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Women in the Life of Balzac By Juanita Helm Floyd Characters: 81212

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"Farewell, my dearly beloved mother! I embrace you with all my heart. Oh! if you knew how I need just now to cast myself upon your breast as a refuge of complete affection, you would insert a little word of tenderness in your letters, and this one which I am answering has not even a poor kiss. There is nothing but . . . Ah! Mother, Mother, this is very bad! . . . You have misconstrued what I said to you, and you do not understand my heart and affection. This grieves me most of all! . . ."

The above extract is sadly typical of a relationship of thirty years, 1820-1850, between a mother, on the one hand, who never understood or appreciated her son-and a son, on the other, whose longings for maternal affection were never fully gratified. To his mother Balzac dedicated /Le Medicin de Campagne/, one of his finest sociological studies.

Madame Surville has described Balzac's mother, and her own, as being rich, beautiful, and much younger than her husband, and as having a rare vivacity of mind and of imagination, an untiring activity, a great firmness of decision, and an unbounded devotion to her family; but as expressing herself in actions rather than in words. She devoted herself exclusively to the education of her children, and felt it necessary to use severity towards them in order to offset the effects of indulgence on the part of their father and their grandmother. Balzac inherited from his mother imagination and activity, and from both of his parents energy and kindness.

Madame de Balzac has been charged with not having been a tender mother towards her children in their infancy. She had lost her first child through her inability to nurse it properly. An excellent nurse, however, was found for Honore, and he became so healthy that later his sister Laure was placed with the same nurse. But she never seemed fully to understand her son nor even to suspect his promise. She attributed the sagacious remarks and reflections of his youth to accident, and on such occasions she would tell him that he did not understand what he was saying. His only reply would be a sweet, submissive smile which irritated her, and which she called arrogant and presumptuous. With her cold, calculating temperament, she had no patience with his staking his life and fortune on uncertain financial undertakings, and blamed him for his business failures. She suffered on account of his love of luxury and his belief in his own greatness, no evidence of which seemed sufficient to her matter-of-fact mind. She continued to misjudge him, unaware of his genius, but in spite of her grumbling and harassing disposition, she often came to his aid in his financial troubles.

Contrary to the wishes of his parents, who had destined him to become a notary, Balzac was ever dreaming of literary fame. His mother not unnaturally thought that a little poverty and difficulty would bring him to submission; so, before leaving Paris for Villeparisis in 1819 she installed him in a poorly furnished /mansard/, No. 9, rue Lesdiguieres, leaving an old woman, Madame Comin, who had been in the service of the family for more than twenty years, to watch over him. Balzac has doubtless depicted this woman in /Facino Cane/ as Madame Vaillant, who in 1819-1820 was charged with the care of a young writer, lodged in a /mansard/, rue Lesdiguieres.

After fifteen months of this life, his health became so much impaired that his mother insisted on keeping him at home, where she cared for him faithfully. On a former occasion Madame de Balzac had had her son brought home to recuperate, for when he was sent away to /college/ at an early age, his health became so impaired that he was hurriedly returned to his home. Balzac probably refers to this event in his life when he writes, in /Louis Lambert/, that the mother, alarmed by the continuous fever of her son and his symptoms of /coma/, took him from school at four or five hours' notice.

During the five years (1820-1825) that Balzac remained at home in Villeparisis, he longed for the quiet freedom of his garret; he could not adapt himself to the bustling family circle, nor reconcile himself to the noise of the domestic machinery kept in motion by his vigilant and indefatigable mother. She was of a nervous, excitable nature, which she probably inherited from her mother, Madame Sallambier. She imagined that he was ill, and of course there was no one to convince her to the contrary. Had she known that while she thought she was contributing everything to the happiness of those around her, she was only doing the opposite, we may be sure that she of all women would have been the most wretched.

Balzac having failed in his speculations as publisher and printer, was aided by his mother financially, and she figured as one of his principal creditors during the remainder of his life. (E. Faguet in /Balzac/, is exaggerating in stating that Madame de Balzac sacrificed her whole fortune for Honore, for much of her means was spent on her favorite son, Henri.)

M. Auguste Fessart was a contemporary of the family, an observer of a great part of the life of Honore, and his confidant on more than one occasion. In his /Commentaires/ on the work entitled /Balzac, sa Vie et ses Oeuvres/, by Madame Surville, he states that the portrait of Madame de Balzac is flattering-a daughter's portrait of a mother-and declares that Madame de Balzac was very severe with her children, especially with Honore, adding that Balzac used to say that he never heard his mother speak without experiencing a certain trembling which deprived him of his faculties. Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, in reviewing the /Commentaires/ of M. Fessart, notes the recurring instances in which pity is expressed for the moral and material sufferings almost constantly endured by Balzac in his family circle. These sufferings seem to have impressed him more than anything else in the career of the novelist. In speaking of Balzac's financial appeal to his family, M. Fessart notes: "And his mother did not respond to him. She let him die of hunger! . . . I repeat that they let him die of hunger; he told me so several times!" When Madame Surville speaks of their keeping Balzac's presence in Paris a secret, saying that it was moreover a means of keeping him from all worldly temptations, M. Fessart replies: "And of giving him nothing, and of allowing him to be in need of everything!" Finally, when Madame Surville speaks of her parents' not giving Balzac the fifteen hundred francs he desired, M. Fessart confirms this, saying that his family always refused him money.

A letter from Balzac to Madame Hanska testifies to this attitude of his family towards him: "In 1828 I was cast into this poor rue Cassini, in consequence of a liquidation to which I had been compelled, owing one hundred thousand francs and being without a penny, when my family would not even give me bread."

MM. Hanotaux et Vicaire, to whose admirable work we shall have occasion to refer often, state that Madame de Balzac advanced thirty- seven thousand six hundred francs for Balzac on August 16, 1822, and that his parents paid a total of forty-five thousand francs for him.

Having read M. Fessart's description of Madame de Balzac, one can agree with Madame Ruxton in saying that Balzac has portrayed his own youth in his account of the early life of Raphael in /La Peau de Chagrin/, Balzac's mother, instead of Raphael's father, being recognized in the following passage:

"Seen from afar, my life appears to contract by some mental process. That long, slow agony of ten years' duration can be brought to memory to-day in some few phrases, in which pain is resolved into a mere idea, and pleasure becomes a philosophical reflection . . . When I left school, my father submitted me to a strict discipline; he installed me in a room near his own study, and I had to rise at five in the morning and retire at nine at night. He intended me to take my law studies seriously. I attended school, and read with an advocate as well; but my lectures and work were so narrowly circumscribed by the laws of time and space, and my father required of me such a strict account, at dinner, that . . . In this manner I cowered under as strict a despotism as a monarch's until I became of age."

In confirmation of this idea, Madame Ruxton[*] quotes Madame Barnier, granddaughter of the Duchesse d'Abrantes, who knew both Balzac and his mother, and who describes her as a cold, severe, superior, but hard- hearted woman, just the opposite of her son. Balzac himself states: "Never shall I cease to resemble Raphael in his garret."

