Was Derville Trying to Make Chabert Cry?

Hey guys so I’ve been thinking a lot of the importance of Colonel Chabert and Derville’s relationship. After reading over the other blog posts, I decided I had too much to say just to leave in a comment. A lot of this may seem like it’s arguing towards a particular point, but I’m just trying to understand the Derville’s intent in helping Chabert at all because it seems Derville is already aware of the outcome. Let’s focus on pages 47-52 of the text.

Okay, so it seems that this discussion introduces a very important question in interpreting Colonel Chabert: What is Derville’s role in the text and what does he represent (if anything)? We discussed this shortly during class, as we also discussed whether or not Colonel Chabert, as a character, is supposed to draw sympathy or be seen and accepted as a metaphor. I think we should apply this same question to Derville. While reading, I found the scene in which Colonel Chabert demands that he has the rights to his wife and money incredibly revealing. Derville responds to these demands by stating, “things do not happen this way in the legal world” (47). Ok so how do things work in the legal world?

Derville explains how Chabert’s wife ended up with the majority of Chabert’s fortune after he was declared dead, and he even still refers to Chabert’s wife as “[Chabert’s] widow” (49). How disturbing and yet fitting to refer to the Countess Ferraud as ‘his widow’, suggesting that Chabert is “almost dead” (17) as one of his earlier descriptions declares. I think this is suggesting that Colonel Chabert is dead to society because he no longer ‘fits’ with the current period of restoration, he represents the Napoleonic period, the time France was trying to forget.

Chabert questions the justice system directly when he asks “and you call that justice?” (49). So what is justice in Chabert’s eyes? The narrator describes Chabert as being accustomed to military justice which is “forthright, swift, harsh and almost always fair; this was the only form of justice Chabert knew” (51). The fact that France’s current justice system can be compared to the “forthright”, “fair” justice system Chabert used to know suggests that France’s justice system is quite the opposite, corrupt and immoral (49).

This scene could be the turning point for Chabert in which he realizes that he truly no longer fits into society. The poor man cries because “these difficulties discouraged him. The social and judicial world weighed on his chest like a nightmare” (51). Chabert, an ex-military colonel, was described earlier in the chapter as having “indescribable military calm” (44). What caused him to break down, could it be that “the poor soldier suffered a mortal blow to that power peculiar to man called will” (51)? It seems interesting that Derville tells Chabert that he “must trust [him] entirely, and blindly accept the outcome [he] think[s] is in [Chabert’s] best interests” (52). The words Derville uses here, “must” “entirely”, “blindly”, heavily imply a command or control Derville believes he has over Chabert. Could Derville be suggesting that the law is capable of stripping Chabert of his free will? Is Derville supposed to represent the law or is he just an enforcer of the law?

Am I interpreting this all wrong or do you guys see it to? Is Derville actually trying to help Chabert at all or is he just trying to gain control over the situation by making Chabert feel weak and defenseless? Is Chabert’s loss of control of his emotions a result of acknowledging that he no longer has control of his life? Are we supposed to feel bad for him?

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One Response to Was Derville Trying to Make Chabert Cry?

  1. Charlie says:

    In response to the title off your post, Erin, I think that Derville’s conversation with Chabert from 47-52 does not deliberately attempt to draw tears. In my reading of the passage, I feel that Derville wants to provide his disgruntled client with a reality check, stating that the law isn’t simple and that “there are many elements that would prolong your trial” (48). The lawyer doesn’t seem to degrade Chabert explicitedly, though he does refer to him as “my poor Colonel” (49), and as a whole Derville seeks to reassure Chabert despite his bleak circumstances, saying “take heart, the solution to this business can only be favorable to you” (52). In this way, he seems to act as an informative friend more than a dominant bully. Interestingly enough, Derville continues by saying, “You must trust me entirely, and blindly accept the outcome I think is in your best interests” (52). Here Derville seems to be exerting his control, but he only does so for the sake of promoting Chabert’s best interests: the lawyer does not seem to be motivated by greed, though neither is he willing to fund the case himself (50). When Chabert realizes that he would have to cover the cost of court proceedings, the pressure overcomes him, and he does allow some tears to drip from his face. The expression of despair is not prompted by any malice on Derville’s part. Instead Chabert appears to be fed up with a world that has cruelly turned against him, as de Balzac writes, “The social and judicial world weighed on his chest like a nightmare” (51) With his social prestige lost and the legal system barring him from retrieving his identity, Chabert can receive little help from Derville, who sees his client’s predicament as one which is justified by the law and one which the law can only correct in a slow and expensive process.

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