Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 May 2011
In Chapter 88 of Alexandre Dumas père's Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, the eponymous hero is in his box at the Opéra when he is challenged to a duel. He pretends to be surprised:
« Une explication à l'Opéra? » dit le comte avec ce ton si calme et avec ce coup d'œil si pénétrant, qu'on reconnaît à ce double caractère l'homme éternellement sûr de lui-même. « Si peu familier que je sois avec les habitudes parisiennes, je n'aurais pas cru, monsieur, que ce fût là que les explications se demandaient. […] »
[“An explanation at the opera?” said the count, with that calm tone and penetrating eye which characterises the man who knows his cause is good. “Little acquainted as I am with the habits of Parisians, sir, I should not have thought this the place for such a demand.”]
But the choice of the young Viscount Albert de Morcerf, Monte-Cristo's opponent, to issue his challenge at the Opéra is really no surprise at all: it is, in keeping with a tradition well established by the mid 1840s, the conventional, even inevitable place for interaction having so conspicuously to do with social rituals and their public performance. For Balzac, the most prolific exponent of that tradition, the physical structure of the Opéra auditorium was nothing less than a metaphor for Parisian society.