VIPÈRE AU POING by  Herve Bazin
Summary & Commentary

The year is 1922.
The first scene describes how the author, Jean Rezeau, as a child, one summer’s day got away from his governess, Mlle. Ernestine Lion, and came upon a viper asleep under one of the plane trees which line the drive.
Attracted by its golden coils, the child picked up the viper. By the greatest of chances he picked it up by the neck and was therefore not bitten by the writhing snake - even when he brought it within inches of his face to examine it.
He looked into its eyes and saw a look which he would recognise when he was older as hatred and which he would see in the eyes of Folcoche, his name for his mother, - perhaps in her case playful and perhaps not.
Page 3-4…. des yeux de topaze brûlée, piqués noir au centre et tout pétillants d'une lumière que je saurais plus tard s'appeler la haine et que je retrouverais dans les prunelles de Folcoche….
The child squeezed the snake and strangled it. He then played with the dead snake for twenty minutes until the bell rang to summon him for his jam sandwiches. He went back swinging the snake.

At the house he is surrounded by panic. His governess, his aunt (an Imperial Countess), his uncle, a servant, all are frightened and retreat except his grandma, who steps forward and makes him drop the snake with a sharp blow from her lorgnette, page 5.
Mais grand'mère, plus brave, parce que, n'est-ce pas, c'était grand'mère, s'approcha et, d'un brusque coup de face-à-main, me fit lâcher le serpent, qui tomba, inerte, sur le perron
Thereupon, his uncle Michel Rezeau, the cassocked apostolic protonotary, assured that the snake is dead, begins to stamp on it to kill it all over again.
After Jean has been stripped to ensure that he has not been bitten, then decently dressed again, the prelate leads prayers of thanks, and then with eyes reverently raised, he puts his little nephew across his knee and thrashes his backside.

The family home of the Rezeau family was called "La Belle Angerie" - originally la Boulangerie, a bakehouse. This bakery had had however, a fine facade which had given the appearance of a manor house, favoured by the old middle classes. These bourgeois believed that the size of the house should be proportional to the size of the estate, thus their house had 32 rooms and countless outhouses and shrines. (NB Vanity  -Superficial show)
It was however, a most uncomfortable house, with no running water, gas or electricity, situated in the cold damp region of Craon (i.e. the department of Mayenne close to the borders of Maine et Loire). His grandmother used to move out every winter.
In the early 1920s when the story begins this area was much more backward than now (“Now” means in 1948 when he is writing the novel). An area brutalised by centuries of savage repression. An area without any striking scenery, of winding sunken country lanes of low meadows divided by countless hedges, of cider orchards, of broom heaths - of a thousand and one ponds.  He thinks that, at the time that this story starts, this was probably the most backward area of France, page 8:
Ladite région, à l'époque où commence mon récit, c'est-à-dire il y a environ vingt-cinq ans, était du reste beaucoup plus arriérée que maintenant. Probablement la plus arriérée de France.

The population was made up of degenerate Gauls, sickly, submissive to the priest and the lord of the manor, they were suspicious, tenacious, sometimes alcoholic, all serfs at heart.
Page 9: ……..les hommes. De race chétive, très «Gaulois dégénérés», cagneux (knock-kneed),  souvent tuberculeux, décimés par le cancer, les indigènes conservent la moustache tombante, la coiffe (headgear) à ruban bleu, le goût des soupes épaisses comme un mortier(mortar), une grande soumission envers la cure (presbytery)et le château, une méfiance de corbeaux, une ténacité de chiendent (Couch grass); quelque faiblesse pour l'eau-de-vie de prunelle(Sloe-gin) et surtout pour le poiré (Perry) Presque tous sont métayers (Tenant farmers) , sur la même terre, de père en fils.  Serfs dans l’âme…
The glories, now obsolete of his family exist in this worm eaten frame. His family’s fame was based not on the things of this world but extended far and wide.  It was a family envied by the middle classes and to which the nobility opened their doors and into which they intermarried.
One ancestor had fought with the Catholic Royalist armies of La Vendee against the Revolutionaries in 1793, Page 9 –
La petite histoire ne vous a sans doute pas dit que Claude Rezeau, capitaine vendéen, entra le premier aux Ponts-de-Cé, lors de l'avance éphémère de l'armée catholique et royale. (On chante depuis: (catholique et français».)
Another ancestor had been a Conservative deputy in “their” Republic, (the democratically elected government of the 3rd Republic , which was to last until 1939.)
By far the most famous family member, however, was René Rezeau, Jean's great uncle, whose genius is spread forth to the world in his books handed out as prizes in Catholic schools.
(NB Autobiographical link. Hervé Bazin’s own great uncle was also called René.  He was an eminent Catholic and Nationalist novelist who was a member of the French Academy for nearly thirty years. He died in 1932 i.e ten years after the start of the events related in this book.)
The author is sardonic about the respect granted to his uncle and about his uncle’s reactionary views:-
Page 9. Tenez-vous bien et respectez-moi, car c'est mon grand-oncle. Le retour à la terre, le retour de l'Alsace, le retour aux tourelles, le retour à la foi, l'éternel retour!
NB Style : the use of zeugma - the powerful irony which the author achieves by the juxtaposition of disparate ideas, in this case with the word “retour”.     
René Rezeau was to die after long months of martyrdom caused by cancer of the bladder. Jean’s cynicism at the mass demonstration of emotion at his uncle’s funeral coming from people with whom he had little sympathy is expressed in the sentence:
Page 10. (His funeral) fut l'occasion d'un grand défilé de bien-pensants consternés, sous une pluie battante de postillons (splutterings) et d'eau bénite. ( “postillons” usually mean the fine droplets of saliva emitted in excited conversation

Jean's deceased grandfather was René Rezeau’s eldest brother and Jean’s father was his seventh child but the first son and thus heir to the family estate. Jean’s uncle, Michel Rezeau, the apostolic protonotary, who was present at the viper drama, was the eleventh child and the last. In total five of the eleven children went into the Church with four of the girls becoming nuns.
In 1913 his father, Jacques Rezeau, a teacher at a Catholic University on a very modest salary, had married Paule Pluvignec, a very rich young lady,  from an eminent family of bankers and statesmen. Her father was a member of the French Senate and there was on offer to a prospective husband a very generous dowry, page 11:
Elle avait trois cent mille francs de dot. Trois cent mille francs-or.

 The Pluvignecs, preoccupied by their social and political interests had sent Paule, an artful, withdrawn child, to a private boarding school and left her there even during her school holidays. She had emerged only to get married. (N.B. The future Mme Rezeau had been unlovable and unloved as a child.)
Jacques Rezeau, whose love for a little Protestant girl had been blocked by his uncle René, had married Paule for the dowry which the poverty of the Rezeau family made indispensable. This dowry had allowed Jacques to live well until Poincaré had devalued the franc page 11:
Mon père, qui avait aimé une petite camarade protestante (mais René Rezeau veillait!) épousa cette dot qui lui permit de faire figure de nabab jusqu'à la dévaluation de M. Poincaré. De cette union, rendue indispensable par la pauvreté des Rezeau, devaient naître successivement

Raymond Poincaré had been President of France during the First World War and returned for a final term as premier in 1926 The country was then in the throes of a very grave financial crisis. Poincaré raised taxes and drastically reduced the public deficit but inflation was curbed only after the franc lost four fifths of its value against the dollar.   The 1928 devaluation of the franc hit very hard those members of the French middle class dependent upon investment incomes. It was a major factor in the undermining of their support for the Republican regime

Jacques and Paule Rezeau had three sons:

At the time of the incident with the viper, Frédie and Jean had been put in the care of their grandma after she had forcefully insisted. Jean assumes that this had been done to take the two babies away from an uncaring, unloving mother, whose negligence put them at risk. The youngest brother was born when his parents were away in Shanghai, where M. Rezeau was professor of Law at the Catholic University.
This period of separation in the care of the good-hearted old lady, was a period of temporary happiness, interspersed with punishments and moments of mystical rapture.
Humour: religion is intermingled with the exhortations not to get his shirt dirty and to wipe his bottom properly.
Page 13 -14. — Allons! dépêchez-vous, paresseux! ... Remercions le bon Dieu qui nous donne encore cette journée pour le servir ... C'est le jour de changer votre chemise, Brasse-Bouillon. Au nom du Père et du Fils ... Tâchez de la garder propre. Quand on va aux waters, on s'essuie , convenablement. Notre Père qui êtes aux cieux ..., etc.
From the age of 4 until he was 8, in the overwhelming religious atmosphere of his grandmother’s house, Jean was a saint. He tells how he mortified himself for some sin he imagined he had committed. He tightened a piece of string around his waist until it cut into his flesh. The next morning, his governess awoke himand was shocked to see the marks made by the string on his body. She brought his grandmother, who reproached him but admired him for his religious devotion.  She told the governess, Page 14 :
Surveillez ce petit, Mademoiselle. Il m'inquiète. Mais je dois avouer qu'il me donne aussi de bien grands espoirs.

The author lists the brief impressions of people and events of these happy years.  It was a time when he was looked after by his grandma and their old governess. Then the Rezeau family had dignity and earned respect; the local schoolchildren took off their berets to them as they walked by.  Their lives were imbued with Catholicism – eighty different daily prayers, visits from worthy Catholics, his uncle, the protonotary, the local priest coming for the weekly dues to the Church.  There were very solemn visits by his great uncle René, whose Catholic novels had earned him a seat in the French Academy, Page 15:
Le protonotaire, la gouvernante, les vieux domestiques, La Belle Angerie, l'hiver â Angers, le chignon de grand'mère, les vingt-quatre prières diverses de la journée, les visites solennelles de l'académicien, les bérets des enfants des écoles respectueusement dépouillés à notre approche, les visites du curé venant toucher le denier du culte et le denier de saint Pierre* et la cotisation pour la propagation de la foi, la robe grise de grand'mère, les tartes aux prunes ……
The author then brusquely interrupts this account with a paragraph of one sentence.  “Then, suddenly grandmother died.”
Page 15. Puis, soudain, grand-mère mourut.
On hearing she had uraemia, she rejected the degrading attentions of the doctors who could have kept her alive a few days longer. She died with dignity. Jean shows his respect and love for her:
Page 15. cette grande dame - cette bonne dame aussi, mon cœur ne l'a pas oubliée - sut faire une fin digne d'elle.
The children were brought in and she gave them her final blessing. The children backed out as in the presence of a king. But this homage was deserved. Although she did not show emotion, she had a tender and sincere love for her grandchildren.
Soon she is to be "la précédente" the woman who was here before, of whom they will not speak. For his mother appeared and this story becomes a drama.

“Maman” was word full of emotion, used by their cousins, used by their uncle and aunt to their grandmother. But their "Maman” had never written to them, except for a printed Christmas card with two scrawled signatures in a typed envelope. People excused her saying Shanghai was a long way away but the heart of their Maman was much more distant than Shanghai.
Page 17. La Chine, c'est loin. Je ne crois pas, même à cet âge, avoir admis que le cœur, cela peut être beaucoup plus loin que Changhai. Maman!
On the death of their grandmother, their parents were recalled from China. They took 8 months to arrive back.

