing to do at home

Fatigue et désespoir.                    

Ill and tired, Mme. Pasquier, talking to herself, deplores the sacrifices imposed by her husband’s decision        



Maladie de maman.                                       

Mme. Pasquier falls ill and has to go into hospital.  Kindly Mlle Bailleul looks after the children

Mystérieuse apparition du vieillard.       

M. Pasquier breaks his false teeth and is temporarily transformed into a lisping old man


M. Wasselin tempts M. Pasquier to bet on horses

Le hasard et la chance.                                

The reason why M. Pasquier is resistant to this temptation

Du choix d'un prêteur.                  

Whom M. Pasquier approached for a loan and whom Mme. Pasquier chose

Le voyage du Havre.                      

Mme. Pasquier goes to Le Havre for documents of credit worthiness and meets the lawyer, a very ordinary man!

Intervention des Courtois.          

10 000 francs are to be borrowed from their neighbours, the Courtois.   

Signature d'un traité.                    

The loan agreement is signed in what becomes a ceremonial - with detailed examination of documents.



De l'embarras des richesses       

3 000 Francs from the loan was needed to get property out of pawn & for living costs.  The rest, Mme. Pasquier intended for the bank

L'incandescence au gaz.                               

With prosperity, M. Pasquier played the boss in the family and invested 690F of the money from the loanin a gas firm offering 12% interest

Dialogue sur le capital et la prospérité.  

The gas shares rise at first, but Mme. Pasquier believes it is an illusory gain, distrusting the unreal interest rate

L'épargne française en péril.                      

The decline and fall of Incanda-Finska

Malaises dues aux premières chaleurs.   

Mme Wasselin comes with bad financial news and Mme. Pasquier faints. She covers up by blaming the Summer heat,  (The Courtois must not suspect) 

Nuit d'attente et d'inquiétude.                 

Mme. Pasquier shuts herself in her room all day and M. Pasquier does not come home that evening and stays out all night



Misères d'été.                                  

The fine weather of the summer of 1891 was totally out of keeping with the gloom in the Pasquier household

Vues sur la nourriture et l'appétit des enfants.                    

Laurent was eating very little, perhaps too aware of how little they could afford. 


Compensations were their hopes for the future and the love that their parents gave them.

Nouveaux miracles orphiques et succès scolaires.           

Relief also came from Cécile’ piano playing and Laurent’s success at school

Discourtoisie des Courtois.         

The Courtois come into their home to check that they are not wasting the money they have lent

L'épreuve du tabouret.                                

The ritual as the mentally sick tests his hearing by the high pitch screech of the swivelling piano stool.

Variations sur la démence.         

To protect her family, Mme Pasquier makes a counter threat against the Courtois.  Her despair in the family humiliation that makes her stoop to this.



Bruits de fête.                    

It was one or two days before the Quatorze Juillet and there were brass bands on the streets  

Emotion de Joseph.       

Joseph came home at lunch very upset because M. Wasselin had been arrested for embezzlement. The parents feel great pity

Une catastrophe.            

The police come to ransack the Wasselin flat.  Mme Pasquier goes to help her.  Désiré is inconsolable

Intervention regrettable de M. Ruaux.

After six, the landlord, M. Ruaux came, and told Mme. Pasquier, who answered the Wasselin’s door that the Wasselin must clear out at once

Jupiter et la foudre.

M. Pasquier, who has been in earshot, tells M Ruaux to leave and begins the finest bout of anger of his life, driving the landlord down the stairs, and then all along the Paris streets, with eloquent words of abuse.

Un soir d'orage.     

 Laurent goes to see Désiré and finds him hanging dead from the light fitting in the centre of the room.  Laurent collapses with the shock.

Silence et douleur.

Although there are loud brass bands outside, celebrating the National Day, there is silence and gloom in the room, until they light the paraffin lamp. 
Then they see a letter has arrived and is there on the table unread.

In memoriam.       

In Laurent’s dreams on stormy nights that final image of Désiré still returns



La lettre du Havre.  

The letter , long awaited, from the lawyer in Le Havre had been the one on the table that fateful night..

Divers points d'histoire familiale.

The letter clarifies the life histories of Mme. Pasquier’s sisters

Sur trois vers de Boileau.

Mathide had lived in “Cusco” that Boileau incongruously mentioned in his verse

La part d'Aurélie et la part de Mathilde.

The share left to the dead sisters is explained.

Leçon d'arithmétique.

M. Pasquier thinks they will be getting 13 200 Francs in cash.  Mme Pasquier amazed at his  naivety, explains the deductions that will have to be made from this amount. 

Fièvre et délire.

A long dream was drawing to a close and they were setting off to face new struggles.

Miracle n'est pas œuvre