Colonel Chabert

Colonel Chabert is a short novel by Honoré de Balzac , which appears in its final form in 1844 1 , a first version of the text having appeared in 1832 (under the title The Transaction in the magazine L’Artiste ). It will be again serialized in the literary supplement of the Constitutional in 1847 .

He enters the scenes of the private life of The Human Comedy of which he is one of the leading novels. It is dedicated to Ida du Chasteler , who drew for Balzac the imaginary emblems of the families of La Comédie humaine .

Colonel Chabert , as such, is a moving interlude in the gallery of Balzac portraits , a tribute to the veterans of Napoleon er .

If we do not find this character in The Human Comedy (except a reminder in La Rabouilleuse , where Philippe Bridau evokes the glorious charge of Colonel Chabert at the Battle of Eylau ), many of the protagonists of the novel have a role in the following or previous works, in particular the people of dress of which Derville is a part .

Master Derville, who receives Colonel Chabert and agrees to defend him as well as to help him financially and judicially so that he regains his rights and his identity, is an important lawyer in The Human Comedy . It is found in Une tenebreuse affine , where he succeeds to Master Bordin and where Count Henri de Marsay dies in mysterious circumstances.

Master Derville is also the lawyer of Chabert’s wife, which explains his insistence on avoiding a trial and proposing a transaction . He acquired in Gobseck a great reputation by the way in which he restored the fortune of the Viscountess de Grandlieu. He is also Father Goriot’s solicitor , as well as Jean-Esther van Gobseck’s executor for his niece, Esther Gobseck , in Splendeurs et miseres des courtesis .


The story begins in an attorney’s study where seven clerics make jokes while they work. Then comes an old man: all laugh at him because he wears very old clothes. The old man says he must speak with the boss of the study, Master Derville. The clerics tell him that Master Derville does not see his customers until midnight. In answer to the question of a skipjack , the old man, before going out, declares himself to be Colonel Chabert, who died at the battle of Eylau. Colonel Chabert returns at night to the office of Master Derville, and the lawyer gives him an interview. Chabert then tells his story.

Hyacinthe Chabert , foundling, earned his stripes colonel in the Imperial Guard by participating in the Egyptian expedition of Napoleon I er . He married Rose Chapotel, a girl of joywhom he installed in a luxury mansion.

During the battle of Eylau , in 1807, wounded by participating in the monumental charge given by Joachim Murat – which forces the enemy to retire -, he is declared dead. But, buried under a mountain of corpses, he remained alive.

The colonel, however, succeeded in having his identity recognized on the other side of the Rhine and, after long detours, returned to Paris in 1817 to discover that Rose Chapotel, remarried to a man eager for power, with whom she had two children, carried now the name of ” Countess Ferraud”. It has also liquidated all the property of Colonel Chabert, minimizing his succession.

The colonel’s fortune was distributed to his wife, the tax authorities and the Parisian hospitals . But Napoleon gave the taxman the share of the tax, allowing him to start a new life during the Restoration and reach a high social position. She never answered the colonel’s letters and, when she learns that he is alive, refuses to recognize him, accusing him of being an impostor.

” – Do not touch me ! exclaimed the colonel. “

Despite the improbable nature of the “old carrick” affair (nickname given to Chabert by the clerks of the study, the name of the large frock coat he wears), Master Derville agrees to take care of Colonel Chabert .

Chabert would like to find his property, his rank and his wife. But the colonel’s wife refuses to recognize her former husband. She drew a huge fortune from her disappearance, and it was for her fortune that Count Ferraud, of old nobility, emigrated during the Terror , married her. The count returned to France without a sou; in 1808 he refused to serve Napoleon. But he is part of high society and, after the Restoration, he has regained his rank.

Rose Chapotel fears losing her rank, her fortune and her husband. But after a meeting in the study of Master Derville, who has studied the case well, the Countess admits that the colonel is not an impostor. Derville advises Chabert not to seize justice and accept a transaction. The old man is quite ready to accept this transaction with the countess who earns her trust. He leaves with the intendant of the Countess, Delbecq, to sign an act in which he admits that he is an intriguer. Rose Chapotel tries to play her seduction with her ex-husband, whom she coaxes shamefully. But the colonel realizes in time that he was deceived and tells his wife that he despises her and gives up claiming her due.

In spite of the support of Master Derville, he renounces all dishonorable transactions and disappears to take refuge in the Hospice of Bicêtre , where he becomes the anonymous number 164, seventh hall. Encountering, a few years later, the man rendered unrecognizable by misery, Derville exclaims: “What a destiny! Out of the hospice of the “foundlings”, he returned to die at the hospital of the “Old Age”, having, in the meantime, helped Napoleon to conquer Egypt and Europe . ” Derville decides to leave Paris, disgusted by the horror and misery it is facing.


  • Hyacinthe Chabert , main character. He is a colonel officially dead at the Battle of Eylau . Wishing to visit his wife more regularly, Rose Ferraud, she ended up losing him.
  • Rose Ferraud , née Chapotel, wife of Hyacinthe Chabert , but also of Count Ferraud, remarried after the alleged death of the colonel. She is assisted by former lawyer Delbecq.
  • Derville , confessed, appearing in several other books of The Human Comedy ( Gobseck , Splendors and Miseries of the Courtesans ). He is the lawyer of Rose Ferraud. He will none the less support Colonel Chabert.
  • Delbecq , former solicitor. He assists Countess Rose Ferraud in her various operations.


Balzac is inspired by the real stories that have happened to some of Napoleon’s soldiers: taking as model for Chabert the great horseman Jean d’Hautpoul , who died of his wounds in Eylau, he at the same time relates the story of his relative Alphonse Henri d Hautpoul , who was left for dead at the Battle of Arapiles 2 .