One fine evening, the children are lined up on the station platform to greet their parents. The train stops, they see the moustache of their father and the cloche hat of their mother. She imperiously orders their governess, indignant to be ordered like a servant, to take her cases. Taking a smile as an invitation, the two boys rush forward, but their Mother, clears them away with strong, well-aimed-slaps. Having landed on their backs the boys sob. Mme Rezeau asks if that is how pleased they are to see her and blames their recently departed grandmother for their attitude.

The boys meet their youngest brother, for the first time, but are quickly interrupted by their Mother, who with the encouragement of a kick in the shins gets the boys to carry the suitcases – Jean’s, too heavy for him at 8 years of age, but a kick in the shins gives him strength.
Already they had no wish to call this woman “Maman”.

So all the five actors are now brought together to act the first episode of this domestic tragedy. In addition there are a few walk-on parts - characters quickly eliminated by the lack of sentimental oxygen.

(2) Paule. Jean's mother - 35 years old, taller than her husband. She had a certain style.


After their return from China, his parents gave up their second home and stayed at la Belle Angerie all the year round. Jean's father gave up his teaching post, to administer his estate, relieving his boredom by his study of insects. This was the major work of his life.
He immediately had the attic of the right pavilion fitted out as a museum. Only after this was completed, did he concern himself with his children and engage a tutor.

(6) The Priest - an episodic character - but always replaced by another. The first,  Father Trubel, wore a white cassock, as one of the white brothers. This priest had claimed he left his African mission because of liver trouble - but later they were to discover it was due to excessive evangelical work with the African girls.

(7) Alphonsine – (shortened to “’Fine”) the deaf and dumb servant, thought the white-robed priest suspicious.  She had served the family for about 30 years - still on the same pay in spite of the rise in the cost of living. Engaged as a cook, she was given subsequently extra duties as chambermaid - sewing maid - children's maid, floor polisher, her duties increasing, as Mme. Rezeau dismissed the other servants.
Fine with her disability had no choice but to accept, but, expressed her respectful enmity for Mme. Rezeau in her own language - a mixture of sounds and signs which Frédie called Finnois.

(8) There are the serfs – the people outside who served them. The men are not entitled to the title of Monsieur and, after the age of 40, are called “Père ………..” - even if they are unmarried, page 24:
(D'abord le père Perrault. (Le titre de père, en Craonnais, est obligatoirement accolé au nom des hommes, même célibataires, qui ont dépassé la quarantaine et n'ont pas droit, de naissance, à s'entendre appeler «monsieur». Il est officiellement employé en chaire.)

The list was:



On the 27th November 1924 the law was laid down in the Rezeau household.

The boys were summoned to a family council by Cropette, their mother's herald, and also by the signal of the ringing of the bell.  Their father, with his wife sitting to his right, announced their new timetable. The settling in period was over and they were now demanding order. Page 25
— Mes enfants, nous vous avons réunis pour vous faire connaître nos décisions en ce qui concerne l'organisation et l'horaire de vos études. La période d'installation est terminée. Nous exigeons maintenant de l'ordre.

(At this point, their father interrupted the lecture to catch a fly.)

(Mme Rézeau intervened to say that she was all in favour of a demanding education to harden them: Page 26. Rien de meilleur pour les aguerrir, rétorqua madame mère. Je suis pour une éducation forte.  She claimed that she had the backing of Alphonsine.  The deaf and dumb servant only recognised her name and on principle made a gesture of disagreement.)


When their father had left the room, Mme. Rezeau detailed her own arrangements.

The priest fully approves but the governess, Mlle.Ernestine Lion, protests that the house is too cold and damp for these arrngements.


Their mother supervised the strict application of these laws and added to them.
From their Christian upbringing they already had a sense of distrust seeing potential sin in all actions. Mme. Rezeau made this suspicion into a dogma.
Page 29 - Nous étions déjà habitués à la mentalité de la méfiance, d'origine sacrée, qui cerne tous les actes et mine les intentions de tout chrétien, ce pécheur en puissance(Latent sinner). Du soupçon, Mme Rezeau fit un dogme.

The prohibition became a veritable network of barbed wire. Some prohibitions were contradictory. They had to empty their toilet buckets in pitch darkness, but not to spill anything and not to make the least noise.

At the beginning Mlle. Lion, the governess was there to speak up in their defence. Mme Rezeau was aware of this and accused her of giving in to the boys, once she turned her back. The governess failed to get any support from Father Trubel who said it was up to Mme. Rezeau how she brought up her children and it wouldn't be easy for him to get a new post if he lost this one.
Page 29:
— Ma bonne demoiselle, comprenez donc! Ni vous ni moi n'en avons pour bien longtemps. Que cette femme élève ses enfants comme elle l'entend, cela ne regarde qu'elle. Nous sommes
payés — et même mal payés — pour dire amen. Pour ma part, je ne puis trouver facilement un autre préceptorat .. .

But the governess loved them and would not resign herself to it. (N.B. Jean's affection for Mlle. Lion).
Page 30. Mais la gouvernante ne se résignait pas: elle nous aimait, cette vieille fille, et c'était bien là le pire grief de notre mère, qui ne l'avait provisoirement conservée à son service que pour donner satisfaction à l'opinion.

Mme. Rezeau awaited the first pretext to sack her. This occurred when Mme. Rezeau, treating Frédie's indigestion forced him to take a spoonful of castor-oil by pinching his nose. When Frédie vomited it on her dressing gown, she slapped him.

Ernestine intervened. Mme. Rezeau accused her of following their grandmother by turning them against her and blames the governess for the disobedience of her sons.

The governess says that, in this case, she must leave her employ at the house.  Mme Rezeau says that she was going to say the same. Once Ernestine is out of the room, Mme. Rezeau gives Frédie two further spoonfuls of castor oil.

The reforms followed. This time there was no solemn meeting. The screw tightened progressively with each plan inspired in the mind of their Mother.
Page 31. Affirmer son autorité chaque jour par une nouvelle vexation devint la seule joie de Mme. Rezeau. Elle sut nous tenir en haleine, nous observer, remarquer et détruire nos moindres plaisirs.

She now began to tell her husband her plans publicly, over dinner, rather than alone with him.  One night she demanded that the children should be confined within the white gates - an area of 300 square yards.
Their father was not in favour of tying the kids up like this and also was indignant when his wife stabbed Jean with her fork to make him keep his hands on the table.
— Tes mains, Brasse-Bouillon! cria Mme Rezeau.
Et, comme je ne les remettais pas assez vite sur la table, un coup de fourchette, dents en avant, vint les ponctuer de quatre points rouges.  
— Avec le dos, Paule! Avec le dos. Cela suffit, gémit papa…………
However, he quickly let her have her way, when his wife showed her anger towards him by switching to the "vous" form in speaking to him,. He also replied in the "vous" form but with him it denoted weariness not anger.
Page 32. Le « vous » décida mon père à céder. Il le lui rendit d'ailleurs, ce qui signifiait chez lui non la colère, mais la lassitude.
Faites comme vous l'entendrez, ma chère.

The sacked governess left like a thief and the children were not allowed to say goodbye.

Part of the second new reform was that the children had to rake and weed the drive. The farmers were amazed to see young gentlemen doing this menial work. The children were profoundly angered. Their Mother watched over them in spite of the cold:-
Page 33. Rendons hommage à sa patience, qui grelottait parfois sous le vent d'ouest, mais s'acharnait aux futilités de la persécution, héroïquement.

Her third new reform made the children wear heavy peasant clogs. For some weeks their father resisted but as always he gave way.
Page 33. Papa résista quelques semaines. Il n'avait pas vu sans déplaisir ses enfants transformés en petits serfs. Sa conception de l'honorabilité en souffrait. Mais, comme toujours, il céda.

Fourth reform - Their mother searched them for money, allowing them only four francs.  She seized their purses and all objects of value - gold neck chains - baptismal cups - they never got them back.

Fifth reform - Their mother put locks on all cupboards. The keys were kept in the English cupboard and the key of this was kept on Mme. Rezeau's bosom.  It was from this time that Jean began to pinch and hoard keys with the fantasy of making master keys.

The children were cold and hungry, (although their youngest brother was more favoured, being rewarded for good behaviour with an occasional gingerbread, which Jean knew to be a present to the children from their great grandma Pluvignec.

As well as a physical cold, there was also a moral cold and hunger which the children felt, page 35:
Déjà, nous avions faim, déjà, nous avions froid. Physiquement. Moralement, surtout. ……….. Un an après la prise du pouvoir par notre mère, nous n'avions plus aucune foi dans la justice des nôtres.

Their grandmother and uncle might have seemed hard at times but they were never unjust. The children had never doubted the excellence of their principles even if the children had observed them themselves with hypocrisy, page 35.
Un an après la prise du pouvoir par notre mère, nous n'avions plus aucune foi dans la justice des nôtres. Grand'- mère, le protonotaire, la gouvernante avaient pu nous paraître durs, quelquefois, mais injustes, jamais. Nous ne doutions pas un instant de l'excellence de leurs principes, même si nous les observions avec hypocrisie. En quelques mois, Mme Rezeau eut ruiné cette créance salutaire.

Children need this respect for their elders if they are to reflect their views. In a few months Mme. Rezeau had destroyed this respect. For the successful upbringing of a child a parent needs this filial piety and at La Belle Angerie "filial piety" was a good laugh.
Page 35. Les enfants ne réfléchissent que comme les miroirs: il leur faut le tain du respect. Tout système d'éducation (tant pis pour ce grand mot!) leur apparaît mal fondé s'il n'embauche pas leur piété filiale. Cette expression, à La Belle Angerie, vaut un ricanement.

An element of comedy was brought into this developing tragedy with the sixth reform their mother introduced. This came when their Mother decided to act as a Mother confessor.  She decided that there should be public family confession daily - This gave her a splendid expedient for getting into the privacy of their venial or other faults, Page 35: 
Quel admirable biais pour entrer, toute casquée, dans l'intimité de nos fautes vénielles ou autres!

To make her case she reminded them of their social role as a leading Catholic family, Page 36:
Nous ne sommes pas pour rien la souche d'où jaillissent tant de défenseurs de la foi, écrivains, prêtres ou religieuses

Such was the familiar talk for the Rezeau family and although M. Rezeau’s religion did not tend to the ecstatic, he liked the mountain climbing image, Page 36:
La foi de notre père n'était pas de celles qui soulèvent les montagnes, mais elle était lourde et encombrante comme le mont Blanc. Des enfants bien encordés pour l'alpinisme mystique, rien ne pouvait lui sembler plus souhaitable.

M. Rezeau was unenthusiastic about open family confession, but once again gave little resistance. A clinching argument put forward by their mother  was that  the Kervazec family, who were their rivals in public esteem as eminent Catholic family in their region, held such family confessions, page 36:
… la confession familiale quotidienne. J'ai entendu dire que les Kervazec la pratiquent depuis longtemps.
Suprême argument! Les Kervazec sont, dans le canton, la famille rivale en sainteté. Ils ont donné un cardinal à la France.