[*] In /La Dilecta de Balzac/, Balzac states that he has described his own life in /La Peau de Chagrin/. For a picture of Balzac's unhappy childhood drawn by himself, see /Revue des deux Mondes/, March 15, 1920.

After the death (June 1829) of her husband, Madame de Balzac lived with her son at different intervals, and during his extended tour of six months in 1832 she attended to the details of his business. With her usual energy and extreme activity, she displayed her ability in various lines, for she had to have dealings with his publisher, do copying, consult the library,-sending him some books and buying others,-have the servant exercise the horses, sell the horses and carriage and dismiss the servant, arrange to have certain payments deferred, send him money and consult the physician for him, not to mention various other duties.

While Madame de Balzac was certainly requested to do far more than a son usually expects of his mother, her tantalizing letters were a source of great annoyance to him, as is seen in the following:

"What you say about my silence is one of those things which, to use your expression, makes me grasp my heart with both hands; for it is incredible I should be able to produce all I do. (I am obeying the most rigorous necessity); so if I am to write, I ought to have more time, and when I rest, I wish to lay down and not take up my pen again. Really, my poor dear mother, this ought to be understood between us once for all; otherwise, I shall have to renounce all epistolary intercourse. . . . And this morning I was about to make the first dash at my work, when your letter came and completely upset me. Do you think it possible to have artistic inspirations after being brought suddenly face to face with such a picture of my miseries as you have traced? Do you think that if I did not feel them, I should work as I do? . . . Farewell, my good mother. Try and achieve impossibilities, which is what I am doing on my side. My life is one perpetual miracle. . . . You ask me to write you in full detail; but, my dear mother, have you yet to be told what my existence is? When I am able to write, I work at my manuscripts; when I am not working at my manuscripts, I am thinking of them; I never have any rest. How is it my friends are not aware of this? . . . I beg of you, my dear mother, in the name of my heavy work, never to write me that such a work is good, and such another bad: you upset me for a fortnight."

Balzac appreciated what his mother did for him, and while he never fully repaid her the money she had so often requested of him, she might have felt herself partially compensated by these kind words of affection:

"My kind and excellent mother,-After writing to you in such haste, I felt my inmost heart melt as I read your letter again, and I worshipped you. How shall I return to you, when shall I return to you, and can I ever return to you, by my love and endeavors for your happiness, all that you have done for me? I can at present only express my deep thankfulness. . . . How deep is my gratitude towards the kind hearts who pluck some of the thorns from my life and smooth my path by their affection. But constrained to an unceasing warfare against destiny, I have not always leisure to give utterance to what I feel. I would not, however, allow a day to pass without letting you know the tenderness your late proofs of devotion excite in me. A mother suffers the pangs of labor more than once with her children, does she not, my mother? Poor mothers, are you ever enough beloved! . . . I hope, my much beloved mother, you will not let yourself grow dejected. I work as hard as it is possible for a man to work; a day is only twelve hours long, I can do no more. . . . Farewell, my darling mother; I am very tired! Coffee burns my stomach. For the last twenty days I have taken no rest; and yet I must still work on, that I may remove your anxieties. . . . Keep your house; I had already sent an answer to Laura, I will not let either you or Surville bear the burden of my affairs. However, until the arrival of my proxy, it is understood that Laura, who is my cash keeper, will remit you a hundred and fifty francs a month. You may reckon on this as a regular payment; nothing in the world will take precedence of it. Then, at the end of November to December 10, you will have the surplus of thirty-six thousand francs to reimburse you for the excess of the expenditure over the receipts during the time of your stewardship; during which, thanks to your devotion, you gave me all the tranquility that was possible. . . . I entreat you to take care of yourself! Nothing is so dear to me as your health! I would give half of myself to keep you well, and I would keep the other half, to do you service. My mother, the day when we shall be happy through me is coming quickly; I am beginning to gather the fruits of the sacrifices I have made this year for a more certain future. Still, a few months more and I shall be able to give you that happy life-that life without cares or anxiety-which you so much need. You will have all you desire; our little vanities will be satisfied no less than the great ambitions of our hearts. Oh do, I pray you, nurse yourself! . . . Your comfort in material things and your happiness are my riches. Oh! my dear mother, do live to see my bright future realized!"[*]

[*] In speaking of Balzac's relations to his mother, Mr. F. Lawton (/Balzac/) states: "Madame Balzac was sacrificed to his improvidence and stupendous egotism; nor can the tenderness of the language-more frequently than not called forth by some fresh immolation of her comfort to his interests-disguise this unpleasing side of his character and action. . . . And his epistolary good-byes were odd mixtures of business with sentiment."

Thus did the poor mother alternately receive letters full of scoldings and of terms of endearment from her son whose genius she never understood. She was faithful in her duties, and her ambitious son probably did not realize how much he was asking of her. But she may have had a motive in keeping him on the prolonged visit during which this last letter was written, for she was interested in his prospective marriage. Although her full name is never mentioned, the women in question, Madame D--, was evidently a widow with a fortune, and in view of this prospect was most pleasing to Madame de Balzac. However, this matrimonial plan fell through, and Balzac himself was never enthusiastic over it. He felt that his attentions to Madame D-- would consume his very precious time, and that the affair could not come off in time to serve his interests. Could it be that Balzac was alluding to this same Madame D-- when he wrote some time later: "My beloved mother,-the affair has come to nothing, the bird was frightened away, and I am very glad of it. I had no time to run after it, and it was imperative it should be either yes or no."

This marriage project, like many others planned either for or by Balzac, came to naught, and his mother evidently became displeased with him, for she left him on his return, when he was in great need of consolation and sympathy. As frequently happened under such circumstances, Balzac expressed his deep regrets at his mother's conduct to one of his best friends, Madame Carraud, and confided to her his loneliness and longings.

Madame de Balzac was much occupied with religious ideas, and had made a collection of the writings of the mystics. Balzac plunged into the study of clairvoyance and mesmerism, and his mother, interested in the marvelous, helped him in his studies, as she knew many of the celebrated clairvoyants and mesmerists of the time.

At various times, Balzac's relations with his mother were much estranged; at one time he did not even know where she was. When she was disappointed in her favorite child, Henri, she seemed to recognize the great wrong involved in her lack of affection for Honore and his sister Laure. But she never gave him the attentions that he longed for. In May, 1840, he wrote to Madame Hanska that he was especially sad on the day of his /fete catholique/ (May 16) as, since the death of Madame de Berny, there was no one to observe this occasion, though during her life every day was a /fete/ day; he was too busy to join with his sister Laure in the mutual observance of their birthdays, and his mother cared little for him; once the Duchesse de Castries had sent him a most beautiful bouquet,-but now there was no one.

