Monday, 9 September 2013

Balzac's Turgotine

Balzac's Les Chouans contains a famous description of a "Turgotine".  The reference is strictly ironic - this is a miserable delapidated old coach from Paris now relegated to provincial Brittany.

In 1799 the Breton Counter-Revolutionary insurgents plan to attack the stagecoach out of Fougère.....

 Nothing better paints the condition of a country than the state of its social "plant," and thus considered, this vehicle itself deserves honorable mention. Even the Revolution had not been able to abolish it ; indeed, it runs at this very day*. When Turgot bought up the charter which a company had obtained under Louis XVI  for the exclusive right of serving passenger traffic all over the kingdom, and when he established the new enterprise of the so called turgotines, the old coaches of Messieurs de Vousges,  and the widow Lacombe were banished to the provinces.

 One of these wretched vehicles served the traffic between Mayenne and Fougeres. Some feather-headed persons had baptized it antiphrastically a turgotine, either in imitation of Paris or in ridicule of an innovating minister. It was a ramshackle cabriolet on two very high wheels, and in its recesses two pretty stout persons would have had difficulty in ensconcing themselves. The scanty size of the frail trap forbidding heavy loads, and the inside of the coach box being strictly reserved for the use of the mail, travelers, if they had any luggage, were obliged to keep it between their legs, already cramped in a tiny kind of boot shaped like a bellows. 

Its original color and that of its wheels presented an insoluble riddle to travelers. Two leathern curtains, difficult to draw despite their length of service, were intended to protect the sufferers against wind and rain, and the driver, perched on a box like those of the worst Parisian shandrydans, could not help joining in the travelers' conversation from his position between his two-legged and his four-legged victims. 

The whole equipage bore a fantastic likeness to a decrepit old man who has lived through any number of catarrhs and apoplexies, and from whom death seems yet to hold his hand. As it traveled it alternately groaned and creaked, lurching by turns forward and backward like a traveler heavy with sleep, as though it was pulling the other way to the rough action of two Breton ponies who dragged it over a sufficiently rugged road.

* August, 1827, when Balzac, twenty-eight years old, and twenty- eight years after date, wrote "The Chouans" at Fougeres itself ” 
Translator's Note.


English translation and illustrations from:
The Chouans by Honoré de Balzac. A new translation from the French New York : A.L. Burt 1920  quote .p.54-55)

[I liked the word "shandrydans" in this translation. Apparently it means:  
1. a two-wheeled cart or chaise, especially  one with a hood
2. any decrepit old-fashioned conveyance]

Reading La Comedie Humaine - The Chouans [Blog].  
A good summary of the plot, including the attack on the stage coach.

A local guide from Fougères on Balzac's stay there and the locations in the novel.

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