To gain final backing, Mme Rezeau collared Father Trubel about it and he just nodded, which was accepted as approval.  So family confession went ahead.  Jean remembers the practice as something odious.

Marcel was the first to confess - indirectly accusing his eldest brother of taking his book. His mother forgave him.
Page 36, Allez! le bon Dieu, votre Père et moi, nous vous pardonnons.

Jean gave the general vague list that he used to retail to the village priest. Mme. Rezeau demanded precise detail but M. Rezeau intervened.
Frédie said he had been good all day. Mme. Rezeau gave him a punishment of a week without books - for his pride - to teach him to confess frankly.
Marcel used confession daily to betray his brothers.

Frédie, in anger at this penance of being deprived of reading (he was an avid reader), called her “une folle” - a mad woman – and une coche- a female pig He put the two words together to give to her the nick­name they would call her for life.
Page 37. — La folle! La cochonne répétait -il en se déshabillant, si haut que ses injures traversaient la cloison.
Et, tout à coup, contractant ces termes énergiques, il rebaptisa notre mère:
— Folcoche! Saleté de Folcoche!
Nous ne la connaîtrons plus que sous ce nom.

The boys are acting as beaters on a hunting expedition with Perrault and their father and the priest. Their father shoots a hare. Automatically M. Rezeau sings a vulgar drinking song. Remembering the presence of the priest, he apologises.  The priest says people know what a hunter is.
Page 38- On sait ce que c'est qu'un chasseur, répliqua l'autre.
M. Rezeau explains to the priest that he has to use an ancient gun because his wife won't let him spend money on a new one.

Their mother tried to deprive the children of the pleasure of hunting, but had not succeeded.
The hunt was extremely successful. On their return journey, their father with an impressive skill shoots a fox and they return home triumphantly, the father whistling the rest of the vulgar song.

Their enthusiasm falls when they see their Mother waiting menacingly at the house, angry at their being late. She tells Jean, who answers back, he won't go hunting next time.

At this their father explodes. He is still in the great hunter mood and he yells to his wife to shut up.
Page 41. Alors se produisit un événement considérable. Le grand chasseur se campa devant son épouse, les veines de son cou se gonfleront et le tonnerre de Dieu lui sortit de la bouche.
(N.B. How M. Rezeau changes character with the circumstances).

Folcoche did not budge - she reproached him for getting in such a state in front of the children. M. Rezeau regretted his shouting and went off to change.

Mme Rezeau got the children away to wash their hands. She contained herself until she got them on the landing. Then without explanation she launched into the three children - Even Cropette. For the first time in his life, Jean fought back, At this Mme. Rezeau turned on him alone and beat him for a quarter of an hour until she was exhausted.

At supper M. Rezeau could not but notice the bruises - but his cowardice had got the upper hand.
Page 42- Il fronça les sourcils, devint rose. Mais sa lâcheté eut le dessus. Puisque cet enfant ne se plaignait pas, pourquoi rallumer la guerre?
He finds the courage to smile at Jean - at first Jean refuses to smile - staring at him to shame him, but then relents and smiles back. (N.B. The cowardice of Jacques Rezeau)


Two years have now gone by. Two years rigged out in hypocrisy and rags, every hair and every hope clipped short. (Style- N.B. Zeugma)
Page 43. Depuis deux ans, déjà - deux ans! savez-vous ce que c'est? nous vivions affublés d’hypocrisie et de loques, tout cheveu et toute espérance tondus de près.

Although the priest had not expected to stay long, he had been there for two years. He was a poor tutor, and was too keen on the farm girls but Mme. Rezeau appreciated his Pontius Pilate-like approach.

In March he was angrily dismissed by M. Rezeau for putting his hands where he shouldn’t on the eldest daughter of the Huaults.  The boys heard all the detail through the wall.  However, after reprimanding and giving notice to the priest tutor, M. Rezeau became anxious.  He suspects that Father Trubel had done this before and might have been disqualified as a priest.  In this case the masses he had performed for them could be invalid, Page 44:
Il paraît que vous avez essayé de tripoter sa fille aînée. Je me doute maintenant du véritable motif pour lequel vous avez dû quitter votre ordre. Je vous retire l'éducation de mes enfants.
Mais la note comique manquait encore.
— Je me demande si, par hasard, vous ne seriez pas interdit . . . si vos messes étaient valables!

At this Father Trubel burst out laughing.  When he stopped, freed from any need for submission and respect, the priest got everything off his chest. He told M. Rezeau his opinions of their madhouse, the food they served, the stink of the childrens' socks - changed every six weeks - the husband under the rule of Folcoche.
Page 44. Mais oui, mon bon monsieur, je quitte votre maison de fous. Vos haricots rouges commençaient à m'ecoeurer.. et le parfum des chaussettes de vos enfants, ces petites bêtes puantes.. Je vous laisse sous la férule de Folcoche.. Ah! vous ne connaissez pas le surnom que ses fils ont donne a..But M. Rezeau exploded again with orders for the priest to leave at once.

Before his sudden departure, the priest gives Jean a lion’s claw - as he is the only one who deserves it.

Next there occurred the incident of the cupboards. Aunt Torure, a widow without means, made a request to them for a cupboard and two pairs of sheets. Mme. Rezeau would not hear of it. It had been agreed that all the inheritance should go to the eldest son- that is her husband.   -
But M. Rezeau was a decent man and on the quiet he made over to his sister the author’s rights on his mother’s writings.  (N.B. The good side of the character of M. Rezeau)
Page 45. M. Rezeau hésitait. Il était honnête, cet homme. Pour calmer sa conscience, il abandonna, en grand secret, à sa sœur, les droits d'auteur hérités de grand-mère.

Then suddenly their horses started to fall ill and die. The vet said it was glanders. Folcoche had her own viewpoint.  For weeks she investigated, certain that the children had poisoned them and that she could get them sent to a reformatory - but her efforts were in vain - they were innocent - A Citroen replaced the horse-drawn carriage.

And the pious and perfidious routine went on its way again. Page 46
Et le traintrain, pieux et perfide, reprit son cours.

The children were not growing any bigger - all that grew was their hatred.  (In the following paragraphs, Jean pours out the hatred , which the boys felt for their mother.)
Non, la seule chose qui eût grandi en nous, disons-le, c'était un certain sentiment, impossible à mesurer, mais qui eût encombré des kilomètres sur la carte du non-Tendre,* si elle existait. Dans cet ordre d'idées, nous avions atteint le gigantisme.
*( « La carte du Tendre » - The 17th century novelist, Mlle. De Scudéry in her book “Clélie” had drawn a map of the various stages in the course of love. Jean is drawing a map of the opposite emotion of which they experienced a huge measure.)

They wrote V.F. everywhere - Vengeance à Folcoche.

They had a game of outstaring their Mother at dinner.  It was she had prepared the way for this by demanding that they should always look her full in the face. Jean set up a new record of eight minutes. In these minutes , Jean has the sense of facing the viper, which he held as an infant:
Page 47  Je suis terriblement correct. Aucune faille légale dans-mon attitude. Je peux te regarder fixement. Folcoche, c'est mon droit. Je te fixe donc, je te fixe éperdument. Je ne fais que cela de te fixer. Et je te parle en moi. Je te parle et tu ne m'entends pas. Je te dis: «Folcoche! regarde-moi donc», «Folcoche, je te cause!» Alors ton regard se lève de dessus tes nouilles à l'eau, ton regard se lève comme une vipère et se balance, indécis, cherchant l'endroit faible qui n'existe pas. Non, tu ne mordras pas, Folcoche! Les vipères, ça me connaît. Je m'en fous, des vipères.
Folcoche found a pretext for looking away first, instead stabbing Frédie with her fork and drawing blood - provoking another feeble reproach from M. Rezeau- that she should use the back of the fork.

They are now up to Priest number four, just there for the summer holiday period . The previous two did not stay long finding the education in the Rezeau home, "too austere."  Priest number four was a seminarist who had been delighted at first to join such a famous Catholic family, but now finds conditions grim and even misses his seminary, where the custom is, on recreational walks, to take six steps forward and then six steps back.

It was this priest at evening prayers right after the outstaring record who caught hold of Mme. Rezeau when she suddenly stood up, holding her stomach, and then collapsed unconscious.

Jean can recall the incident in detail.  His father was in the middle of the prayer that said that no-one who prayed to the blessed Virgin was left wanting.  Jean found that a joke.  He had prayed to this lady on the strength of this promise and she had done nothing to soften Folcoche, Page 50:
La bonne blague! J'ai tout essayé auprès de cette dame, sur la foi de ces paroles. Elle n'a jamais rien fait pour adoucir Folcoche.

M. Rezeau was frantic with concern for his “petite Paule”, when she fainted. The boys merely look on with interest.

M. Rezeau ran to his car and drove to bring back the doctor.   Mme Rezeau had not regained consciousness, when they returned.  The doctor diagnosed gallstones.

Jean finds it hard to go to sleep. He remembers the sudden death of his grandmother and hopes that God, who made such a bad mistake on that day is going to make up for it now.
Page 51 - Je ne dormirai que très tard. C'est que je me souviens de la mort de grand-mère. Ce désastre avait été très vite consommé. Est-ce que Dieu, qui se trompa si lourdement ce jour-là, aurait l'intention de réparer son erreur?

Folcoche was raised from the dead two days later. Such periods of recovery followed by a relapse are normal with this illness.
(N.B. Style –Bazin’s use of Zeugma.  N.B. also Mme. Rezeau's hard character).
Page 51 - Elle refusa la radio, l'algocoline Zizine, l'eau de Vichy et surtout les doléances.

She insisted that the annual family reception should go ahead as normal.  Every year the Rezeau's had held a big reception at their house, for the notables of the area. It cost 6,000 francs, a quarter of their income, but father thought it necessary.  (N.B. The vain extravagance)
Page 52 - Six mille francs! Avec cette somme, à l'époque, on habillait décemment une famille pendant deux ans. Six mille francs! Le sixième de nos revenus environ.

A complication was that the children were now too old to keep away and yet they had no suitable clothes. Mme. Rezeau acquired therefore one suit and arranged for each of the sons to appear at the reception in turn wearing it.

Priest number four was staggered by this - that they could put on an extravagant reception, while the children had nothing to wear, and he said so to Jean Page 52:
— J'avoue ne rien comprendre aux usages de cette maison, osa-t-il nous dire. Vous dépensez une somme considérable pour donner une fête et vous n'avez rien à vous mettre sur le dos.

Even though Jean agreed, he thought the priest was setting a trap, to get him to say things he would be reproached for at the public confession.
The priest tried to reassure him of his goodwill, but Jean could not accept sentiment or pity.
Page 53. Je n'aime pas la pitié. Je déteste les pleurnicheries. Sous la main de B IV, qui tentait de me caresser les cheveux, je rentrai la tête plus vivement que sous une taloche.

