Gabrielle de Bergerac

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

Gabrielle de Bergerac first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly over three issues, between July and September 1869. Its next appearance in book form was when published by Boni and Liveright in New York, 1919.

Gabrielle de Bergerac

Bergerac – the old town

Gabrielle de Bergerac – critical commentary

This is a story from the early part of James’s oeuvre as a writer of stories – or ‘tales’ as he preferred to call them. It is serious, well orchestrated, and deals with some serious political issues as part of its narrative. But it is a story clearly not composed from any elements of personal experience, so much as reading and the world of the active imagination. It has a distinctly Balzacian flavour beneath the rather more romantic story of a vulnerable young woman under siege from an unwanted suitor

It is also, rather unusually for James, set roughly a century prior to its composition, and contains many elements of political and social history. The most striking element of course is the materialist and almost Marxist interpretation of the ruined chateau at Fossy given by Coquelin. He is aware of its former splendour, but realises the social cost at which it has been built and maintained – on the labours of people of the lower classes to which he belongs.

It is his passionate articulation of these beliefs that wins over Gabrielle to admire him so much – even though on the occasion of their visit she presents a different, more romantic interpretation. But she has the honesty to later reveal that she didn’t really believe the case she was making.

And if the story has certain romantic elements – the poor but brave hero; the scheming villain; the vulnerable motherless heroine; the dramatic confrontation in Coquelin’s room – it certainly doesn’t have a romantic outcome. The hero and heroine do eventually marry, but they lose their children in straightened social circumstances in Paris, and are then both executed as Girondistes as part of the revolution.

Study resources

Gabrielle de Bergerac The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon UK

Gabrielle de Bergerac The Complete Works of Henry James – Kindle edition – Amazon US

Gabrielle de Bergerac Complete Stories 1864—1874 – Library of America – Amazon UK

Gabrielle de Bergerac Complete Stories 1864—1874 – Library of America – Amazon US

Gabrielle de Bergerac Gabrielle de Bergerac – read the text of the story on line

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Henry James – Amazon UK

Red button Henry James at Wikipedia – biographical notes, links

Red button Henry James at Mantex – tutorials, biography, study resources

Gabrielle de Bergerac – plot summary

Part I.   The outer narrator receives a painting in lieu of a debt from Baron de Bergerac. It is a portrait of his aunt, who was executed during the French revolution. The Baron recounts his family history, mainly from the point of view of his childhood – which forms the remainder of the narrative.

When he is a child (‘the Chevalier’) the Baron’s father appoints Pierre Coquelin as his tutor. Coquelin is a poor would-be writer who has fought in the French colonies in America and been wounded. He is a follower of Rousseau, and teaches the boy Greek and Roman classics.

The father also has a scheme to marry a somewhat dissolute family friend Viscount Gaston de Treuil to his sister Gabrielle, because neither of them have any money, and it will save the expense of her becoming a spinster, financially dependent on the family. Gabrielle has lived a very sheltered life, but she is attracted to Coquelin who is younger and more romantic than the Viscount.

She is told that the Viscount is waiting to inherit money from an elderly relative before he proposes marriage to her, but he does propose before leaving to curry favour with the relative. The offer of marriage is expressed in a patronising manner, full of self-aggrandisement. Her response is noncommittal. He promises to return in three months with more money. Afterwards they visit Coquelin in his cottage where he shows them some sketches, including a portrait of Gabrielle. She agrees to ‘wait’ for three months before deciding on the Viscount’s offer.

Part II.   The summer period is a countryside idyll for the boy and his tutorOne day they come across Gabrielle and her friend in the house of a dying peasant. The boy realises that Coquelin is in love with his aunt. The tree of them visit a ruined chateau in the region. Coquelin takes a materialist and class-conscious view of its history, whereas Gabrielle argues for a romantic view of its past glories. Then Coquelin climbs to the highest point of the building (at great personal risk) and has difficulty getting down again.

