Un début dans la vie (A Start in Life) is a novel by the French writer Honoré de Balzac. It is the sixth of the Scènes de la vie privée (Scenes of Private Life) in La Comédie humaine.
Much of the action of this short novel takes place in the rickety old stage-coach — or coucou — of Pierrotin, which regularly carries passengers and goods between Paris and Val-d'Oise. On one such trip from Paris, Comte Hugret de Sérizy, a senator and wealthy aristocrat, is travelling incognito in order to investigate reports that Monsieur Moreau, the steward of his country estate at Presles, is being less than honest in his dealings on the count's behalf with a neighbouring landowner Margueron, a piece of whose land the count wishes to buy.
Among the count's fellow passengers is Oscar Husson, a young good-for-nothing mummy's boy, who is being sent to a friend of his mother's Monsieur Moreau in the hope that a position can be found for him. Also travelling to L'Isle-Adam is Georges Marest, the second clerk of the count's Parisian notary Crottat; Joseph Bridau, a young artist, who is accompanied by his young colleague Léon Didas y Lora, nicknamed Mistigris. The final occupant of the coach is Père Léger, a rich farmer from Val-d'Oise who is leasing the land which the count wishes to buy from Margueron. Léger is hoping to buy it himself and then sell it piecemeal at a significant profit to the count.
To pass the time Georges amuses himself by pretending to be Colonel Czerni-Georges, a young nobleman with a distinguished military career behind him; his fellow travellers are impressed, but the count sees through him and realizes his true identity. Not to be outdone by Marest, the young painter then passes himself off as the celebrated artist Heinrich Schinner. Things become interesting when Oscar joins in and pretends to be a close acquaintance of the Comte de Sérizy and his son. In the course of his boasting, he divulges several private and embarrassing details about the count - details which he could only have learnt from his godparents the Moreaus.
On the journey the count also overhears a conversation in which Léger describes how he and Moreau are conspiring to buy the land the count wants from under his nose and sell it to him at an inflated price.
When the count arrives at Presles he wastes little time dismissing Moreau - not so much for conspiring with Léger as for revealing personal details about the count and his wife to his godson. Oscar is forced to return to Paris and seek a living by some other means.
In time Oscar obtains a license and becomes a clerk in the law office of Desroches in Paris, where he is trained by Godeschal. During this time he renews his acquaintance with Georges Marest, who is actually related to him. For some time Oscar defies everyone's expectations and applies himself diligently to both his studies and his clerkly duties. But Oscar spoils everything by another indiscretion, this one much more serious than the first. At the house of demimondaine Florentine Cabirolle, who was then maintained by Oscar's wealthy uncle Cardot, Oscar gambles away five hundred francs he was given to transact an important legal matter. His hopes ruined for a second time, Oscar is forced to abandon law and enter military service.
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