The children found their duties at the reception a terrible chore - making up a foursome at bridge - acting as ball boy at tennis - holding the great-uncle's blanket,

The suit only fitted Jean and Mme. Rezeau put that right by letting his braces down: a moment later his father told him to pull up his trousers.  Folcoche, now on the arm of M. Kervazec, was angry on seeing Jean's trousers readjusted and reproached him for stuffing himself with cake - he hadn't eaten any. M. Kervazec, the nephew of a cardinal joined in this unfair reproach and gave him a sermon on the sin of greed, repeatedly using the word “wicked”. This sickened Jean. Folcoche followed up by calling him a wicked boy and ordering him back to his room

Later, Mme. Rezeau was forced to leave the reception when her illness struck again. N.B. Her self discipline - She went to her room and injected herself. Hanging up her gold lamé dress on a hanger - she put herself to bed.

In sleep she looked softer. With eyes extinguished, the viper had lost its metallic look.  Jean remarks she doesn't look the same woman. M. Rezeau's answer is astonishing.
Page 55. C'est vrai qu'elle est mieux sans masque.

M. Rezeau was no longer as anxious on this second attack. What was important to him was habit. Habit removed his fears. He had fought in the 1914-1918 war and must have been afraid only the first few days before habit took over. Men like M. Rezeau grow accustomed to everything even to death.
Page 55 - L'essentiel, pour lui, se nommait «l'habitude».  Toute nouveauté le trouvait sans défense. Mais cette rechute et les suivantes perdaient toute allure tragique. Mon père, qui avait fait  la guerre, ne dut avoir peur que les premiers jours. Les hommes de  son genre s'accoutument à tout, même à la mort, et surtout à la mort des autres, dès qu'elle fait partie de cette seule vie qu'ils sachent vivre: la vie courante.

By the next day Folcoche was on her feet. Her first victim was the Priest. (Cropette, the tale-teller, had overheard his comments the previous day). He emerged crest fallen and red eyed.     The boys despised him for weeping, and compared him to Folcoche who had injected herself the day before.

Fine has also been told off. She comes out to say in her sign language that she doesn't care a hang.

Jean is summoned to Folcoche. She is smiling. She forgives him for going against her (over the matter of the trousers) - when she gives an order her husband is not entitled to countermand it.
Page 56. En principe, quand je te donne un ordre, rappelle-toi que ton père lui-même n'a pas le droit de le contredire.

When she asked him to betray the priest, Jean said she'd got Cropette for that job. She slaps him hard but he hardly flinches.  Not yet 12 years old, he has hardened himself.

She respects him for this and tells him that even though he hates her, he is the son who is most like her.
Page 57. Tu me détestes, je le sais. Pourtant je vais te dire une chose: il n'y a aucun de mes fils qui me ressemble plus que toi: Allez! Fiche-moi le camp.

The priest was sacked.

Priest V only stuck it 5 days and then made off slamming the doors behind him. He protested to the parish priest - but the latter had too much consideration for the name and the donations of the Rezeau, which kept the church school going. But this priest went to the Archbishop who ordered the priest to intervene.
M. Rezeau was angry when the embarrassed parish priest came with his complaint, broaching the subject of the upbringing of the children, which, he said, was common knowledge   However, when the priest informed him that the Archbishopric had given notice that the Rezeau's indult to have mass said at home was up for renewal, M. Rezeau became worried and conciliatory. He admitted Mme. Rezeau was a difficult character.
Page 58. Ma femme a un caractère difficile, j'en conviens. Veuillez transmettre mes excuses à Monseigneur.

M. Rezeau goes on to explain they can't afford to send their sons to college. The affair is settled when M. Rezeau donates 2,000 francs to the diocese.

The next priest to come as tutor was a member of the order of the Immaculate Mary - his name Baptiste Vadeboncoeur, from Quebec. A stereotype of piety - his speech was full of pious clichés - but he was a good peasant experienced in many sports in fishing and tree climbing.

He accepted everything about their education. He had an immense handkerchief and this seemed to hide reality from him.

Folcoche's health was worsening. The boys had started to grow at long last. Frédie was as tall as she was. She was afraid her control would collapse if she had to go away for the operation of the removal of the gall bladder, which the doctor advised.

Mme. Rezeau stuck it out until 14th July 1927- the day “their” i.e. the common people ’s Republic is celebrated – Page 60
(NB- The Rezeau family’s hostility to democratic government)
Le 14 juillet 1927 — mais oui, elle avait tenu si longtemps! — le 14 juillet, jour anniversaire de «leur» république et fête de la liberté,
The doctor warned that without an operation, her chances were slim but she fought the attack for seven hours before agreeing to go into hospital. She left giving strict orders and threats to husband and children. Her goodbyes were three quick kisses on the forehead like punctuation marks and signs of the cross scratched with the point of her nail.
The children saw her off waving when ordered dry handkerchiefs,

La Belle Angerie seemed empty without her. They were satisfied but not happy. They were disorientated like heathens deprived of their nasty Gods.
Page 61. Nous étions désorientés.  J'imagine assez le désarroi des adorateurs de Moloch ou de Kali, soudain privés de leurs vilains dieux. Nous n'avions rien à mettre à la place du nôtre. La haine, beaucoup plus encore que l'amour, ça occupe.

Their father didn't like responsibility and detested the detail of it. He made a gesture of maintaining discipline but didn't insist. He had become “le vieux” but his mother did not become “la vieille” until ten years later.

That night at dinner there was a moment almost of tenderness when the sun fell on the tapestry of Cupid and Psyche - the family tradition formerly was to exchange the kiss of peace. They did not kiss but in this moment their father must have had memories revived of sweeter days with his sisters and perhaps other girls, one of whom he loved.
Page 62. Non le baiser de paix n'eut pas lieu. Mais le mépris du tendre, pour un instant, devint seulement la pudeur du tendre, Notre Père... Notre père qui étiez si peu sur la terre, quel souvenir ressuscitait en vous? Quelle vision d'une Belle Angerie, peuplée de jeunes filles, vos sœurs, vos amies, parmi lesquelles votre cœur avait peut-être choisi?

The public confession was dropped.  The next day the boys went out of the perimeter- the priest recommended the exercise.

M. Rezeau's migraines became rarer.  The boys joined their father in his insect studies, and he named three new species after each son.  The boys enjoyed fishing and exchanged their catch with the farmers for pots of minced pork.

Mme. Rezeau was no better. After three months she asked to see her children. She protested at the length of Jean's hair but saw she was in no position to insist.

She told them she would be home soon.  The warning made the father sullen, the priest absorbed and the brothers anxious.

Nevertheless their father cheered up enough to go for a walk with them. To their father a walk was the same as a lecture. From his wide reading of scientific works, served by a prodigious memory, he could go on about the different stars and planets- the different kinds of trees – about history and politics. In the latter, he was preparing right minded sons.

His pet target was the Radical leader Herriot, who at their party congress in the Royalist town of Angers had insinuated the right wing parties were financed by the Church Page 66
 La bête noire, l'opprobre de ce temps, le génie malfaisant de la franc-maçonnerie s'appelait M. Herriot, l'homme qui avait eu le toupet de dire, en plein congrès radical tenu par bravade en la bonne ville  blanche d'Angers, que le coffre-fort dans l'Ouest est souvent scellé d'une hostie.

He regarded Radicalism as the serious but detestable political opinion of a rabble of little tradesmen. 
(N.B. Rezeau snobbery) Page 66-
Le radicalisme représentait pour mon père l'opinion sérieuse, mais détestable de la boutiquaillerie française.

To him, the Socialists and the Communists were unmentionable, as they were nothing else but thieves and murderers Page 66-.
Ne parlons pas des communistes, ni même des socialistes: on ne discute pas le bien-fondé  des sentiments politiques que peuvent avoir les voleurs et les assassins. Or, ces gens-là, que sont-ils d'autre?

Le parti de son coeur, M. Rezeau ne le nommait jamais. Depuis sa condamnation par le pape, L'Action Française avait disparu de La Belle Angerie. On n'y lisait plus que La Croix, pù, parfois, le grand-oncle pondait un leader.

He never mentioned his own party "L'Action francaise" - the movement of the extreme right wing Catholics.   Their newspaper had disappeared from the house since the Pope's condemnation and the only newspaper found in the home now was the orthodox Catholic newspaper “la Croix” in which Uncle Rezeau sometimes wrote a leading article.

M Rezeau spoke very correct French with a slight excess of imperfect subjunctives.  He was the champion of everything correct and corrected, of all the views which had been judged safe from the encyclopedic list of censored materials in the Vatican's Index, page 67: (N.B. M. Rezeau’s orthodoxy)
Le bon ton, le bon goût, les bonnes manières, le droit, le droit canon, tous les substantifs précédés de l'adjectif bon ou de l'adverbe bien, tous les jugements rectifiés, tous les imprimatur, tous les nihil obstat de cette encyclopédie du nom qui s'appelle l'Index, toute l'honorable décalcomanie des images d'Epinal trouvaient en lui leur meilleur champion.

He saw the Rezeau to be among the elite of contemporary society, whose role was to apply the brake and safety control to modern thought.

His social analysis was as follows-page 67:
1)The Nobility have betrayed their historic mission by compromises they have made.

2)The Bourgeoisie was split into:


3)The Common People  (to whom exorbitantly the Radicals would give as many rights as to the Rezeau).
Their character: - Common people aroused feelings of disgust in members of the Rezeau elite: Page 67:
…..le peuple, non pas populus, mais plebs,  ce magma grouillant d'existences obscures et désagréablement suantes ... le peuple (à prononcer du bout des lèvres comme «peu» ou même comme «peuh!») le peuple cela se considère comme l'entomologiste étudie la termitière, en faisant des tranchées et des coupes, qui écrabouillent quelques insectes pour le plus grand bien de la science et de l'humanité.
 Of course you had to love them and help them when reasonable - the Catholic charities - the "good day my good fellow" etc. where appropriate - anything else was Bolshevism.
He claimed that the Rezeau were at the forefront of the progress of science, which was studied in order to discover the laws of physics of biology and botany, and drawing from these valid arguments which can be used in the disputations of theology , which is the one and only true science.

Often his speeches ended in a migraine and the family would trot back home while the tawny owls gave out great shrieks of laughter.  (N.B Jean’s contempt for his father’s beliefs.)


Then a new medical complication occurred, putting Mme. Rezeau's life in danger. A telegram notified her husband. He went to Angers to see her in hospital and, killing two birds with one stone, to buy pins for attaching his insect collection.

He came back broken hearted. He couldn't get the pins. He then proceeded to the announcement that their Mother was dying.   She, however did not believe it and had refused the last rites.
The sons are delighted. In a circle they dance and chant Page 70:
Ces trois enfants dénaturés, …………….. , ces trois enfants, voilà soudain qu'ils manifestent un affreux enthousiasme, qu'ils se donnent la main pour une ronde infernale et braillent à qui mieux mieux sur l'air des lampions:
Va crever,
Va crever,
Va crever . . .
Their father peeps in; he hears them but goes away.

