The action takes place immediately after the establishment of the July Monarchy.
Nineteen-year-old Opac Dumont, the son of a small provincial official, after receiving the title of bachelor, arrives in Paris. Parents deny themselves everything in order to provide the son with decent content and give him the opportunity to get into people.
Opac goes to the faculty of law, quickly feels disgust for the law, but is not going to engage in another science, because he believes that only the profession of a lawyer is a reliable step on the way to fame. Opac is beautiful, holds elegantly and at ease, but “not always in his clothes and manners shows an impeccable taste.” One of his friends claims that he “poses even before the flies.”
Opac meets Teofil, a medical student, the son of the Count de Monde. Horace flattered friendship with a young aristocrat, especially since Theophile often lends him money. However, he is disappointed that the friend of Teofil Eugenie is just a grisette. Even more surprised he friendship Theophile with a student-Brawler Jean Laravinerom, the owner of “husky voice, torn in the first days of August 1830 singing” La Marseillaise “, and the son of a village cobbler Paul Arsene. A talented artist, Paul is forced to abandon painting and go to work Garzon in a cafe to feed his family, which makes Opac even more despicable.
Paul has long, since childhood, secretly in love with the beautiful Mrs. Poisson, the wife of the owner of the cafe, where Theophile and his friends often meet. But Mrs. Poisson is actually a worker Marta, who was born in the same town, on the same street as Paul Arsen. At one time the traveling salesman Poisson seduced her, took him to Paris, but did not marry her, which does not prevent him from being jealous and turning Martha’s life into hell. Unable to withstand, she runs away from the hated lover, finds a temporary shelter with Theophilus and Eugene, and then, settling in the next apartment with Eugenie opens a sewing workshop. Marta does not suspect that Paul through Eugenie secretly supports her with money so that she does not need anything.
Opac decides to become a writer. He is ready to sketch several novels, a poem, a ballad, a vaudeville and even a political pamphlet. But writing is also work, and Opac does not like to work. Broken by his failures, he spent days on the balcony of Theophilus, smoking a pipe and dreaming of great love.
Gradually, Horace begins to “find the charm in the company of Martha” and once explained to her in love. Learning about this, Eugenie, worrying about her friend, suggests Teofil to bring Oras out into the light, “to distract him from love or to make sure of her power.”
Theophile leads Oras to the Countess de Chaiy, an old friend of his father, where he shows himself an intelligent and original conversationalist, albeit too hot-tempered and noisy. The daughter-in-law of the Countess, Viscountess de Chaia, produces an indelible impression on Horace. Here is a woman, the love he always dreamed of! But when Horace finds out that Arsen is in love with Marta, the passion for Martha flares up in him with renewed vigor. But at the same time he “was ashamed of his love,” since his rival is the son of a shoemaker. Martha is desperate, because she loves Oras.
Eugenie tries to prove to Orasa that he is not ready for family life, but Horace is convinced that his feelings are so passionate and ardent that everyday little things can not prevent them from happening with Martha.
Tearing with groundless jealousy of Paul, Horace harasses Martha with unjust reproaches. Proving his love, Martha spends the night with Horas. Leaving him early in the morning, she sees with astonishment Waiting for her Paul. She does not reproach her with anything, he escorts her home. Martha understands that Paul’s love is purer and nobler than the passion of Horace. But she can not resist feeling and chooses Horace.
Oras likes to dominate his lover. He demands that Martha expel Paul Arsen, who, by old friendship, sometimes comes to see her. Marta begs Paul to disappear from her life, and the unfortunate lover submits. Removing the room in a distant place from the house of Theophilus and Eugene’s quarter, Horace takes Martha away, forbids her to work, and sets up against former friends.
Horas regards his beloved “as if through the prism of various female images, known to him from the books read.” Therefore, satiety of her love for him is inevitable, which happens when he faces everyday difficulties. He is besieged by creditors, he is in debt. Marta offers to start working, and to start laying her new shawl. Horace is indignant, but already the next morning, after being hungry, he finds such a decision reasonable. The owner of the room, which they owe in two months, arranges Horas scandal. Laravigneer appears on the noise from the next apartment. He vouches for Horace before the master. Horas takes money from Laravière. Despite the fact that Martha takes work on the house, financial difficulties are increasing.
