Anastasia and Le Colonel Chabert

Le colonel Chabert, 1994, trailer

Le Colonel Chabert is an 1832 novella by French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac. Colonel Chabert is held in high esteem by Napoleon Bonaparte. After being severely wounded in the Battle of Eylau (1807), Chabert is recorded as dead and buried with other French casualties. However, he survives and after extricating himself from his own grave is nursed back to health by local peasants. It takes several years for him to recover. Returning to Paris he discovers his widow has married the social climber Count Ferraud, and has liquidated all of Chabert’s belongings. Seeking to regain his name and monies that were wrongly given away as inheritance, he hires Monsieur Derville, an attorney, to win back his money and his honor. [1]

Colonel Chabert suffers a situation similar to that of Anna Anderson, who claimed to be the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia, and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra. Like Colonel Chabert, Anna/Anastasia seemed to have returned to life after being recorded as dead. On February 27, 1920, Anna/Anastasia attempted to take her own life in Berlin by jumping into the Landwehr Canal. She was rescued and taken to a mental hospital. Confined there, “Anna Anderson”, began to claim she was Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, supposed to be already dead due to a fabled July 17, 1918 “mass execution.” (Background: “Strange Case of Anna Anderson”, Ersjdamoo’s Blog, September 14, 2014.)

“HULLO! There is that old Box-coat again!” said one of the clerks as he looked out a window of the office of Monsieur Derville.

“What do you think of that for a cracked pot?” said another clerk, as Colonel Chabert entered the office. “He looks as if he had been buried and dug up again.”

“Monsieur,” said the head clerk, “will you have the kindness to leave your name, so that M. Derville may know…”

“Chabert.”

“The Colonel who was killed at Eylau?” asked another clerk.

“The same, monsieur,” replied the good man.

And there begins a most strange case, in the Balzac novella, reminiscent of the strange case of Anna Anderson. In seeming mockery, the young “bright boy” clerks inform Colonel Chabert he had best return around one o’clock in the morning to see the lawyer, Monsieur Derville.

But in fact Derville is accustomed to conducting trial research at his office beginning around one A.M. So Colonel Chabert arrives again at the appointed time and does succeed in gaining an audience with the lawyer.

“Monsieur,” said Derville, “to whom have I the honor of speaking?”

“To Colonel Chabert.”

“Which?”

“He who was killed at Eylau,” replied the old man.

Chabert then explains how he had been mistaken for dead and buried alive in a mass grave. Recovering consciousness in the ghastly circumstance, he managed to dig his way out. (Enough air had been available because the corpses had been tossed willy-nilly into the mass grave.) Barely alive, Chabert had been nursed for months by a peasant woman and her husband. Thereafter he had been admitted to a hospital at Heilsberg for more months of treatment. A surgeon at the hospital named Sparchmann took an interest in his patient. He, Chabert told the lawyer Derville, “signed a deposition, drawn up in the legal form of his country, giving an account of the miraculous way in which I had escaped from the trench dug for the dead” as well as corollary matters.

Finally released from the hospital, Colonel Chabert tried to tell people who he was, but they would ridicule him. “For a long time that laughter,” Chabert explained to Derville, “those doubts, used to put me into rages which did me harm, and which even led to my being locked up at Stuttgart as a madman.”

“At the end of two years’ detention, which I was compelled to submit to, after hearing my keepers say a thousand times, ‘Here is a poor man who thinks he is Colonel Chabert’ to people who would reply, ‘Poor fellow!’ I became convinced of the impossibility of my own adventure. I grew melancholy, resigned, and quiet, and gave up calling myself Colonel Chabert, in order to get out of my prison, and see France once more.”

Amazingly (for a lawyer), Derville shows some compassion. The lawyer is intrigued by the case and even arranges a small stipend, to be provided every 10 days, so that Chabert can at least maintain himself in threadbare respectability while Derville further investigates matters. Derville even loans the 10 gold pieces needed to procure a copy of the deposition signed by the surgeon Sparchmann.

“The young lawyer’s words were as a miracle to this man, for ten years repudiated by his wife, by justice, by the whole social creation. To find in a lawyer’s office the ten gold pieces which had so long been refused him by so many people, and in so many ways!”

Once, Colonel Chabert had had a sort of father, the Emperor Napoleon. “Ah! if he were but here, the dear man! If he could see his Chabert, as he used to call me, in the state in which I am now, he would be in a rage! What is to be done? Our sun is set, and we are all out in the cold now,” the Colonel sighs.

Derville sat in silence, studying his client. “It is a serious business,” he said at length, mechanically. “Even granting the genuineness of the documents to be procured from Heilsberg, it is not proved to me that we can at once win our case. It must go before three tribunals in succession. I must think such a matter over with a clear head; it is quite exceptional.”

“We must perhaps compromise,” added the lawyer.

“Compromise!” echoed Colonel Chabert. “Am I dead, or am I alive?”

The Colonel, however, was overwhelmingly grateful to Derville. After Chabert had left the office, Derville discussed the strange case with an underling. “Boucard,” said Derville to his head clerk, “I have just listened to a tale that may cost me five and twenty louis. If I am robbed, I shall not regret the money, for I shall have seen the most consummate actor of the day.” [2]

——- Sources ——-
[1] “Colonel Chabert (novel)”, Wikipedia, September 27, 2014
[2] Le Colonel Chabert, published in, Delphi Works of Honore de Balzac with the Complete Human Comedy (Illustrated), by Honoré de Balzac. Available as a Kindle e-book.

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About ersjdamoo

Editor of Conspiracy Nation, later renamed Melchizedek Communique. Close associate of the late Sherman H. Skolnick. Jack of all trades, master of none. Sagittarius, with Sagittarius rising. I'm not a bum, I'm a philosopher.
This entry was posted in Anna Anderson, Balzac, Romanov family. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Anastasia and Le Colonel Chabert

  1. Pingback: Anastasia "Recalled To Life" | Ersjdamoo's Blog

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