But Folcoche after a double ovaryectomy was determined not to die and by sheer will power survived. The boys grew to accept the inevitable, but they had become big boys and their mother would have difficulty in managing them.

Their Aunt, Comtesse Bartolomie, comes to help her brother for a few days and suggests the boys should go to a Jesuit school in spite of Folcoche. She reproaches her brother for having no authority over his wife. M. Rezeau explains that his wife holds the financial strings as she has retained her property in her own name.

M. Rezeau invited his fellow entomologists to the Belle Angerie to settle certain biological questions. One expert by the name of Chadnow from Philadelphia impressed the boys by taking the fleas from hedgehog - another a fat Belgian priest, an expert on crane flies gave them a second mass daily and paid his choir boys 30 sous. From this the boys built up savings to palliate the possible return of Folcoche.

They had been joined by Petit-Jean Barbelivien from one of their tenant farms, who was pretending he wanted to become a priest, in order to scrounge some education. He pinched eggs - Jean poached rabbits to trade for pots of minced pork. All was hidden in the partition wall.
They drew up a declaration of Rights and the four boys the "Cartel des Gosses." (A pun on the left wing political grouping "Cartel des Gauches") signed it.

One day Folcoche discharged herself from hospital and caught the bus home.
Page 76. Revenir seule, mais c'est de la folie, Paule! protesta faiblement papa, aussi blanc que nous.
Folcoche sourit et, avant toute réponse, referma le beurrier.


The first counter attack that Folcoche launched was a failure. When she tried to restore the perimeter; M. Rezeau argued the boys were now young men and with a touch of galanterie added that that was in spite of the youthful appearance that she had managed to preserve.
Page 76. Ce sont presque des jeunes gens. Il faut vous en apercevoir, malgré l'extrême jeunesse que vous avez su conserver.

Her second was to attempt to restore public confession, but this was blocked by the priest.
Mme. Rezeau recognised a coalition formed against her.  However, not being over intelligent she got what she wanted by sheer persistence.
Page 76. Elle n'était point très intelligente et sa forte volonté ne trouvait que progressivement les lumières utiles à sa gouverne.

She persisted and her third move was to oppose the presence of the Barbelivien boy.  The priest again countered, explaining the boy was being prepared for the priesthood.

Her fourth move was to enquire where the pots of minced pork came from. M. Rezeau was surprised to hear of Jean's rabbit catching but as a hunter he was proud of him.

Mme. Rezeau let it drop with a few random slaps which she found had little effect. She had to change tactics and she chose a policy of divide and rule.

Firstly she proposed that Petit-Jean should become the official pupil of the priest. The boy was thus in her power, as his privilege was at her discretion.  He was neutralised, but he had to deal carefully with the boys who could reveal his intention to drop out of the priesthood eventually.

She failed to win over Fine - any promise of a rise or a threat of dismissal mattered not one bit to her,as she knew that she was irreplaceable.  No other maid would last a week under Folcoche.  As well, M. Rezeau knew that if she was sacked, he would face scathing criticism from the family.

Mme Rezeau began to cultivate Cropette, moving him up into Jean's class. But Cropette was a double agent - warning his brothers of Folcoche's searches.

M. Rezeau could now breathe more freely. He confided in his sister that his wife was transformed - although still prickly she was now liveable with:
Page 80. Son opération l'a transformée. Évidemment, elle sera toujours un peu châtaigne sous bogue, mais elle devient vivable.
Pourvu que ça dure! répondait notre tante

Mme. Rezeau was isolated at this period, but she found a way out through her husband. M. Rezeau was invited to the house of the Comte de Poli, whose daughter wanted to get her father cured of a fascination with spiders.

Folcoche arranged for the two elder brothers to accompany M. Rezeau and for the priest to take a holiday.


Folcoche had failed to get their hair cropped before they left. Their father had not approved - also Jean was threatening and M. Rezeau was becoming afraid of the trouble he could cause. (Frédie is now 15 and a half, Jean now 14)

Their mother continued the pointless persecutions - lengthening their clothes - choosing a tie which clashed.  But Jean could stitch well enough to put the clothes right and the boys got their father to object to the ill-matching dress.

They set off.  Papa had smartened himself up - Jean had heard a rumour that the Poli daughter had a soft spot for his father.

They drive through the dreary local countryside, en route to Angers.  There are tilting gates at regular intervals bearing the initials of the landowner, because this is semi-feudal territory, page 83:
La route d'Angers est hideuse. D'interminables haies détruisent l'horizon. Tous les cent mètres, une barrière à bascule, dont les poids sont remplacés par de grosses pierres. Elles portent, peinte en blanc, les initiales du propriétaire, et ces initiales, qui sont souvent les mêmes durant des kilomètres, nous rappellent que nous sommes ici en terre quasi féodale.

As he drives, their father asks if they're homesick. He hums "Where is one happier than in the bosom of the family" then he gives his own reply "Anywhere else!" This is typical of M. Rezeau when he seeks the comradeship of his sons, he overdoes it.
Page 83 Papa sourit et fredonne:

Puis, d'une voix de basse-taille:              
—           Partout ailleurs!             
Pour un homme de goût, c'est un peu patte d'éléphant dans le plat d'épinards. (The idiom means « heavy-handed »)Mais tel sera toujours notre pauvre vieux quand il cherche la camaraderie de ses fils. Il force la note (M. Rezeau’s character)

During the journey, M. Rezeau is satisfying another desire – his passion - for genealogy, He wishes to trace the noble ancestors of the family. Also he wants to look up comrades from the 1914-1918 war, for Rezeau, although he had been declared unfit for military service, he had enlisted himself in 1914, had seen active service, had fought at Verdun, had been wounded and had been awarded the military cross. (M. Rezeau’s very honourable military record)
Page 85.  Monsieur a fait la guerre. Il était réformé au début des hostilités, réformé pour déficience générale, mais un Rezeau, en ce cas-là, s'engage immédiatement et, reconnaissons-le, jamais dans l'intendance. M. Rezeau a donc fait la guerre et en a la croix.
They picnic. The food is too salty - M. Rezeau blames Fine - but both he and the boys understand it to be a dirty trick of Folcoche.

They study the civil registers at Doué-la-Fontaine.
Jean is fascinated to see in these scrawled records, people dead for centuries restored to life.  He is touched by the birth certificate of a Rose Mariette Rezeau, who died at the age of 16, 218 years ago. On her birth certificate her Mother had stuck: a rose petal. Jean steals the petal and treasures it, (comparing that mother with Folcoche).

In the next two days, they went through volumes in other towns. They visit an old war comrade of their father - the Abbe Templerot.  He is a giant of a man.Their father is speechless with emotion on meeting the man who had saved his life by carrying him back to the French lines when he was wounded. Jean is amazed to see the depth of affection.
Page 88. M. Rezeau, qui avait l'air tres ému et nous découvrit un nouvel aspect de sa mentalité. Comment pouvait-il donc refouler pendant des années des affections apparemment si profondes.

The priest is a sociable, merry fellow and there is in his house none of the oppressive religiosity they have been used to. He lavishly wines and dines them.

The house-keeper brings Jean cocoa in bed. He is so unused to these attentions that this event remains a more important date in his life than his first communion.

In explaining why his sons do not drink wine, M. Rezeau implies criticism of his wife.
Page 91. Ma femme, vois-tu, a des conceptions personelles sur l'éducation des enfants.
The priest does not encourage this implied criticism and silently Jean agrees - he believes in an honest frontal attack.

A nobleman they called on failed to invite them to stay the night. However, at the next call on their father's former corporal they again see how adaptable their father is - making himself at home in a humble farmhouse- talking of crops and manures.
(N.B. Aspects of M. Rezeau’s character which are suppressed under the rule of Folcoche)

They find the Conte de Poli senile. Their father who had admired his daughter formerly spends the next week with her.  Jean who is beginning to take an interest in women, finds that her face is not unattractive. M.Rezeau becomes  a different person in her company, but there is nothing distasteful about their relationship.

Jean is bored amid all this comfort and leisure. He misses the conflict with Folcoche.
Page 94. Jouer avec le feu, manier délicatement la vipère, n'était-ce point depuis longtemps ma joie favorite? Folcoche m'était devenue indispensable comme la rente du mutilé qui vit de sa blessure.

Thus out of bravado he wrote to Cropette. The reply told them that the priest had been replaced, Petit-Jean sent to the seminary and that Folcoche had found their hidden stores.

M. Rezeau is indignant to Mlle. de Poli about his wife's unilateral actions - but the next day he finds an interesting insect and the matter goes out of his mind.


They returned by the coast roads. They never had seen the sea before. The family was not in favour of sea bathing. Holidays by the sea were expensive and they had to rub shoulders with the common people. (N.B. The snobbery of the Rezeau family)
Page 94 Chacun sait que sur les plages on est obligé de se commettre plus ou moins avec les boutiquiers enrichis et la canaille des congés payés. Et puis, enfin, ça coûte cher.

Their father took advantage of the return journey to deliver lectures on the history of the towns on marine biology etc.

As they approach home M. Rezeau becomes more the father and less the comrade. He can scent home - as a horse scents its stable.
Page 97. Il sent l'écurie. La fausse camaraderie, qu'il avait cru bon d'adopter au départ, se paternalise de plus en plus.
The boys are also anxious about what awaits them, them,
They had intended to stay the night at the new house of his sister, la baronne de Selle d’Auzelle in La Rochelle but M. Rezeau finds a letter from Folcoche waiting for him there, which makes him decide to go straight home.

Mme. Rezeau and a threatening priest No. VII are there to greet them. (l'abbé Traquet). Mme. Rezeau explains that Vadeboncoeur had been sent to Canada. M. Rezeau accepts this explanation.

Jean accuses Cropette of treachery in front of the priest - who gives him two mighty slaps.  The priest explains that Cropette is innocent. It is Frédie who is to blame.
The next day Mme. Rezeau explains that a smell of bad eggs led her to their hiding place. Frédie as the eldest will be whipped and confined to his room for a month.

M. Rezeau avoids whipping his son and the priest has to do it.   It is Mme. Rezeau who goes out to select from the shrubbery a hazel switch, suitable for putting stripes on Frédie’s backside. Jean is contemptuous of Frédie for howling with pain, Page 101.
Traquet, sans enthousiasme, accepta l'office de bourreau, et nous pûmes entendre des hurlements significatifs du côté de la chambre de Frédie.
— Le salaud! murmurait Cropette avec conviction.
— Frédie ferait mieux de se taire, répliquai-je. Il manque de tenue. Si c'était moi . . .

At night Jean puts a ladder up at Frédie’s window and consults him to raise his morale. Frédie does not want the other two brothers to be implicated so that they can work on M. Rezeau.  Jean pierces a hole in the partition wall so that he can contact Frédie.

Jean's second plan is to break Mme. Folcoche and the priest apart.  He begins by shouting within Folcoche's hearing to a farm girl that the priest had been soft with Frédie and hadn't really hurt him.