Theatrical adaptations

  • 1832 : Chabert , contemporary history in 2 acts, mixed with songs, Jacques Arago and Louis Lurine , Paris, Théâtre du Vaudeville ( 2 July ).
  • 1852 : Colonel Chabert, or the wife with two husbands , drama in 5 acts of Paul Faulquemont and Adolphe Favre , Paris, Beaumarchais Theater .
  • 1978 : Colonel Chabert ( Honoré de Balzac ), directed by Pierre Sabbagh , At the theater tonight .
  • 1998 : Ball show at Balzac , creation of Pierrette Dupoyet at the Avignon Festival (evocation of father Goriot , Vautrin , Rastignac , Eugénie Grandet …). Show played in Ukraine in 2000.

Adaptations to the cinema

  • 1911: Colonel Chabert . La France. Director: André Calmettes and Henri Pouctal .
  • 1920: Colonel Chabert ( Il Colonnello Chabert ). Italy. Director: Carmine Gallone . Interpretation: Charles Le Bargy , Rita Pergament.
  • 1932: An unnamed man ( Mensch Ohne Namen ). Germany. Real. : Gustav Ucicky , adaptation by Robert Liebman . Interpretation: Werner Krauss (German version) or Firmin Gémier (French version), Mathias Wieman , Hans Brausewetter and Helene Thimig.
  • 1943: Colonel Chabert of René Le Hénaff .
  • 1994: Colonel Chabert of Yves Angelo .


  1. ↑ Stéphane Vachon, Colonel Chabert : “The work takes its final title, the chapter division has disappeared” ( see text  [ archive ] ).
  2. ↑ Jean-Paul Kauffmann , Overseas Land: The journey to Eylau , The Equator,, 279 p. ( ISBN  9782849904367 , read online  [ archive ] )


  • Max Andreoli, “Reading and cinema: the film about Colonel Chabert ,” The Year of Balzac , 1996, o 17, p.  13-22 .
  • Max Andreoli, “Literature and cinema: the third death Hyacinthe Chabert,” The Year of Balzac , 1997, o 18, p.  325-357 .
  • (pt) Silvana Vieira da Silva Amorim, ” As Covas Chabert ” Itinerários 1998, o 12, p.  365-372 .
  • Anne-Marie Baron, “Balzac cinema: Colonel Chabert of Yves Angelo,” The Year of Balzac , 1994, o 15, p.  512-514 .
  • Patrick Berthier, “Folbert, Chabert, Falbert? ” The Year of Balzac , 1987 op.  394-398 .
  • (in) Peter Brooks, ” Narrative and Transaction Transference (Unburying Colonel Chabert )” Novel , winter 1982 o 15 flight.  2, p.  101-110 .
  • (in) RC Dale, ” Colonel Chabert entre Gothicism and Naturalism ,” The Creator Spirit , Spring 1967 o 7, p.  11-16 .
  • Jean-Louis Dega “Reminiscences in the Tarn Colonel Chabert Balzac and Hautpoul,” in Journal of the Tarn , o 155, Fall 1994, p.  455-464 .
  • Aude Déruelle comments Colonel Chabert , Gallimard, coll. “Foliothèque”, 2007.
  • Isabelle Durand-Le Guern, “Three Romantics facing the story: Stendhal, Dumas, Balzac”, Stendhal, Balzac, Dumas. A romantic story? , Toulouse, PU du Mirail, 2006, p.  251-264 .
  • Caroline Eades, ” Colonel Chabert : romantic narrative and filmic narratives,” The Year of Balzac , 1995, o 16, p.  331-348 .
  • (in) Alexander Fischler, ” Fortune in Colonel Chabert ,” Studies in Romanticism , 1969 op.  65-77 .
  • (in) Graham Good, ” Colonel Chabert : A Masquerade with Documents ,” French Review , May 1969, o 42, vol.  6, p.  846-856 .
  • (de) Joachim Küpper, Balzac und der Real Effect: Eine Untersuchung der anhand Textstufen of “Colonel Chabert” und the ” Curé de village “ , Amsterdam BR Grüner 1986 ( ISBN  978-90-6032-213-0 ) .
  • JH Mazaheri, “The vision of the war in Colonel Chabert ,” Romance Notes , spring 2004, o 44, vol.  3, p.  317-325 .
  • (in) Michael Lastinger, ” The CAPital Letter: Balzac’s Le Colonel Chabert and the Names of a Rose ” Nineteenth-Century French Studies , Fall 2001-Winter 2002, o 30, vol.  1-2, p.  39-57 .
  • (in) Alice J. Strange, ” The Cinematic Survival of Balzac’s Colonel Chabert ,” Publications of the Missouri Philological Association , 1996, o 21, p.  32-37 .
  • (in) Sandy Petrey, ” The Reality of Representation: Between Marx and Balzac ,” Critical Inquiry , Spring 1988, o 14, vol.  3, p.  448-468 .
  • Lè-Hòng Sâm, ” Chabert , possible mirror of all times and all countries”, Genesis of the novel. Balzac and Sand , Amsterdam, Rodopi, 2004, p.  119-129 .
  • (in) Eileen B. Sivert, ” Who’s Who: No Characters in Colonel Chabert ,” General Discussion , May 1988, o 13, vol.  2, p.  217-228 .
  • (in) Edward C. Smith, “The” Case “of Honoré de Balzac’s Le Colonel Chabert : Vagrancy and National Amnesia as Depicted in The Hénaff’s 1943 movie,” III, The Image of the Hero in Literature, Media, and Society , Pueblo , Colorado State University, 2004, p.  32-35 .
  • (in) Ginette Vincendeau, “Unsettling Memories”, Sight and Sound , July 1995 o 5, vol.  7, p.  30-32 .

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