Title: Colonel Chabert

Photographer: Louis Jacque Mandé Daguerre
Author: Honoré de Balzac
Publisher: New Directions
Designer: Sylvia Frezzolini Severance


Image Title: Parisian Boulevard 1839 (detail)
Photo Genre: Daguerreotype
Book Genre: Novel

Honoré de Balzac and Louis Jacque Mandé Daguerre were countrymen and contemporaries; They knew each other and walked the streets of Paris at the same time. Daguerre was born twelve years earlier and lived almost a year longer. Daguerre was, of course, one of the inventors of photography, while Balzac may be called one of the fathers of the modern novel.
Le Colonel Chabert, the main character in Balzac's eponymous novel, is mistakenly thought to have been killed in battle. After resurrecting himself from under a mound of corpses, he makes his way to Paris, only to be 'buried' again, this time beneath the sea of living beings who populate this growing metropolis.
Daguerre made this early image, one of photography's first, in 1839, seven years after the publication of Colonel Chabert. One may imagine the stoic colonel wandering among the crowds on this tree-lined boulevard, except that in Daguerre's image, the streets are virtually empty... or are they? In fact, there were almost certainly pedestrians, wagons, coaches and carts on the street that day; the exposure, however, was so long that nothing in motion could be recorded. The only sign of life can be found in the gentleman who has stood still long enough to get his boots polished. KB

To view the entire Daguerreotype, click on 'Point of Interest' in the upper right of the page.