Then while the Priest was in the toilet, he confided in a loud voice for him to hear that their mother was glad of the new priest as he was a kind of servant for her.  In Folcoche’s hearing, he praised the priest for being strict but fair.

Jean's third aim was to approach M. Rezeau. The latter was glad that at Frédie's expense he had avoided the worst of the trouble, but he was uneasy in his conscience about the injustice to Frédie.
(N.B. The character of M. Rezeau)

After five days Jean cornered M. Rezeau on one of his walks. Jean had to broach the subject in such a way as to save his father's face. (N.B. Jean's contempt for his weakling of a father).
Page 105. Compréhensif et magnanime, tel est le caractère officiel de la plus grande loque de père que la terre ait portée

His father admits that his wife is not an easy character but says that the boys take after her - especially Jean and are making his life impossible.

Page 106. Je veux bien admettre qu'elle n'est pas toujours d'humeur facile, mais, vous mes enfants, et toi, tout particulièrement, vous avez hérite de son caractère et vous me rendez la vie impossible.

When M. Rezeau says everything was simpler in his day, Jean replies that then it was grandmother.

His father tells him not to try to use him against Mme Rezeau.  The Grandma had been a saint but Jean’s mother, all the same wasn’t a monster.  Jean waits for the sense of “all the same” to sink in.

When Jean puts the question to him, whether they will be able to go to College, M. Rezeau shows his anxiety over his financial problems - he can't afford it. He reveals his resentment at the lack of help from the Pluvignecs. His father did not say this, but Jean recognises that according to the Rezeau’s ideas of family dignity, it would seem dishonourable for M. Rezeau to obtain paid employment.
(N.B. The empty snobbery)
Page 107 Il n'y a que les petites gens qui sont obligés de travailler pour vivre. Cet horrible préjugé, hérité de nos ancêtres nobles, avait encore cours dans la famille, malgré la nécessité où se trouvaient déjà bon nombre des nôtres de monnayer leur activité.

M. Rezeau has the idea that Jean had hoped for, that he will pardon Frédie in three days’ time on his birthday.


M. Rezeau pardoned Frédie in honour of his patron saint.
Folcoche gave Jean the key to free his brother, a sign that she recognised his hand and he was to be the prime victim, Page 108:
— Je préfère que ce soit toi, Brasse-Bouillon, qui aille délivrer ton brillant second.
Cette simple phrase indiquait le changement de cap. On se tournait désormais contre moi, l'ennemi numéro un, contre qui toutes les armes allaient devenir bonnes.   

She changed course. Previously she had acted in the name of justice – there is a new urgency, the children are nearly 16 - 15 - 14 and it will be no longer like that: -
Page 108 - …….  bénéficiant, aux yeux du monde, du préjugé favorable accordé à toutes les mères. Elle se gardait bien de la vengeance gratuite, conservait la forme, mettait en avant tous  les prétextes chrétiens, légaux et sociaux, bref, étayait sa sévérité sur une béquille de justice. Dorénavant, il n'en sera plus ainsi.

She now begins to use lies and deceit. The children may have grown but they are still her children, entitled only to obey and to act as guinea pigs to the fancies of her power.
Page 108, Nous sommes toujours ses enfants, nous sommes donc toujours des enfants, qui n'ont que le droit d'obéir et de servir de cobayes aux fantaisies de sa puissance, à l'exercice de ses prérogatives.

She will prove the strength of her authority and there is now no room for any compromise. From now on civil war will rage in the their home page 108:
On ne peut plus transiger sur rien. La guerre civile ne quittera plus la maison.  

Civil war reigned in the house from then on. In the following week Folcoche made the least trifle into a blazing row.

The priest had now become neutral. Jean cunningly turned him against Mme. Rezeau by suggesting that he was blamed for the rapid consumption of the Communion wine.

Jean wrote to Vadeboncoeur and discovered that Folcoche had, in fact, dismissed him. His father saw the letter but didn't want any bother.
Page 110. Inutile d'en parler à ta mère. Je ne veux pas d'histoires.

The priest was shown the letter and he completely stopped backing Mme. Rezeau.  The civil war went on. She over-salted the soup - she pulled off their buttons and tore their clothes to accuse them.

Jean put bird droppings on her chair out of doors. He damaged her stamps. The children urinated on her flower beds - put disinfectant on her hortensia.

M. Rezeau was being driven frantic by these rows.
Page 112. Pauvre papa  Il ne savait plus que faire ni que dire. Cette femme et ces enfants déchainés ne prêtaient plus à ses migraine- que des oreillers de cris.

When the boys were out on his genealogical outings with their father, they took the opportunity for acts of vandalism in the church - the author agrees that these was detestable behaviour. He explains that this impiety was the corollary of their revolt against their Mother. To this day he is automatically antipathetic to the things that his mother used to favour. He sees the same process in French political life, where Republians have been fiercely anti-clerical for the last hundred years because of the close attachment of the Church with the monarchy, Page 113:
On a généralement la foi de sa mère. Pour nous, qui la détestions, l'impiété devenait un corollaire de la révolte. Dans nos consciences d'enfants, nous réalisions instinctivement le même processus qui a fait des républicains, durant plus d'un siècle, des anticléricaux acharnés, parce que la royauté était essentiellement chrétienne.

The children had their minds turned to the idea of poisoning their mother, when she served up a skate which had gone off but made them eat it. Straight after the meal, they went to the medicine cupboard and Jean stole 100 drops of belladonna to put in his Mother's coffee next day.  However, Mme. Rezeau was immunised against the drug and merely suffered violent diarrhea.

The next opportunity occurred when the children had gone boating, going beyond the limits set by Mme. Rezeau- during this outing Jean had killed a kingfisher by stabbing it with a pin -- to get in training for murder-.  On their return they found Mme. Rezeau waiting for them on the bridge. When she tried to step into the boat, Jean veered so sharply that his mother fell in the water.  The boys lost their oars so that they could not rescue her.

Nevertheless, with indomitable will Mme. Rezeau pulled herself out in spite of weakness left with her by her recent operation.  Jean saw two different women in the water - one an invalid, the other the indomitable Folcoche.
Page 117. ……elles étaient deux dans l'Ommée: la fragile Mme. Rezeau, toute couturée, sans muscles, manquant de souffle, et l'indomptable Folcoche, décidée à vivre et à faire vivre son double.
Frédie suggested giving her a kick, but Jean realized that was going too far.  Folcoche struggles to the bank and, with difficulty, hoists herself out.  She tells them to use their hands as paddles and leaves them, her mind filling with ideas for reprisals.


The punishments followed.  There was to be no more boating.
Although it was regarded as an accident, Folcoche manages to get agreement for Jean to be whipped for his negligence with the rudder. Frédie overhears and warns him but Jean has plans.

The priest comes to carry it out the punishment. Jean has locked himself in his room, with a pencil in his key-hole.  The priest gives up and goes away to tell some-one else.  To his mind, either the punishment is too weak if the incident was deliberate or too strong if it was an accident.

His parents, the priest and Fine try to force the door but see it is barricaded.  Folcoche wants to bring Barbelivien but M. Rezeau afraid of public scandal wants to calm things down.  He tells Jean through the door that he will lift the sanction, and give him a week's detention instead if he opens the door but Folcoche adamantly rejects this compromise.

They go outside and put a ladder to Jean’s window.  In spite of her operation, it is Mme. Rezeau who climbs it. (Jean has covered his window with a mattress). Jean recognises that she has the same ruthless determination that he has.
Page 121, C'est elle qui se paie le luxe d'attaquer, malgré ses coutures et la demi-noyade du jour. Quel tempérament; Je suis assez fier de nous deux.

Jean has blocked the window with a mattress and they leave him for the night. The next morning they bring Barbelivien with a crowbar. The door opens. The room is empty. Jean has left through the window.


At that same time Jean is on the Paris train, smoking and reading a Socialist newspaper.
He is going to demand justice from his Pluvignec grandparents. He thinks the upset - and the fear caused by his disappearance will teach M. Rezeau the need to negotiate with him if he wants to avoid further trouble - But in fact Jean had acted on impulse - the
rationalisation came afterwards.

In his compartment is a big family. The offend Jean by their sentimental show of affection to each other. Jean's sexual curiosity is aroused by the daughter, a girl of his age.  He thinks he breasts are nice but not as big as those of the tenant farmer’s daughters, Bertine Barbelivien  and Madeleine Huault.  But her modest glances start to irritate him and he goes into the corridor, where he has the pleasure of her squeezing past him as she gets off.  Then, he goes up the train looking for other girls,  but can't find any. (N.B Jean’s cynical view of sexual love.)
Page 125, L'amour, comme dit Frédie, si c'est la même chose que l'amour de Dieu dont on nous rabâche les oreilles depuis des années, ca ne doit être encore qu'une fichue blague.

He gets off the train at Montparnasse station- He asks directions on the metro from the ticket collector, and has the social grace not to take offence, when the latter addresses him in the “tu” form.  Jean’s reply is a haughty "Thank you my good man." (N.B. The sense of social superiority of the Rezeau family)
Page 126 — Tu prends la direction Etoile, tu changes à Trocadéro, tu reprends la direction Porte-d'Auteuil, tu descends à Michel-Ange-Auteuil ... Mais pas à Michel-Ange-Molitor, fais attention!

Ce tutoiement est déplacé, mais nous devons avoir beaucoup d'indulgence envers la bonne volonté des petites gens. C'est une tradition familiale, qui, assure M. Rezeau, a fait notre popularité dans le Craonnais. Je lâche un «merci, mon brave!» tellement juste de ton que l'employé du métropolitain en reste médusé, (Frozen with surprise)

Having entered the impressive building where his mother’s family, the Pluvignecs have their apartment.  Jean is interviewed first by the concierge who sits him in her office while she brings the Pluvignec’s valet and a chambermaid - then their butler joins them. They all address him using “monsieur” and its repetition irritates jean, who addresses the butler in a way to assert his rank equal to the Pluvignec’s.
Page 128 –Jean to the butler: — Comment vous appelez-vous, mon ami?
— Félicien Darcoulle, pour servir monsieur .
La déférence de son dos s'accentue. Il a compris. Je chasse de race. (N.B. The class-consciouness)

After another five minutes his grandmother comes down preceded by her dogs. She reproaches him for arriving without notice as they are very busy - but she recognises he acted on impulse. She has him bathed - to his embarrassment by the chambermaid - and gives him a new suit with short pants.
Senator Pluvignec arrives late. He is very tall and has moustaches. He is full of anecdotes about his political friends.

The senator’s mind wanders and the grandparents are distracted as Jean tells his story.  Finally his grandfather cuts Jean short and says that it all amounts to nothing.  He adds that he is too engrossed by his political activities. It is the disadvantage of political life that one has no time for one's own children.
Page 131 - C'est la rançon de notre carrière a nous autres, hommes d'Etat, que cette impuissance ou nous nous trouvons de donner à nos enfants une part des soins que nous réservons a la chose publique,
He gives Jean pocket money. He will stay at their home until his father collects him. He likes Jean.