The same year (1840) he took his mother to live with him /Aux jardies/. This he regarded as an additional burden. Her continual harassing him for the money he still owed her, her nervous and discordant disposition, her constant intrigues to force him to marry, and her numerous little acts that placed him in positions beneath the dignity of an author's standing were an incessant source of annoyance to him.

She did not remain with him long, but he tried to perform his filial duties and make her comfortable, as various letters show. One of these reads as follows:

"My dear Mother,-It is very difficult for me to enter into the engagement you ask of me, and to do so without reflection would entail consequences most serious both for you and for myself. The money necessary for my existence is, as it were, wrung from what should go to pay my debts, and hard work it is to get it. The sort of life I lead is suitable for no one; it wears out relations and friends; all fly from my dreary house. My affairs will become more and more difficult to manage, not to say impossible. The failure of my play, as regards money, still further complicates my situation. I find it impossible to work in the midst of all the little storms raised up in a household where the members do not live in harmony. My work has become feeble during the last year, as any one can see. I am in doubt what to do. But I must come to some determination within a few days. When my furniture has been sold, and when I have disposed of 'Les Jardies,' I shall not have much left. And I shall find myself alone in the world with nothing but my pen, and an attic. In such a situation shall I be able to do more for you than I am doing at this moment? I shall have to live from hand to mouth by writing articles which I can no longer write with the agility of youth which is no more. The world, and even relations, mistake me; I am engrossed by my work, and they think I am absorbed in myself. I am not blind to the fact, that up to the present moment, working as I work, I have not succeeded in paying my debts, nor in supporting myself. No future will save me. I must do something else, look out for some other position. And it is at a time like this that you ask me to enter into an engagement! Two years ago I should have done so, and have deceived myself. Now all I can say is, come to me and share my crust. You were in a tolerable position; I had a domestic whose devotion spared you all the worry of housekeeping; you were not called on to enter into every detail, you were quiet and peaceful. You wished me to count for something in your life, when it was imperative for you to forget my existence and allow me the entire liberty without which I can do nothing. It is not a fault in you, it is the nature of women. Now everything is changed. If you wish to come back, you will have to bear a little of the burden which is about to weigh me down, and which hitherto has only pressed upon you because you chose to take it to yourself. All this is business, and in no way involves my affection for you, which is always the same; so believe in the tenderness of your devoted son."

Later, when Balzac purchased his home in the rue Fortunee, his mother had the care of it while he was in Russia. He asked her to visit the house weekly and to keep the servants on the alert by enquiring as though she expected him; yet Balzac wrote his nieces to have their grandmother visit them often, lest she carry too far the duties she imposed on herself in looking after his little home. He cautioned her to allow no one to enter the house, to insist that his old servant Francois be discreet, and especially that she be prudent in not talking about his plans; and that by all means she should take a carriage while attending to his affairs; this request was not only from him but also from Madame Hanska.

She was most faithful in looking after his home and watching the workmen to see that his instructions were carried out. In fact, she never left the house except when, on one occasion, owing to the excessive odors of the paint, she spent two nights in Laure's home.

Balzac's stay at Wierzchownia, however, was far from tranquil, for his mother was discontented with the general aspect of his affairs and increased his vexations by writing a letter in which she addressed him as /vous/, declaring that her affection was conditional on his behavior, a thing he naturally resented. "To think," he writes, "of a mother reserving the right to love a son like me, seventy-two years on the one side, and fifty on the other!"

This letter caused a serious complication in his affairs in Russia, but the mother evidently became reconciled for a few months later she wrote to him expressing her joy at the news of his recovery, and asking him to extend to his friends her most sincere thanks for their care of him in his serious illness. Aside from knowing of his illness and her inability to see him, she was most happy in feeling that he was with such good friends.

She complained of his not writing oftener, but he replied that he had written to her seven times during his absence, that the letters were posted by his hostess and that he did not wish to abuse the hospitality with which he was so royally and magnificently entertained. He resented his mother's dictating to him, a man of fifty years of age, as to how often he should write to his nieces, for while he enjoyed receiving their letters, he thought they should feel honored in receiving letters from him whenever he had time to write to them.

When the poor mother attempted to be gracious to her son by sending him a box of bonbons, she only brought him trouble, for she packed it in newspapers, and in passing the custom-house, it was taken out and the candy crushed. Instead of thanking her for her good intentions, he rebuked her for her stupidity in regard to sending printed matter into Russia, as it endangered his stay there.

Balzac was always striving to pay his mother his long-standing indebtedness, but the Revolution of 1848, in connection with his continued illness, made this impossible. This burden of debt was also, at this time, preventing his obtaining a successful termination of his mission to Russia, for, as he explained to his mother, the lady concerned did not care to marry him while he was still encumbered with debt. Being a woman past forty, she desired that nothing should disturb the tranquillity in which she wished to live.

Owing to this critical situation and to his poor health, Balzac had repeatedly requested his mother never to write depressing news to him, but she paid little attention to this request and sent him a letter hinting at trouble in so vague a manner and with such disquieting expressions that, in his extremely nervous condition, it might have proved fatal to him. Yet it did not affect him so seriously as it did Madame Hanska, who read the letter to him, for owing to his terrible illness and the method of treatment, his eyes had become so weak that he could no longer see in the evening. Madame Hanska was so deeply interested in everything that concerned Balzac that this news made her very ill. For them to live in suspense for forty days without knowing anything definite was far worse than it would have been had his mother enumerated in detail the various misfortunes. From the preceding revelations of the disposition of Madame de Balzac, one can easily understand how it happened that her son has immortalized some of her traits in the character of /Cousine Bette/.

During the remainder of Balzac's stay in the Ukraine, he was preoccupied with the thought of his mother having every possible comfort, with his becoming acclimatized in Russia,-impossible though it was for him in his condition,-and above all with the realization of his long-cherished hope. But he cautioned his mother to observe the greatest discretion in regard to this hope, "for such things are never certain until one leaves the church after the ceremony."

What must have been his feeling of triumph when he was able to write:

"My very dear Mother,-Yesterday, at seven in the morning, thanks be to God, my marriage was blessed and celebrated in the church of Saint Barbara, at Berditchef, by the deputy of the Bishop of Jitomir. Monseigneur wished to have married me himself, but being unable, he sent a holy priest, the Count Abbe Czarouski, the eldest of the glories of the Polish Roman Catholic Church, as his representative. Madame Eve de Balzac, your daughter-in-law, in order to make an end of all obstacles, has taken an heroic and sublimely maternal resolution, viz., to give up all her fortune to her children, only reserving an annuity to herself. . . . There are now two of us to thank you for all the good care you have taken of our house, as well as to testify to you our respectful /tendresses/."

Balzac was not only anxious that his bride should be properly received, but also that his mother should preserve her dignity. On their way home he writes her from Dresden to have the house ready for their arrival (May 19, 20, 21), urging that she go either to her own home or to Laure's, for it would not be proper for her to receive her daughter-in-law in the rue Fortunee, and that she should not call until his wife had called on her. After reminding her again not to forget to procure flowers, he suggests that owing to his extremely feeble health he meet her at Laure's, for there he would have one less flight of stairs to climb. These suggestions, however, were unnecessary, as his mother had been ill in bed for several weeks in Laure's house.