Horace continues to mess around, feeling that “he began to work even harder than before.” Accusing the thrifty beloved in “petty stinginess”, he squeezes money earned by parents and sent by parents. He already “does not mind throwing Martha.” She is even more asserted in her love for him.
Laravigneer takes an active part in the republican organization. Paul Arsen, who still loves Martha, comes in and consoles himself that he “has the courage to lay down his head in the name of the republic,” Oras also begins to believe in the success of the movement of Laraviener. The role of the conspirator captures it entirely. He likes to “excite Martha,” hinting at “the dangers that he will soon undergo.” In the future republic, he sees himself as “
A cholera epidemic is breaking out. Horace is sick. Marta searches for Theophilus and begs to save Horace. But the next day, Horace recovers. And Theophil worries already for March: he assumes that she is pregnant. Horas harasses Martha with reproaches, inspires her with “an irresistible aversion to infants.” Marta disappears by writing to Orasa that “he is not threatened by the boring worries and duties of his father.”
Laravinier informs Oras about the beginning of the performance. At the same time, the father informs Horace that her mother is seriously ill. Relieved to find a good reason for leaving, Horace leaves home.
Theophil is invited by the family doctor to the Countess de Chaillé in her family castle. Learning of this, Horace, returning to Paris, calls in to see a friend and falls under the spell of the viscountess. They become lovers. It seems to Horas that he conquered the proud aristocrat with his intelligence and brilliant literary abilities. In fact, an experienced coquette plays with him, like a cat with a mouse.
Soon Horas begins to suffer from the fact that “his victory caused so little noise.” He talks about his relationship with the viscountess Theophilus and Eugenie, a few more acquaintances. Viscountess breaks with him.
In Paris there is an uprising. June 5, 1832 Laravigneur and Arsen fight on the barricade near the monastery of Saint-Merry. Riddled with bullets, falls Laravigneer; Paul Arsen, all wounded, leaves the pursuit and accidentally falls into the attic where Martha lives with the child she had born. A young woman nurses him. After recovering, Paul remains with Martha, to help her get out of poverty. He gets the place of the prompter in the theater, where he sews Mart’s costumes. After a while, Paul becomes an indispensable person in the theater – he paints beautiful scenery. Martha suddenly gives the main role, and she has an extraordinary success. But she still remains a simple and noble woman. Devotion and love Paul finally cause in her soul a reciprocal feeling. Paul recognizes her child. The young couple visit Teofil and Eugenie, who have long since considered both dead.
Horace, having received money from a rich friend, wins a huge sum and immediately begins to live on a broad foot. Careless generosity and a “dandy suit, miraculously concealing the plebeian origin” open the doors of the secular salons before Oraz. He writes and publishes a novel with “famous success”, signing it with the name du Mont. At the same time, it does not even occur to him to repay his debts.
Luck turns from Horace. He writes a second novel, but he turns out to be very mediocre. He does not manage to marry a rich widow. He gets into debt. In the end, his new secular friends turn away from him. Horace learns that his failures are in no small measure promoted by the viscountess, who did not forgive him for chattering about their connection. Horace is devastated, he is defeated in the light. Having found shelter at Theophilus, he accidentally learns that Marta and Paul finally found their happiness, and in it jealousy flares up: he is still convinced that Martha loves him alone.
Theophil, fearing for the happiness of the four Arsen, proposes Oras to go to Italy and supplies him with money. On the day of departure, Horace is to Martha, rushes to her feet and after a passionate explanation she invites her to flee with him. Martha refuses and even convinces her that the child is not him, but Paul. Horace snatches the dagger and threatens to kill Martha, himself and the child. Waving a dagger, he slightly injures Martha, and then tries to stab himself. He is stopped by Laravinier, who miraculously survived during the uprising,
Fearing allegations of murder, Horace flees from Paris without taking any things or money. After a while he sends a letter to Theophilus with apologies and a request to send a purse and a suitcase.
In Italy, Horace did not succeed in anything. He writes a drama, which is booed in the theater, is hired by the child’s educator, but he is quickly dismissed for trying to care for their mother, writing several unsuccessful novels and uninteresting articles. Finally, after returning to his homeland, he finishes his legal education and “assiduously tries to create a clientele” in his own province.