XIX. M. Rezeau arrived the next day. He reproached Jean for the trouble he had caused, and said that he should have appealed to him if he thought the punishment unjust.
Mme. Pluvignec objected that, in fact, he had ratified it.
Once his grandmother has her back turned, M. Rezeau tells Jean that he has shown him up in front of his in-laws by appealing to them against his paternal authority.

It occurs to Jean that if his son had done what he had done, he would have dragged him home by the hair - as Folcoche would have done.  (N.B. Similarity of character of Jean and Folcoche)
How could this man, who had no will of his own, speak of authority. Jean pitied him but remembered that it was with his blessing that they had suffered the family martyrdom. Page 133. Certes, j'avais bien un peu pitié de lui. Mais il me revint à l'esprit que depuis plusieurs années nous étions martyrisés avec sa permission avec sa bénédiction, avec sa distinguée complaisance.

Jean infuriates his father when he replies that he has rarely exercised this authority.
The Grandmother comes back in, just in time to see this anger and says that Jean must stay until M. Rezeau's anger has worked itself out. She arranges for the maid to take Jean up the Eiffel Tower.

Jean's dawning sexuality surfaces again as he took advantage of the crush of people to surreptitiously explore round about her armpit until she grabbed his wrist, with a smile.

M. Rezeau has regained his good humour that evening, the gentlemen at the museum had shown great interest in his insect and he intends to bequeath them to the museum in his will. (N.B. M. Rezeau’s priority in life)

He makes an attempt to explain to Jean his behaviour in the family: if sometimes he may not appear to do enough to prevent an injustice, it is because he has had to obey superior considerations, to ignore the immediate to save the essential..
Page 134……… j'ai en réalité obéi à des considérations... à des considérations supérieures... Enfin, à des considérations qui méprisent l'immédiat peur sauver l'essentiel.

He says that if Jean sacrificed one tenth of what he sacrifices for the family spirit, their home would become livable in again.  He goes on to make a declaration of the love that he feels for his children.

On a partly spontaneous, partly affected impulse, Jean throws himself in his father's arms. Mme. Pluvignec enters and is confident that they are ready to leave.

Their departure will be in two days’ time but the next day his father takes him around those monuments of Paris linked with historical events sufficiently Catholic and right wing to meet with his approval- He would not go to Les Invalides as the tomb of Napoleon was there and he had persecuted Pope Pius VII

The next day, they set off back home.  Jean is impressed by the sumptuous Pluvignec limousine that drives them to the station.  M. Rezeau complains about the indifference of the Pluvignecs to their family.  They are guzzling their own family wealth. M. Rezeau had to humiliate himself by asking for financial assistance for his children’s children.
As he returns from Paris with Jean, he reveals that he has been given only 5,000 francs- mere charity. He reviews his futile self-abasement  bitterly,  page 136:
 Ce n'est pourtant pas le jour de me plaindre. Ton grand-père m'a signé un chèque de cinq mille francs. Une aumone! J'en suis pour ma courte honte.

His resentment continues. He says his father in law has been waiting for 20 years for political preferment but it has never come, because he does not merit it. He criticises his Pluvignac in-laws for their lack of conviction- (presumably religious conviction, as they are not members of the Spiritual Bourgeoisie).
— Le sénateur attend depuis vingt ans qu'on fasse appel à son dévouement pour un poste de sous-secrétaire d'Etat. Mais nul ne veut de lui. Il n'a que ce qu'il mérite! C'est un homme sans couleur. Les Pluvignec, tu sais bien . . .
Geste tranchant de la paume droite.
— ... n'ont pas de conviction.   

They travel third class and M. Rezeau gets into a political argument with another passenger, a Communist deputy station master,   which hinges on the measures for the redistribution of wealth introduced under the Third Republic.  The issue arises after the ticket inspector has been round and a free pass for the Communist and a problematic concessionary ticket for another passenger have been produced.  The fuss over this leads these two passengers to agree that there are some people who don’t accept the new social laws and at this M.Rezeau interjects that he has to pay for his tickets with just a 30% reduction because of his children.  During the exchanges that follow, M. Rezeau gets expresses his anger at the government’s heavy taxation of those living on private incomes.
Page 138 - — Quand plusieurs générations, dit-il, ont édifié patiemment une fortune et qu'on la voit s'effondrer en quelques années d'une démagogie financière qui s'en prend systématiquement aux porteurs de rentes, il n'y a pas de quoi être fier de son pays!

The debate ended in insults with the Communist accusing M.Rezeau of being a parasite for not working for his living and with M. Rezeau accusing the other of being financed by the Kremlin.

On getting off the train, M. Rezeau tells Jean the tactic he will use to end the family dispute. He will tell Mme. Rezeau that Jean is being pardoned on his birthday, but Jean insists that his father should say that he is removing an unjust punishment.

His father tells Jean that he will never be reasonable.


In his retreat on the outmost branch of the cypress tree Jean is taking stock.

Since his return from Paris, Folcoche has tried to deal with him by making his brothers cut off all communication with him. Jean wonders how she has terrorized them to this extent, but does not care.

She is hoping that left alone and sent to Coventry, Jean will be forced to make a move himself and will make a big mistake allowing his elimination from the community.

Reviewing his situation from the dangerous height of this tree, Jean is now determined to be independent and live his own life.  He sees himself as a fruit which will soon be ripe to fall in the manure heap of his choice and germinate there.
Page 141 Tomber vers cet avenir, maintenant proche, où je pourrai me planter tout seul dans la terre de mon choix, les fumiers de mon choix, les idées de mon choix, les ventres de mon choix. Sur le point de choisir ma façon de pourrir, puisque, pourrir, c'est germer, donc vivre ... Sur le point de choisir ma pourriture vivante, que ce soit l'amour ou que ce soit la haine, comme je suis bien lavé de vent! Comme je suis infiniment pur!

Jean is determined to break away from his Rezeau background, which is a handicap in the modern world and to which he has fortunately formed no attachment..
Page 141. Tu n'es pas ce que tu veux, mais tu seras ce que tu voudras. Tu es né Rezeau dans un siècle ou naitre Rezeau, c'est rendre dix longueurs à ceux qui s'alignent avec toi. Tu es né Rezeau, mais tu ne la resteras pas.

Chance has given him a mother who has turned him against his heritage.
Page 141. Toute la vie, tu vomiras cette enfance, tu la vomiras à la face de Dieu qui a osé tenter sur toi cette expérience.

It will be a life of hatred - when he tries the sweetness of love he will spit it out,
He will be the rebel against everything which the Rezeau stand for.
His mother is declining, he is rising. He will be the punishment of her old age.
Page 142 - Je suis la justice immanente de ton crime, unique dans l'histoire des mères. Je suis ton vivant châtiment, qui te promets, qui te fera une vieillesse unique dans l'histoire de la piété filiale.


Two months go by and Jean’s escapade is still not forgotten. The civil war is still smouldering, under the surface – However it is the summer holidays and this year there is a big distraction. Jean’s father's has a preoccupation even greater than the host of insects that appear in summer.  It is the 25th anniversary of the election of his Uncle, René Rezeau, to the French Academy.  (For René Bazin this anniversary was in 1929.) Jean’s father is determined that the celebrations should take place at his house in the Craonnais as he is the head of the senior branch of the family.

Mme Rezeau is unenthusiastic as they cannot afford this huge expense but her husband has sold off some stocks and shares to finance it and argues that such a great honour for them demands great sacrifice.  Mme Rezeau resigns herself and sounds the call to action:
Page 144 -  « Tant d'honneur exige de courageux sacrifices ». Alors, résignée, Mme Rezeau sonne le branle-bas. 

Frantically they set to work smartening the house and gardens.

Madeleine from the Vergeraie, whom Jean now finds very appetizing comes to say that they will kill a sheep or the occasion and another tenant farmer offers to supply the poultry.  Mme Rezeau comments that a year’s worth of farmers dues which should come to her are going to be spent in one day.

The big day arrives and it is a huge gathering, with every member of the Rezeau family including the most remote and all the relevant dignitaries, civil and religious.  The great man of letters arrives first:
Page 144 Et le grand jour arrive. Le ban et l'arrière-ban de la famille Rezeau ont été convoqués, ainsi que les autorités constituées, civiles et religieuses, de la région.  Le grand homme, le héros de la fête, arrive le premier.

The old man arrives in his old 1920’s car.  He has difficulty moving as his illness is already causing great pain. He takes up his position in the centre of the salon.

Then the common people, including the tenant farmers, arrive bringing gifts for the religious charities, from which Folcoche puts aside a small amount to compensate for her lost dues.

There are three hours of speeches, then a banquet for all.
M. Rezeau is drunk with pride, flitting from group to group. Spotting Jean, he takes his arm and asks him if he understands today what the Rezeau family is. He answers his own question.  "It is charming" he says. Jean says to himself it is charming but behind the times.
Page 147 - — C'est charmant! dit papa, en se caressant la pomme d'Adam, qu'il a aussi proéminente que le nez.
Oui, c'est charmant, c'est désuet, …………

In his mind, Jean lists the objections to the Rezeau way of life:-

  1. All this money spent for glory when they are short of the essentials.

Mais tant d'argent dépensé pour la gloire, alors que nous manquons de nécessaire, est-ce vraiment charmant?

  1. The peasants-treated like serfs in the Twentieth Century.

Mais ces paysans, traités en serfs en plein vingtième, siecle, n'est-ce pas aussi désuet?

  1. The hypocrisy cloaking our disagreements and the aridity of our hearts and minds , our niggling problems and the fanciful notions to which we give credence

Mais cette hypocrisie qui jette la cape sur nos dissensions, notre sécheresse de cœur et d'esprit, nos mites et nos mythes, est-ce encore respectable?

  1. The people are now restless, hardly ever reading the official Catholic newspaper “La Croix”.  They disregard the Vatican censorship of what they can think and read.  They demand justice not pity, what is due to them, not your charity.

Le monde s'agite, il liait plus guère La Croix, il se fout* des index et imprimatur, il réclame la justice et non la pitié, son dû et non vos aumônes.

  1. The balance of population is changing. The ordinary people are swarming into urban areas and depopulating the country districts, where they had lived as slaves and they are turning their backs on the old traditions and ideas to which we cling.

Page 147 ; il peuple les trains de banlieue qui dépeuplent ces campagnes asservies, il ne connaît plus l'orthographe des noms historiques, il pense mal parce qu'il ne pense plus vôtre ……….

  1. And yet it is the people who have the ideas, the vitality and the numbers and we are backward and do not know what is going on.  They are alive and we are dying – Page 147:

et pourtant il pense, il vit, infiniment plus vaste que ce coin de terre isolé par ses haies, il vit, et nous n'en savons rien, nous qui n'avons  même pas la T S. F. pour l'écouter parler, il vit, et nous allons mourir.

  1. Jean recognises that the very existence of his social class is a challenge to the modern world and is very precarious:

Page 147, Mais ma haine à moi devine notre raison d'être, surtout, de ne plus être, elle devine combien cette fête est un défi jeté au siècle


However, in spite of himself he has some affection for parts of this tradition and for some of the members of his social class. Thus he confirms softly to his father, that it is charming adding for himself alone that people would say that it is our swan song
Page 148-. Oui, c'est charmant. On dirait le chant du cygne.