After the novelist's return to Paris with his bride, his physical condition was such that in spite of the efforts of his beloved physician, Dr. Nacquart, little could be done for him, and he was destined to pass away within a short time. Balzac's mother, she with whom he had had so many misunderstandings, she who had doubtless never fully appreciated his greatness but who had sacrificed her physical strength and worldly goods for his sake, an old woman of almost seventy-two years, showed her true maternal love by remaining with her glorious and immortal son in his last moments.


"To the Casket containing all things delightful; to the Elixir of

Virtue, of Grace, and of Beauty; to the Gem, to the Prodigy of all

Normandy; to the Pearl of the Bayeux; to the Fairy of St.

Laurence; to the Madonna of the Rue Teinture; to the Guardian

Angel of Caen, to the Goddess of Enchanting Spells; to the

Treasury of all Friendship-to Laura!"

Two years younger than Balzac, his sister Laure, not only played an important part in his life, but after his death rendered valuable service by writing his life and publishing a part of his correspondence.[*] Being reared by the same nurse as he, and having had the same home environment, she was the first of his intimate companions, and throughout a large part of his life remained one of the most sympathetic of all his confidantes. As children they loved each other tenderly, and his chivalrous protection of her led to his being punished more than once without betraying her childish guilt. Once when she arrived in time to confess, he asked her to avow nothing the next time, as he liked to be scolded for her.

[*] MM. Hanotaux et Vicaire, /Le Jeunesse de Balzac/, have correctly observed that Balzac's sister, Madame Surville, has written a most delicate and interesting book, but that she had not correctly portrayed her brother because she was blinded by her devotion to him.

He it was who accompanied her to dances, but having had the misfortune to slip and fall on one such occasion he was so sensitive to the amused smiles of the ladies that he gave up dancing, and decided to dominate society otherwise than by the graces and talents of the drawing-room. Thus it was that he became merely a spectator of these festivities, the memory of which he utilized later.

It was to Laure that, in the strictest confidence, he sent the plan of his first work, the tragedy /Cromwell/, writing it to be a surprise to the rest of the family when finished. To her he looked for moral support, asking her to have faith in him, for he needed some one to believe in him. To her also he confided his ambitions early in his career, saying that his two greatest desires were to be famous and to be loved.

Laure was married in May, 1820, to M. Midi de la Greneraye Surville, and moved from her home in Villeparisis to Bayeux. When she became homesick Balzac wrote her cheerful letters, suggesting various means of employing her time. His admiration of her was such that he even asked her to select for him a wife of her own type. He explained to her that his affection was not diminished an atom by distance or by silence, for there are torrents which make a terrible to-do and yet their beds are dry in a few days, and there are waters which flow quietly, but flow forever.

Madame Surville seems to have been the impersonation of discretion and appreciation; she was intimately acquainted with all the characters in his work and made valuable suggestions; he was most happy when discussing plans with her. He longed to have his glory reflect on his family and make the name of Balzac illustrious. When carried away with some beautiful idea, he seemed to hear her tender voice encouraging him. he felt that were it not for her devotion to the duties of her home, their intimacy might have become even more precious and that stimulated by a literary atmosphere she might herself have become a writer.

He consulted her frequently with regard to literary help, once asking her to use all her cleverness in writing out fully her ideas on the subject of the /Deux Rencontres/, about which she had told him, for he wished to insert them in the /Femme de trente Ans/. As early as 1822 she received a similar request asking her to prepare for him a manuscript of the /Vicaire des Ardennes/; she was to prepare the first volume and he would finish it. And many years later (1842), Balzac asked his sister to furnish him with ideas for a story for young people. After the name of this story had been changed a few times, it was published under the title of /Un Debut dans la Vie/. This explains why Balzac used the following words in dedicating it to her: "To Laure. May the brilliant and modest intellect that gave me the subject of this scene have the honor of it!" This, however, was not the first time he had honored her by dedicating one of his works to her, for in 1835 he inscribed to "Almae Sorori" a short story, /Les Proscrits/.

Balzac was often depressed, and felt that even his own family was not in sympathy with his efforts; he told his sister that the universe would be startled at his works before his relations or friends would believe in their existence. Yet he knew that they did appreciate him to a certain extent, for his sister wrote him that in reading the /Recherche de l'Absolu/, and thinking that her own brother was the author of it, she wept for joy.

In his youth, at all events, Balzac seems to have had no secrets from his sister, and it is to her that the much disputed letter of Saturday, October 12, 1833, was addressed. Their friendship was sincere and devoted; and yet there were coolnesses, caused largely by the influence of their mother,-and of M. Surville, whose jealous and tyrannical disposition prevented their seeing each other as frequently as they would have liked. She once celebrated her birthday by visiting her brother, but she held her watch in her hand as she had only twenty minutes for the meeting. For awhile, he could not visit her; later, this estrangement was overcome, and after the first presentation of his play /Vautrin/ (1840), his sister cared for him in her home during his illness.

Madame Surville performed many duties for her brother but was not always skilful in allaying the demands of his creditors. On Balzac's return from a visit to Madame Hanska in Vienna, he found that his affairs were in great disorder, and that his sister, frightened at the conditions, had pawned his silverware. In planning at a later date to leave France, however, he did not hesitate to entrust his treasures to his sister, saying that she would be a most faithful "dragon." He was also wisely thoughtful of her; on one occasion when she had gone to a masked ball contrary to her husband's wishes, Balzac went after her and took her home without giving her time to go round the room.

She evidently had more influence over their mother than had he, for he asked her when on the verge of taking Madame de Balzac into his home again, to assist him in making her reasonable:

"If she likes, she can be very happy, but tell her that she must encourage happiness and not frighten it away. She will have near her a confidential attendant and a servant, and that she will be taken care of in the way she likes. Her room is as elegant as I can make it. . . . Make her promise not to object to what I wish her to do as regards her dress: I do not wish her to be dressed otherwise than as she /ought to be/, it would give me great pain . . ."

During his prolonged stay in Russia, he requested his sister to conceal from their mother the true condition of his illness and the uncertainty of his marriage, and to entreat her to avoid anything in her letters which might cause him pain. Feeling that she would never have allowed such a thing had she known of it, he informed her in detail concerning their mother's letter which had caused him endless trouble.

While Madame Surville was a great stimulus to Balzac early in his literary career, she in turn received the deepest sympathy from him in her financial struggle, and, while he was so happy and was living in such luxury in Russia, he only regretted that he could not assist her, for he had enjoyed hospitality in her home.