Part III.   Back home, the boy imitates his tutor’s daring, and ends up falling in a river. He becomes ill, and whilst recovering overhears his aunt Gabrielle and Coquelin talk about their love for each other. The relationship is made problematic by their differences in social class. It becomes apparent that she has been deeply moved by his class critique of the ruined chateau, and didn’t really believe in her own argument. Coquelin knows that she is supposed to be ‘waiting’ for the Viscount’s return – though she says she will never marry him. In fact she feels that she cannot marry anyone – so Coquelin decides to leave.

The Viscount arrives, having inherited from his now-deceased relative. But Gabrielle refuses his offer – much to her brother’s anger. The Baron and the Viscount get the story of what has happened out of the young boy, who immediately tells his aunt. They go to the cottage where Coquelin is preparing to leave. The Baron and the Viscount arrive, and there is a violent show down, during which the Viscount attacks Gabrielle with his sword. She immediately reverses her decision of renunciation and announces that she will leave with Coquelin.

The aftermath of the story is that Gabrielle and Coquelin were married, had children (who died) and lived off his painting and writing in Paris. But during the revolution, they were both executed as Girondists

Principal characters
I the un-named outer narrator,
Baron de Bergerac an aristocratic French estate owner
I the narrator, his son (the Chevalier)
Pierre Coquelin the boy’s poor but educated tutor
Viscount Gaston de Treuil pompous friend of the family
Gabrielle de Bergerac the Baron’s unmarried sister

Gabrielle de Bergerac - Henry James portrait

Henry James – portrait by John Singer Sargeant

Further reading


Red button Theodora Bosanquet, Henry James at Work, University of Michigan Press, 2007.

Red button F.W. Dupee, Henry James: Autobiography, Princeton University Press, 1983.

Red button Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life, HarperCollins, 1985.

Red button Philip Horne (ed), Henry James: A Life in Letters, Viking/Allen Lane, 1999.

Red button Henry James, The Letters of Henry James, Adamant Media Corporation, 2001.

Red button Fred Kaplan, Henry James: The Imagination of Genius, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999

Red button F.O. Matthieson (ed), The Notebooks of Henry James, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Critical commentary

Red button Elizabeth Allen, A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James London: Macmillan Press, 1983.

Red button Ian F.A. Bell, Henry James and the Past, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993.

Red button Millicent Bell, Meaning in Henry James, Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 1993.

Red button Harold Bloom (ed), Modern Critical Views: Henry James, Chelsea House Publishers, 1991.

Red button Kirstin Boudreau, Henry James’s Narrative Technique, Macmillan, 2010.

Red button J. Donald Crowley and Richard A. Hocks (eds), The Wings of the Dove, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978.

Red button Victoria Coulson, Henry James, Women and Realism, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Red button Daniel Mark Fogel, A Companion to Henry James Studies, Greenwood Press, 1993.

Red button Virginia C. Fowler, Henry James’s American Girl: The Embroidery on the Canvas, Madison (Wis): University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.

Red button Jonathan Freedman, The Cambridge Companion to Henry James, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Red button Judith Fryer, The Faces of Eve: Women in the Nineteenth Century American Novel, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976

Red button Roger Gard (ed), Henry James: The Critical Heritage, London: Routledge, 1968.

Red button Tessa Hadley, Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Red button Barbara Hardy, Henry James: The Later Writing (Writers & Their Work), Northcote House Publishers, 1996.

Red button Richard A. Hocks, Henry James: A study of the short fiction, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1990.

Red button Donatella Izzo, Portraying the Lady: Technologies of Gender in the Short Stories of Henry James, University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

Red button Colin Meissner, Henry James and the Language of Experience, Cambridge University Press, 2009

Red button John Pearson (ed), The Prefaces of Henry James, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.