 The family had to make savage economies following the expensive  celebrations for René Rezeau.
Mme. Rezeau, had previously economised on her house-keeping allowance and with wise investment had built up a little nest egg. M. Rezeau to the amusement of the Pluvignec did not manage to invest wisely and his investments were a tenth of what they might have been.

Folcoche was now relaxing the reins, waiting for the opportunity of her final strike. The boys were now looking farther afield as Frédie and Jean were now more interested in girls and liked to meet them in the country lanes, as the girls, sickles on their shoulders went to cut Lucerne for their rabbits. Madeleine of La Vergeraie was their main interest. The fact that they were sons of the landowner, made her more accommodating to them. Page 149
…Frédie et moi, les narines ouvertes, nous guettions les enfants de Marie, les gardeuses de vaches, la petite Bertine et, surtout, Madeleine, de La Vergeraie. Nos prérogatives de fils du patron nous la rendaient accueillante.

The boys as shy as she was, for different reasons, carried her baskets and helped her bring her animals home. Madeleine was not deceived by their sudden attentions.  In fact, she was more advanced than they were.

Prevented by family modesty from any knowledge of sex, Jean had had to work it out by watching two dogs mate.

He was not turned off sex by any sense of sin.  His upbringing had taught him to regard “sin” as something purely arbitrary, used for the sake of discipline and an excuse for punishment.  Page 150-
Je n'éprouvais aucun dégoût d'ordre mystique, aucune appréhension de péché. Le péché? La bonne blague! Un mot, un prétexte à punitions, une entorse au règlement de l'Eglise, aussi arbitraire que le règlement de Folcoche.

The sexual instincts were now very strong and Jean was not content with the coy flirtations of teenagers. This new viper within him had to be strangled and hard luck on Madeleine, because when Jean made up his mind he acted quickly. Page 151
Mais je n'avais pas l'intention de m'éterniser dans cet échange de sourires et de mots à double sens, que les adolescents prodiguent aux adolescentes. Cette nouvelle vipère qui me grouillait dans le corps, il fallait aussi l'étrangler.  Et tant pis pour Madeleine.

He has no concern for her.  Whatever they do together, in a few years’ time she will be a sturdy peasant girl who will find a husband easily for the hard work he can get out of her.

But he lacks confidence - 30 times he goes to the pasture to see Madeleine but in vain.
He reasons with himself that women are receptacles for men's needs Page 152
Ce besoin naturel, car tu le penses tel, est-il donc si gênant de le faire à deux? Tu voulais rester pur, idiot. Est-ce qu'on retient ses glaires, lorsqu'on a envie de cracher? L'hygiène publique a inventé les crachoirs comme Dieu a inventé les femmes. La pureté n'exige pas la rétention, mais l'exutoire.      
Finally he goes to Madeleine in the meadow. He forces a kiss upon her. She asks if he loves her, but he avoids answering. He doesn't love her in the least. He roughly feels her breast and then returns jubilant to Frédie.  At that moment, Mme. Rezeau calls them. Jean feels that his act of sex without the least sentiment is also a blow against his mother. Page 154.               
Tu n'es qu'une femme, et toutes les femmes paieront plus ou moins pour toi. J'exagère? Écouter.. L'homme qui souille une femme souille toujours un peu sa mère. On ne crache pas seulement avec la bouche.  (These unspoken words are addressed to his mother).

One Sunday when Mme. Rezeau is engaged with her stamps, Jean posts Frédie as lookout and waylays Madeleine from church. To Jean she is like a pigeon in the claws of a hawk as he seduces her.


In fact Madeleine had not been a virgin and had made no pretence of being one, although Jean claimed that she had been to Frédie, who was exultant for him.

When Madeleine had asked him afterwards, if he was satisfied, he had felt like slapping her - he wanted to see her weep.

As they went they went their different ways, she told him, in her style, that she felt a lot for him and this he couldn't stand- she had no right with her social status to address him using the familiar “tu” form.
Page 156. Faut croire que j'ai bien de l'amitié pour toi, tu sais!
Ca, non, je ne le supporterai pas d'elle, Ni d'une autre. Mais d'elle surtout! De quel droit me tutoyer?

Proud of his achievement, Jean repairs to the heights of his cypress tree to look down on his inferiors.  He had been first to resist, first to escape, first to give himself a woman.

Frédie slaps him on the back in admiration.  Instinctively, Folcoche realises that she has a full grown male in the family whom she has to get rid of. But, Jean has inherited from her the same acute sense of perception. He is very much his mother's son.   He lists his similarities ‑ Page 157:
Mes trop grandes oreilles, mes cheveux secs, ma galoche de menton, le mépris des faibles, la méfiance envers la bonté, l'horreur du mièvre, l'esprit de contradiction, le goût de la bagarre, de la viande, des fruits et des phrases acides, l'opiniâtre, l'avarice, le culte de ma force et la force de mon culte... Salut, Folcoche! Je suis bien ton fils si je ne suis pas ton enfant.

Frédie and Fine – with her strange sign language- both warn Jean that Mme. Rezeau has been seen in his bedroom.

Jean leaves a note in his hiding places to say "Transferred elsewhere" and bores a hole from the next room to watch her reaction. She finds these notes, is annoyed and goes away.

After Jean returns to his room, Mme. Rezeau re-enters and is surprised to find Jean there. Jean understands then that her intention had been to plant her purse in his room and to accuse him of its theft and get him evicted from his own home.

Jean is in a dilemma how to protect himself.  Finally he decides to facilitate her trap  and ensure that he catches her in the act.  Jean goes out to his thinking tree, to leave her time to plant the purse.

He returns and finds the purse planted.  He immediately confronts her with it, telling her about the spy-hole, lying that his brothers had seen it as well. She is unable to give an explanation.  She pretends that Jean has staged something she doesn’t understand. She asks what he wants and he says he wants to leave her.

She agrees to send him away to the Jesuit school, where he will learn to respect the divine principle of authority. Page 165.:
— Mon garçon, tel est aussi mon désir. Je suis lasse de vos révoltes et, plus particulièrement, des tiennes. Les jésuites se chargeront de vous apprendre à respecter  le  divin principe d'autorité.

She asks him not to present all his made up story to his father and to put an end to the incident.

Five minutes later Jean goes to the meadow and makes love a last time in the open field. Then he tells Madeleine he is leaving. Madeleine is resigned, having known how it would end. But then when she wipes her face with her apron which has been in same cow dung, Jean can’t help laughing insensitively and she breaks down sobbing. Jean runs off.

XXV. Mme. Rezeau who, like Jean, acts quickly once she has made up her mind, persuades her husband to send all three boys to College.

She tries a few final annoyances - trying to place them in different Colleges - making adjustments to the clothes they take in order to humiliate them in the eyes of their classmates – but Jean is as adept with the needle as she is and puts things right.

By the accumulation of these tiny acts, she had hoped to make Jean pay for the sacrifices he was forcing upon her.  Of lesser importance was the sacrifice of her savings but most important was her extensive authority of a short time ago which threatened the join the decline of their financial authority- Page 168-
En gros ou en détail, vous désirez, madame Rezeau, que je vous rembourse le sacrifices consentis sur vos deux fortunes : celle des titres, la plus mince, et celle de votre autorité, naguère considérable, mais qui menace de rejoindre l'autre dans la misère dorée.

Although she has failed for the present, Jean can see from her smile that she is sure of her long-term victory – in ten or twenty years.  For her this was only a temporary setback. Payback would come, not of this time and perhaps not even of this world but in the distant future –Page 169
Je n'ai pas l'intention de vous rembourser, ma mère, mais vous souriez ... Vous me rattraperez toujours. Dans cinq ans, dans dix ans, dans vingt ans. Vous êtes sûre de vous. Qui parle de défaite? Un échec, c'est tout ce que vous avez subi. Allons d'échec en échec jusqu'à la victoire. Au surplus, cette victoire, la vôtre, je suis tenté de dire qu'elle n'est pas de ce temps et même qu'elle n'est pas de ce monde. Vous avez tiré une traite sur l'avenir, une traite à très longue échéance.

She had confirmed the long-term bill that she had set up for him to pay as she searched his trunk for anything he might have helped himself to-  Page 169-In his mind Jean is addressing his mother
Tel est le sens que je dois attribuer à vos propres paroles. Ne m'avez-vous pas dit, en fouillant ma malle pour vous assurer que je n'y avais dissimulé aucun larcin:
- Ne fais pas cette tête de conquérant, mon petit ami. Je te prédis, moi, ta mère, un avenir dont tu n'auras pas le droit d'être fier.                          

In fact her search of his trunk had failed to find the four hundred franc notes he had hidden. Nevertheless she was totally perceptive about the future – with Jean she had forged the weapon which will riddle her with holes - but also the weapon which will finally turn on Jean himself.

Folcoche had suffered a lot to make her children suffer and what she had lay in store for herself mattered less than what lay in store for Jean.  He views the man that she had created:

He now had the totally negative mentality of an anarchist. (the black flag was the emblem widely adopted by anarchists)  His mother had stitched and dyed his black flag. At this tender age he no longer believed in anything or anybody.

All faith seemed a fraud, all authority a scourge, all love he will suspect, discourage and disavow- Page 169.
Toute foi me semble une duperie, toute autorité un fléau, toute tendresse un calcul. Les plus sincères amitiés, les bonnes volontés, les tendresses à venir, je les soupçonnerai, je les découragerai, je les renierai. L'homme doit vivre seul. Aimer, c'est s'abdiquer. Haïr, c'est s'affirmer. Je suis, je vis, j'attaque, je détruis. Je pense; donc je contredis. Toute autre vie menace un peu la mienne.

His destiny is his own - but Folcoche has given it its preface and cheated it by means of his upbringing. So he has to reject all this education she had filled him with. Thus he sees principles as nothing more than immense prejudices, respectability is hypocrisy and the only virtue is force. The power of "me," Number 1, against "love", Number 2, and "God", Number 3, page 170.
Puissance de moi. La véritable puissance 1 de 1, contre la puissance 2 (l'amour)) et la puissance 3 (Dieu défini par les trois directions de l'espace ou par ses trois personnes). Puissance qui n'a pas besoin d'être plusieurs pour être quelque chose. Je répète: puissance de moi. Tel est l'archange qui terrasse le serpent.  

He killed the viper, but still he brandishes a viper throughout life, the viper of hatred - of the trouble maker - of despair - of the man with a taste for misfortune. Thanks to his Mother, he walks through life driving people from him with this viper in his fist Page 171 :
Haine, politique du pire, désespoir ou goût du malheur ! Cette vipère, ta vipère, je la brandis, je la secoue, je m'avance dans la vie avec ce trophée, effarouchant mon public, faisant le vide autour de moi. Merci, ma mère! Je suis celui qui marche, une vipère au poing.