Madame Surville had at least one of her mother's traits-that of continually harassing Balzac by trying to marry him to some rich woman; once she had even chosen for him the goddaughter of Louis- Philippe. But the most serious breach of relations between the two resulted from her failure to approve of Balzac's adoration of Madame Hanska. While admitting the extreme beauty of the celebrated Daffinger portrait, she was jealous of his /Predilecta/. When she saw the bound proofs of /La Femme superieure/ which he had intended for Madame Hanska, she felt that she was being neglected. In the end, he robbed his /Chatelaine/ to the profit of his /cara sorella/. But when she became impatient at Balzac's prolonged stay at Wierzchownia, he resented it, explaining that marriage is like cream-a change of atmosphere would spoil it,-that bad marriages could be made with the utmost ease, but good ones required infinite precautions and scrupulous attention. He tried to make her see the advantage of this marriage, writing her:

"Consider, dear Laura, none of us are as yet, so to speak, /arrived/; if, instead of being obliged to work in order to live, I had become the husband of one of the cleverest, the best-born, and best-connected of women, who is also possessed of a solid though circumscribed fortune, in spite of the wish of the lady to live retired, to have no intercourse even with the family, I should still be in a position to be much better able to be of use to you all. I have the certainty of the warm kindness and lively interest which Madame Hanska takes in the dear children. Thus it is more than a duty in my mother, and all belonging to me, to do nothing to hinder me from the happy accomplishment of a union which /before all is my happiness/. Again, it must not be forgotten that this lady is illustrious, not only on account of her high descent, but for her great reputation for wit, beauty, and fortune (for she is credited with all the millions of her daughter); she is constantly receiving proposals of marriage from men of the highest rank and position. But she is something far better than rich and noble; she is exquisitely good, with the sweetness of an angel, and of an easy compatibility in daily life which every day surprises me more and more; she is, moreover, thoroughly pious. Seeing all these great advantages, the world treats my hopes with something of mocking incredulity, and my prospects of success are denied and derided on all sides. If we were all to live . . . under the same roof, I could conceive the difficulties raised by my mother about her dignity; but to keep on the terms which are due to a lady who brings with her (fortune apart) most precious social advantages, I think you need only confine yourself to giving her the impression that my relations are kind and affectionate amongst themselves, and kindly affectionate towards the man she loves. It is the only way to excite her interest and to preserve her influence, which will be enormous. You may all of you, in a great fit of independence, say you have no need of any one, that you intend to succeed by your own exertions. But, between ourselves, the events of the last few years must have proved to you that nothing can be done without the help of others; and the social forces that we can least afford to dispense with are those of our own family. Come, Laura, it is something to be able, in Paris, to open one's /salon/ and to assemble all the /elite/ of society, presided over by a woman who is refined, polished, imposing as a queen, of illustrious descent, allied to the noblest families, witty, well-informed, and beautiful; there is a power of social domination. To enter into any struggle whatever with a woman in whom so much influence centers is-I tell you this in confidence-an act of insanity. Let there be neither servility, nor sullen pride, nor susceptibility, nor too much compliance; nothing but good natural affection. This is the line of conduct prescribed by good sense towards such a woman."

One can see how Madame Surville would resent such a letter, especially when she might have arranged another marriage, advantageous and sensible, for him. But poor Balzac, knowing her interest in his happiness, writes to her a joyful letter the day after his marriage: "As to Madame de Balzac, what more can I say about her? I may be envied for having won her: with the exception of her daughter, there is no woman in this land who can compare with her. She is indeed the diamond of Poland, the gem of this illustrious house of Rzewuski." After explaining to her that this was a marriage of pure affection, as his wife had given her fortune to her children and wished to live only for them and for him, Balzac tells his sister that he hoped to present Madame Honore de Balzac to her soon, signing the letter, "Your brother Honore at the summit of happiness."

A great attraction for Balzac in the home of Madame Surville were his two nieces, Sophie and Valentine, to whom he was devoted, and with whom he frequently spent his evenings. The story is told that one evening on entering his sister's home, he asked for paper and pencil, which were given him. After spending about an hour, not in making notes, as one might imagine, but in writing columns of figures and adding them, he discovered that he owed fifty-nine thousand francs, and exclaimed that his only recourse was to blow his brai

ns out, or throw himself into the Seine! When questioned by his niece Sophie in tears as to whether he would not finish the novel he had begun for her, he declared that he was wrong in becoming so discouraged, to work for her would be a pleasure; he would no longer be depressed, but would finish her book, which would be a masterpiece, sell it for three thousand /ecus/, pay all his creditors within two years, amass a dowry for her and become a peer of France!

Balzac had forbidden his nieces to read his books, promising to write one especially for them. The book referred to here is /Ursule Mirouet/ which he dedicated to Sophie as follows:

"To Mademoiselle Sophie Surville.

"It is a real pleasure, my dear niece, to dedicate to you a book of which the subject and the details have gained the approbation-so difficult to secure-of a young girl to whom the world is yet unknown, and who will make no compromise with the high principles derived from a pious education. You young girls are a public to be dreaded; you ought never to be permitted to read any books less pure than your own pure souls, and you are forbidden certain books, just as you are not allowed to see society as it really is. Is it not enough, then, to make a writer proud, to know that he has satisfied you? Heaven grant that affection may not have misled you! Who can say? The future only, which you, I hope, will see, though he may not, who is your uncle "BALZAC."

To Valentine Surville he dedicated /La Paix du Menage/.

The novelist was interested in helping his sister find suitable husbands for her daughters. He and Sophie had a wager as to which-she or he-would marry first; so when Balzac finally reached his own long- sought goal, he did not forget to remind his niece that she owed him a wedding gift.

Sophie became an accomplished musician, having for her master Ambroise Thomas. Balzac spoke very lovingly of Valentine during her early childhood; but she was so attractive that he feared she would be spoiled. And spoiled she was, or perhaps naturally inclined to indolence, for he wrote her a few years later:

"I should be very glad to learn that Valentine studies as much as the young Countess, who, besides all her other studies, practices daily at her piano. The success of this education is owing to hard work, which Miss Valentine shuns a little too much. Now, I say to my dear niece that to do nothing except what we feel inclined to do is the origin of all deterioration, especially in women. Rules obeyed and duties fulfilled have been the law of the young Countess from childhood, although she is an only child and a rich heiress. . . . Thus I beg Valentine not to exhibit a Creole /nonchalance/; but to listen to the advice of her sister, to impose tasks on herself, and to do work of various sorts, without neglecting the ordinary and daily cares of the household, and, above all, constantly to withstand the inclination we all have, more or less, to give ourselves up to what we find pleasant; it is by this yielding to inclination that we deteriorate and fall into misfortune."

While Balzac was living in Wierzchownia, he urged his nieces to write to him oftener, as the young Countess Anna took the greatest interest in their chatter; they were like two nightingales coming by post to enchant the Ukrainian solitude. He had portrayed them so well that all took an interest in them, and their letters were called for first whenever he received a package from Paris. He requested them to send him certain favorite recipes, and planned to have Sophie play with the young countess.