Red button Richard Poirer, The Comic Sense of Henry James, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Red button Hugh Stevens, Henry James and Sexuality, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Red button Merle A. Williams, Henry James and the Philosophical Novel, Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Red button Judith Woolf, Henry James: The Major Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Red button Ruth Yeazell (ed), Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays, Longmans, 1994.

Other works by Henry James

Henry James Washington SquareWashington Square (1880) is a superb early short novel, It’s the tale of a young girl whose future happiness is being controlled by her strict authoritarian (but rather witty) father. She is rather reserved, but has a handsome young suitor. However, her father disapproves of him, seeing him as an opportunist and a fortune hunter. There is a battle of wills – all conducted within the confines of their elegant New York town house. Who wins out in the end? You will probably be surprised by the outcome. This is a masterpiece of social commentary, offering a sensitive picture of a young woman’s life.
Henry James Washington Square Buy the book from Amazon UK
Henry James Washington Square Buy the book from Amazon US


Henry James The Aspern PapersThe Aspern Papers (1888) is a psychological drama set in Venice which centres on the tussle for control of a great writer’s correspondence. An elderly lady, ex-lover of the writer, seeks a husband for her daughter. But the potential purchaser of the papers is a dedicated bachelor. Money is also at stake – but of course not discussed overtly. There is a refined battle of wills between them. Who will win in the end? As usual, James keeps the reader guessing. The novella is a masterpiece of subtle narration, with an ironic twist in its outcome. This collection of stories also includes three of his accomplished long short stories – The Private Life, The Middle Years, and The Death of the Lion.
Henry James The Aspern Papers Buy the book from Amazon UK
Henry James The Aspern Papers Buy the book from Amazon US


Henry James The Spoils of PoyntonThe Spoils of Poynton (1896) is a short novel which centres on the contents of a country house, and the question of who is the most desirable person to inherit it via marriage. The owner Mrs Gereth is being forced to leave her home to make way for her son and his greedy and uncultured fiancee. Mrs Gereth develops a subtle plan to take as many of the house’s priceless furnishings with her as possible. But things do not go quite according to plan. There are some very witty social ironies, and a contest of wills which matches nouveau-riche greed against high principles. There’s also a spectacular finale in which nobody wins out.
Henry James The Spoils of Poynton Buy the book from Amazon UK
Henry James The Spoils of Poynton Buy the book from Amazon US

© Roy Johnson 2013

Henry James – web links

Henry James  web links Henry James at Mantex
Biographical notes, study guides, tutorials on the Complete Tales, book reviews. bibliographies, and web links.

Henry James web links The Complete Works
Sixty books in one 13.5 MB Kindle eBook download for £1.92 at The complete novels, stories, travel writing, and prefaces. Also includes his autobiographies, plays, and literary criticism – with illustrations.

Henry James web links The Ladder – a Henry James website
A collection of eTexts of the tales, novels, plays, and prefaces – with links to available free eTexts at Project Gutenberg and elsewhere.

Red button A Hyper-Concordance to the Works
Japanese-based online research tool that locates the use of any word or phrase in context. Find that illusive quotable phrase.

Henry James web links The Henry James Resource Center
A web site with biography, bibliographies, adaptations, archival resources, suggested reading, and recent scholarship.

Henry James web links Online Books Page
A collection of online texts, including novels, stories, travel writing, literary criticism, and letters.

Henry James web links Henry James at Project Gutenberg
A major collection of eTexts, available in a variety of eBook formats.

Henry James web links The Complete Letters
Archive of the complete correspondence (1855-1878) work in progress – published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Henry James web links The Scholar’s Guide to Web Sites
An old-fashioned but major jumpstation – a website of websites and resouces.

Henry James web links Henry James – The Complete Tales
Tutorials on the complete collection of over one hundred tales, novellas, and short stories.

Henry James web links Henry James on the Internet Movie Database
Adaptations of James’s novels and stories for the cinema and television – in various languages. Full details of directors and actors, production features, film reviews, box office, and even quizzes.

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