The Good Colonel
What does a man of honor do in times of great dishonor and greed? How does a man of courage exist when these qualities are despised, when ruthless corruption and money buy social status and power, when society is bullied by corrupt lawyers who will all but sell their souls for monetary gain? The man is Colonel Chabert, a renowned Napoleonic War veteran in Honore’ De Balzac’s book Colonel Chabert. The time is early nineteenth century in Restoration France.
Once Colonel Chabert regains his wits and his health after being mistaken for dead, he decides to nullify his death decree in France and regain his property and name. As it would turn out however, a dead soldier had no place in society. The only people who would help the old Colonel would be the dirt poor and fellow former soldiers of the Empire. The poor Colonel’s sufferings are similar but surpass that of Odysseus. While they both wandered for ten years, Odysseus’ dear Penelope stayed true to him all the while. Chabert’s wife did not. She sent his letters away as fake and accused him to be an imposter. She owed every thing she was to this man. She was nothing before marrying Chabert just as he now was nothing. Did she return the favor to the Colonel and raise him from the streets as he had her? No, instead she took advantage of the lands and money left her by her husband to marry into the nobility. Here Balzac does a good job of portraying the lengths people would go to gain status during this time.
These lower class soldiers such as Chabert and his former sergeant Boutin, who is now also an undesirable, were the work horse for which The Republic used to destroy the French feudal system and establish a new order. They were now condemned to the graveyards of Europe and the ghettos of Paris. “I’ve been buried beneath the dead, but now I’m buried beneath the living; beneath certificates, facts- the whole society would rather have me buried underground!” (Balzac 26-27) Balzac does a...