Sophie seemed to have some of the traits of her grandmother; for the novelist wrote his sister:

"Sophie has traced out a catechism of what she considers /my duties/ towards you, just as last year my mother wrote me a catechism of my duties towards my nieces; it is a sort of cholera peculiar to our family, to lecture uncles both at home and abroad. I make fun if it, but all these little things are remarked upon, which I do not like; then these blank pages make me furious. I forgive Sophie on account of the /motif/, which is you, and for all she and Valentine have done for your /fete/. Ah! if my wishes are ever realized, how I shall enjoy introducing my dear nieces, both so unspoiled by the devil! I have sung their praises here. I have said Sophie is a great musician: I add, Valentine is a /man of letters/, and she is tired with writing three pages."

If certain letters received by Balzac from his family irritated him, he perhaps unconsciously was making his sister jealous by continually extolling the young Countess Mniszech:

"She has a genius, as well as a love, for music; if she had not been an heiress, she would have been a great artiste. If she comes to Paris in eighteen months or two years, she will take lessons in thorough bass and composition. It is all she needs as regards music. She has (without exaggeration) hands the size of a child of eight years old. These minute, supple, white hands, three of which I could hold in mine, have an iron power of finger, in the proportion, like that of Liszt. The keys, not the fingers, bend; she can compass ten keys by the span and elasticity of her fingers; this phenomenon must be seen to be believed. Music, her mother, and her husband: these three words sum up her character. She is the Fenella of the fireside; the will-o'-wisp of our souls; our gaiety; the life of the house. When she is not here, the very walls are conscious of her absence-so much does she brighten them by her presence. She had never known misfortune; she knows nothing of annoyance; she is the idol of all who surround her, and she had the sensibility and goodness of an angel: in one word, she unites qualities which moralists consider incompatible; it is, however, only a self-evident fact to all who know her. She is evidently well informed, without pedantry; she has a delightful /naivete/; and though long since married, she has still the gaiety of a child, loving laughter like a little girl, which does not prevent her from possessing a religious enthusiasm for great objects. Physically, she has a grace even more beautiful than beauty, which triumphs over a complexion still somewhat brown (she is hardly sixteen);[*] a nose well formed, but not striking, except in the profile; a charming figure, supple and /svelte/; feet and hands exquisitely formed, and wonderfully small, as I have just mentioned. All these advantages are, moreover, thrown into relief by a proud bearing, full of race, by an air of distinction and ease which all queens have not, and which is now quite lost in France, where everybody wishes to be equal. This exterior-this air of distinction-this look of a /grande dame/, is one of the most precious gifts which God-the God of women can bestow. The Countess Georges speaks four languages as if she were a native of each of the countries whose tongue she knows so thoroughly. She has a keenness of observation which astonishes me; nothing escapes her. She is besides extremely prudent; and entirely to be relied on in daily intercourse. There are no words to describe her, but /perle fine/. Her husband adores her; I adore her; two cousins on the point of /old-maidism/ adore her-she will always be adored, as fresh reasons for loving her continually arise."

[*] For the incorrectness of this statement, see the chapter on the

Countess Mniszech.

Such adoration of Madame Hanska's daughter was enough to make Madame Surville jealous, especially when she was so despondent over her financial situation, but Balzac tried to cheer her thus: "You should be proud of your two children, they have written two charming letters, which have been much admired here. Two such daughters are the reward of your life; you can afford to accept many misfortunes."[*]

[*] Sophie Surville, the older daughter, whose matrimonial possibilities were so much discussed, was finally unhappily married to M. Mallet. She was a good harpist, and taught the harp. She died without issue. Valentine was married, 1859, to M. Louis Duhamel, a lawyer. She had a good voice for singing and literary talent; she took charge of having Balzac's correspondence published. She had two children; a daughter who became Mme. Pierre Carrier-Belleuse, wife of an artist, and a son, /publiciste distingue/. Laurence de Balzac had two sons; the older Alfred de Montzaigle, dissipated, a friend of Musset, died in 1852 without issue. The younger son, Alfonse, married Mlle. Caroline Jung; he died in 1868 at Strasbourg. Of their three children, only one, Paul de Montzaigle, lived. M. Surville-Duhamel, Mme. Pierre Carrier-Belleuse, and M. de Montzaigle are the only living relatives of Balzac. Mme. Belleuse and M. de Montzaigle have each a little daughter.


"Ah we are fine specimens in this blessed family of ours! What a

pity we can't put ourselves into novels."

Another member of Balzac's family circle was his affectionate and amiable grandmother, whom he loved from childhood. After her husband's death, Madame Sallambier lived with her daughter, Madame de Balzac. She seems to have had a kind disposition, and having the requisite means, she could indulge Honore in various ways. When he was brought back from /college/ in wretched health, she condemned the schools for their neglect.

While studying at home, Balzac frequently spent his evenings playing whist or Boston with her. Through voluntary inattention or foolish plays, she allowed him to win money which he used to buy books. Throughout his life he loved these games in memory of her. she encouraged him in his writings, and when /L'Heritiere de Birague/ was sold for eight hundred francs, he was sure of the sale of the /first/ copy, for she had promised to buy it. He was devoted to her, and when he had neglected writing to her for some time, he atoned by sending to her a most affectionate letter.

After the marriage of his sister Laure, Balzac kept her informed in detail concerning the family life. Of his grandmother, we find the following:

"Grandmamma begs me to say all the pretty things she would write if that unfortunate malady did not rob her of all her facilities! Nevertheless she begins to think her head is better, and if the spring comes there is every reason to hope she will recover her wonted gaiety. . . . Grandmamma is suffering from a nervous attack; . . . Papa says that grandmamma is a clever actress who knows the value of a walk, of a glance, and how to fall gracefully into an easy chair."

If Madame Sallambier with her nervous attacks annoyed Balzac in his youth, he spoke beautifully of her after her death, and referred to her as his "grandmother who loved him," or his "most excellent grandmother." In speaking of his grief over the death of Madame de Berny, he said that never, since the death of his grandmother, had he so deeply sounded the gulf of separation. One of his characteristics he inherited from his grandmother, that of keeping trivial things which had belonged to those he loved.

Not a great deal is said of Balzac's younger sister, Laurentia, but he has left this pen picture of her:

"On the whole you know that Laurentia is as beautiful as a picture -that she has the prettiest of arms and hands, that her complexion is pale and lovely. In conversation people give her credit for plenty of sense, and find that it is all a natural sense, which is not yet developed. She has beautiful eyes, and though pale many men admire that. . . . You are not aware that Laurentia has taken a violent fancy to Augustus de L--- . Say nothing that might lead her to suspect I have betrayed the secret, but I have all the trouble in the world to get it into her head that authors are the most villainous of matches (in respect of fortune, be it understood). Really Laurentia is quite romantic. How she would hate me if she knew with what irreverence I allude to her tender attachment."

