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Madame Aubain had married a handsome but penniless young man, who had died at the beginning of 1809, leaving her with two very young children and a mountain of debts. (1.3)
You can't buy me love, but love sure can buy us some problems. Madame Aubain loses all of her family's fortune due to her decision to marry a poor and, it turns out, short-lived man. The debt he leaves her with determines her lifestyle for the rest of her life. Talk about unfair.
So she sold her properties, apart from two farms, one at Toucques and the other at Geffosses, the income from which amounted to no more than 5,000 francs, and moved from her house in Saint-Melaine to another, less expensive one which had belonged to her ancestors, located behind the covered market. (1.3)
It's clear that Madame Aubain used to be Scrooge McDuck-style rich. She sells everything and still has two farms left. She also had to move out of her estate and into town (gasp). It might not seem so bad, but for her it represents a long fall.
The wall facing [the desk] was covered in pen drawings, gouache landscapes and Audran prints, souvenirs of a better time and a vanished luxury. (1.7)
Madame Aubain attempts to maintain her wealthy lifestyle by decorating her little house as though it were the mansion she used to live in. The "souvenirs" aren't from vacation; they're from a past life. It's like wealth is a destination, and unfortunately Madame Aubain was only visiting.
Being thrifty, she would eat slowly, and pick up crumbs from the table with her fingers to save bread from her twelve-pound loaf, which was baked specially for her and which lasted her twenty days. (1.6)
Our dear Félicité, though, is another story. Rather than being accustomed to the finer things, she's used to poverty and sacrifice. Can you imagine eating only one loaf of bread for twenty days? The stark contrast between her lifestyle and the place she lives just makes the lack of wealth that much grimmer.
She was standing modestly on the sidelines when a prosperous-looking young man, who had been leaning with his elbows on the shaft of a tipcart, came up to her and asked her to dance. He bought her cider, coffee, a buckwheat pancake, a scarf, and, assuming that she had guessed his intention, offered to walk her home. On the edge of a field of oats, he suddenly threw her to the ground. She took fright and started screaming. He ran off. (2.3)
Théodore, that "prosperous-looking young man," tries to use his wealth to have his way with Félicité. He thinks that by dressing fancy and buying her things he should be able to do whatever he wants with her body. Good thing she ran off screaming, though the whole encounter shows that wealth gives people certain entitlements that aren't fair to everyone around them.
Soon he admitted an inconvenient fact: the previous year, his parents had paid a man to do his military service for him. But they could still come for him any day, and the idea terrified him. (2.10)
Whoa. Not only does Teddy use his family money to try to get his girls, he also uses it to get out of doing his military service. It's a very common practice (check out our own U.S. history if you think this sounds crazy unfair).
In order to make sure that he would not be conscripted, Théodore had married a very rich old woman named Madame Lehoussais in Toucques. (2.14)
Once again, wealth saves the wealthy. Unlike Madame Aubain, who married a poor guy she loved and ended up poor herself, Théodore marries an old, rich woman, leaving the woman he loves behind. It might save his life, since his sugar mama can afford to pay to get him out of duty.
From time to time, Madame Aubain would receive a visit from the Marquis de Gremanville, an uncle of hers who had been ruined by crooks and who lived at Falaise on what little remained of his land. (2.22)
Talk about decadence. Madame Aubain sells off all her family's properties, and her uncle has had all of his swindled out from under him. They're a family that holds on to the memory of their wealth, but in the present they're actually pretty poor. (Why do you think the uncle comes around at lunchtime, hm?)
As he managed Madame's properties, he would closet himself with her in Monsieur's study for hours on end. (2.24)
Madame and Monsieur Bourais had lots of private meetings where he was supposedly helping her to manage her wealth, but the narrator's tongue-in-cheek description make us wonder whether there isn't some hanky-panky happening alongside the cha-chings. After all, it's not like Madame Aubain has that much money left to being with.
Ten days later—the time it had taken for them to come running from Besançon—the heirs arrived. The daughter-in-law searched in the drawers, chose some pieces of furniture, sold the others, then they went back to the Registration Service. (4.43)
Once Madame Aubain dies, her son and daughter-in-law come running. Not to pay their last respects, oh, no. It's to secure their inheritance. Money seems to be all they really care about, and since there isn't much of it Madame Aubain's way, that might explain why it took them ten days to get there.
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