The novella was based on a short story by an acquaintance of Balzac, Albéric Second, as Tim Farrant has demonstrated. Its original title was to have been “Le Parasite”. Sylvain Pons, a musician in a Parisian boulevard orchestra, has a close friend in another musician from that same orchestra, the German pianist Wilhelm Schmucke. They lodge with Mme Cibot, but Pons – unlike Schmucke – has two failings: his passion (which is almost a mania) for collecting works of art, and his passion for good food. Schmucke, on the other hand, has only one passion, and that is his affection for Pons. Pons, being a gourmet, much enjoys dining regularly with his wealthy lawyer cousins M. and Mme Camusot de Marville, for their food is more interesting than Mme Cibot’s and full of gastronomic surprises.