This attachment was evidently not very serious, for not long afterward Laurentia was married to Monsieur de Montzaigle. His family had a title and stood well in the town, so Laurentia's parents were pleased with the marriage. This was a great event in the family, and Balzac describes to his married sister, Laure, the accompanying excitement in the home:

"Grandmamma is in a great state of delight; papa is quite satisfied,-so am I,-so are you. As to mamma, recall the last days of your own /demoisellerie/, and you will have some idea of what Laurentia and I have to endure. Nature surrounds all roses with thorns: mamma follows nature."[*]

[*] It was from the father of Laurentia's husband that M. and Madame de Berny bought their home in Villeparisis.

The happiness of poor Laurentia was of short duration. She died five years after her marriage, having two children. Her husband did not prove to be what the Balzac family had expected, and her children were left destitute for Madame de Balzac to care for. Balzac always spoke tenderly of her, and once in despair he exclaimed that at times he envied his poor sister Laurentia, who had been lying for many years in her coffin.

After Balzac's return from St. Petersburg, his letters were filled with allusions to Madame de Brugnolle, his housekeeper and financial counselor. He brought presents to various friends, and her he presented with a muff. Besides being very practical, economical and kind, she was a good manager for Balzac financially and strict with him regarding his diet; the /bonne montagnarde/ did almost everything possible, from running his errands to making his home happy. He sent business letters under her name, and her fidelity and devotion are seen in her denying herself clothes in order to buy household necessities for him.

She served the novelist as a spy when he and Gavault disagreed. When Lirette visited Paris, she treated her very kindly and gave up her own room in order to arrange comfortable quarters for her. She had some relatives who had entered a convent, and she talked of ending her days in one, but Balzac begged her to keep house for him. He felt that she was born for that! Madame de Brugnolle was of much help to him in looking after Lirette's financial affairs, visiting her in the convent, and carrying messages to her from him. Many times she comforted him by promising to look out for his family, even consenting to go to Wierzchownia, if necessary, as Lirette's visit had helped her to realize as never before the angelic sweetness of his /Loup/.

In return for this devotion, he took her with him to Frankfort and to Bury to visit Madame de Bocarme. He celebrated the birthday of the /montagnarde/ in 1844, giving her some very attractive presents. Her economy and devotion seemed to increase with time, and enabled him to travel without any worry about his home. What must not have been the trial to him when this happy household came to be broken up later by her marriage!

Madame Delannoy was an old family friend of the Balzacs. She aided Balzac in his financial troubles as early in his career as 1826, and though he remained indebted to her for more than twenty years, he tried to repay her and was ever grateful to her, calling her his second mother. The following, written late in his career, reveals his general attitude towards her:

"I have just written a long letter to Madame Delannoy, with whom I have settled my business; but this still leaves me with obligations of conscientiousness towards her, which my first book will acquit. No one could have behaved more like a mother, or been more adorable than she has been throughout all this business. She has been a mother, I will be a son."

But if she remained one of his principal creditors, she received many literary proofs of his appreciation. As early as 1831 he dedicated to her a volume of his /Romans et Contes philosophiques/, but later changed the title to /Etudes philosophiques/, and dedicated to her /La Recherche de L'Absolu/:

"To Madame Josephine Delannoy, nee Doumerg.

"Madame, may God grant that this book have a longer life than mine! The gratitude which I have vowed to you, and which I hope will equal your almost maternal affection for me, would last beyond the limits prescribed for human feeling. This sublime privilege of prolonging the life in our hearts by the life of our works would be, if there were ever a certainty in this respect, a recompense for all the labor it costs those whose ambition is such. Yet again I say: May God grant it!


Balzac once thought of buying from Madame Delannoy a house that was left her by her friend, M. Ferraud, but which she could not keep. He felt that this would be advantageous to them both, but the plan was never carried out. Besides their financial and literary relations, their social relations were most cordial. He speaks of accompanying her and her daughter to the Italian opera twice during the absence of Madame Visconti.

In 1842, Balzac dedicated /La Maison-du-Chat-qui-pelote/ to Mademoiselle Marie de Montbeau, the daughter of Camille Delannoy, a friend of his sister, and the granddaughter of Madame Delannoy.

Another friend of Balzac's family was Madame de Pommereul. In the fall of 1828 after his serious financial loss, Balzac went to visit Baron and Madame de Pommereul in Brittany, where he obtained the material for /Les Chouans/, and became familiar with the chateau de Fougere. To please Madame de Pommereul, Balzac changed the name of his book from /Le Gars/ to /Les Chouans/, after temporarily calling it /Le Dernier Chouan/.

She has given a beautiful pen portrait of the youthful Balzac in which she describes minutely his appearance, noting his beautiful hands, his intelligent forehead and his expressive golden brown eyes. There was something in his manner of speaking, in his gestures, in his general appearance, so much goodness, confidence, naivete and frankness that it was impossible to know him without loving him, and his exuberant good nature was infectious. In spite of his misfortunes, he had not been in their company a quarter of an hour, and they had not even shown him to his room, before he had brought the general and herself to tears with laughter.

"On some evenings he remained in the drawing-room in company with his hosts, and entered into controversies with Madame de Pommereul, who, being very pious herself, tried to persuade him to make a practice of religion; while Balzac, in return, when the discussion was exhausted, endeavored to teach her the rules of backgammon. But the one remained unconverted and the other never mastered the course of the noble game. Occasionally he helped to pass the time by inventing stories, which he told with all the vividness of which he was master."

A few months after this prolonged visit, Balzac wrote to General de Pommereul, expressing his deep appreciation of their hospitality, and in speaking of the book which he had just written, hoped that Madame de Pommereul would laugh at some details about the butter, the weddings, the stiles, and the difficulties of going to the ball, etc., which he had inserted in his work,-if she could read it without falling asleep.

Balzac made perhaps his most prolonged visits in the home of another old family friend, M. de Margonne, who was living with his wife at Sache. He describes his life there thus:

"Sache is the remains of a castle on the Indre, in one of the most delicious valleys of Touraine. The proprietor, a man of fifty- five, used to dandle me on his knee. He has a pious and intolerant wife, rather deformed and not clever. I go there for him; and besides, I am free there. They accept me throughout the region as a child; I have no value whatever, and I am happy to be there, like a monk in a monastery. I always go there to meditate serious works. The sky there is so blue, the oaks so beautiful, the calm so vast! . . . Sache is six leagues from Tours. But not a woman, not a conversation possible!"

Not only did Balzac visit them when he wished to compose a serious work, but he often went there to recuperate from overwork. He probably did not enjoy their company, as he spoke of "having" to dine with them and he is perhaps even chargeable with ingratitude when he speaks of their parsimony.

Like his own family, these old people were interested in seeing him married to a rich lady, but to no avail. In spite of his unkind remarks about them, Balzac appreciated their hospitality, and expressed it by dedicating to M. de Margonne /Une Tenebreuse Affaire/.


"You are my public, you and a few other chosen souls, whom I wish to please; but yourself especially, whom I am proud to know, you whom I have never seen or listened to without gaining some benefit, you who have the courage to aid me in tearing up the evil weeds from my field, you who encourage me to perfect myself, you who resemble so much that angel to whom I owe everything; in short, you who are so good towards my ill-doings. I alone know how quickly I turn to you. I have recourse to your encouragements, when some arrow has wounded me; it is the wood-pigeon regaining its nest. I bear you an affection which resembles no other, and which can have no rival, because it is alone of its kind. It is so bright and pleasant near you! From afar, I can tell you, without fear of being put to silence, all I think about your mind, about your life. No one can wish more earnestly that the road be smooth for you. I should like to send you all the flowers you love, as I often send above your head the most ardent prayers for your happiness."

Balzac's friendship with Madame Zulma Carraud was not only of the purest and most beautiful nature, but it lasted longer than his friendship with any other woman, terminating only with his death. It was even more constant than that with his sister Laure, which was broken at times. Though Madame Surville states that it began in 1826, the following passage shows an earlier date: "I embrace you, and press you to a heart devoted to you. A friendship as true and tender now in 1838 as in 1819. Nineteen years!" The first letter to her in either edition of his correspondence, however, is dated 1826.

Madame Carraud, as Zulma Tourangin, attended the same convent as Balzac's sister Laure. Her husband was a distinguished officer in the artillery and a man of learning, but absolutely lacking in ambition, preferring to direct the instruction of Saint-Cyr rather than to risk the chances of advancement presented in active service. He became inspector of the gunpowder manufactory at Angouleme, and later retired to his home at Frapesle, near Issoudun. Though an excellent husband, his inactivity was a great annoyance to his wife. According to several Balzacian writers, Madame Carraud became the type of the /femme incomprise/ for Balzac, but the present writer is inclined to agree with M. Serval when he calls this judgment astonishing, since she was a woman who adored her husband and sons, was an author of some moral books for children, and nothing in her suggested either vagueness of soul or melancholy. Madame Carraud herself gives a glimpse of her married life in saying to Balzac that she and her husband are not sympathetic in everything, that being of different temperaments things appear differently to them, but that she knows happiness, and her life is not empty.

Often when sick, discouraged, overworked or pursued by his creditors, Balzac sought refuge in her home, and with a pure and disinterested maternal affection, she calmed him and inspired him with courage to continue the battle of life. It was indeed the maternal element that he needed and longed for, and Madame Carraud seems to have been a rare mother who really understood her child. He confided in her not only his financial worries, but also his love affairs, his aspirations in life, and his ideas of woman:

"I care more for the esteem of a few persons, amongst whom you are one of the first, both in friendship and in high intellect-one of the noblest souls I have ever known,-than I care for the esteem of the masses, for whom I have, in truth, a profound contempt. There are some vocations that must be obeyed, and something drags me irresistibly towards glory and power. It is not a happy life. There is in me a worship of woman, and a need of loving, which has never been completely satisfied. Despairing of ever being loved and understood as I desire, by the woman I have dreamt of (never having met her, except under one form-that of the heart), I have thrown myself into the tempestuous region of political passions and into the stormy and parching atmosphere of literary glory. . . . If ever I should find a wife and a fortune, I could resign myself very easily to domestic happiness; but where are these things to be found? Where is the family which would have faith in a literary fortune? It would drive me mad to owe my fortune to a woman, unless I loved her, or to owe it to flatteries; I am obliged, therefore, to remain isolated. In the midst of this desert, be assured that friendships such as yours, and the assurance of finding a shelter in a loving heart, are the best consolations I can have. . . . To dedicate myself to the happiness of a woman is my constant dream, but I do not believe marriage and love can exist in poverty. . . . I work too hard and I am too much worried with other things to be able to pay attention to those sorrows which sleep and make their nest in the heart. It may be that I shall come to the end of my life, without having realized the hopes I entertained from them. . . . As regards my soul, I am profoundly sad. My work alone keeps me alive. Will there never be a woman for me in this world? My fits of despondency and bodily weariness come upon me more frequently, and weigh upon me more heavily; to sink under this crushing load of fruitless labor, without having near me the gentle caressing presence of woman, for whom I have worked so much!"

Though Balzac and his mother were never congenial, he became very lonely after she left him in 1832. In the autumn of that year he had a break with the Duchesse de Castries, so he began the new year by summing up his trials and pouring forth his longings to Madame Carraud as he could do to no other woman, not even to his /Dilecta/. In response to this despondent epistle, she showed her broad sympathetic friendship by writing him a beautiful and comforting letter, in which she regretted not being able to live in Paris with him, so as to see him daily and give him the desired affection.

Not only through the hospitality of her home, but by sending various gifts, she ministered to Balzac's needs or caprices. To make his study more attractive, she indulged his craving for elegance and grace by surprising him with the present of a carpet and a lovely tea service. In thanking her for her thoughtfulness, he informed her that she had inspired some of the pages in the /Medicin de Campagne/.

Besides being so intimate a friend of Madame Carraud, the novelist was also a friend of M. Carraud, whom he called "Commandant Piston," and discussed his business plans with him before going to Corsica and Sardinia to investigate the silver mines. M. Carraud had a fine scientific mind; he approved of Balzac's scheme, and thought of going with him; his wife was astonished on hearing this, since he never left the house even to look after his own estate. However, his natural habit asserted itself and he gave up the project.

Madame Carraud was much interested in politics, and many of Balzac's political ideas are set forth in his letters to her when he was a candidate for the post of deputy. She reproached him for a mobility of ideas, an inconstancy of resolution, and feared that the influence of the Duchesse de Castries had not been good for him. To this last accusation, he replied that she was unjust, and that he would never be sold to a party for a woman.

Another tie which united Balzac to Madame Carraud was her sympathy for his devotion to Madame de Berny, of whom she was not jealous. Both women were devoted to him, and were friendly towards each other, so much so that in December, 1833, she invited Balzac to bring Madame de Berny with him to spend several days in her home at Frapesle. This he especially appreciated, since neither his mother nor his sister approved of his relations with his /Dilecta/.

Madame Carraud occupied in Balzac's life a position rather between that of Madame de Berny and that of a sister. Indeed, he often referred to her as a sister, and she was generous minded enough to ask him not to write to her when she learned how unpleasant his mother and sister were in regard to his writing to his friends.

Seeing his devotion to her, one can understand why he begged her to spare him neither counsels, scoldings nor reproaches, for all were received kindly from her. One can perceive also the sincerity of the following expressions of friendship:

"You are right, friendship is not found ready made. Thus every day mine for you increases; it has its root both in the past and in the present. . . . Though I do not write often, believe that my friendship does not sleep; the farther we advance in life, precious ties like our friendship only grow the closer. . . . I shall never let a year pass without coming to inhabit my room at Frapesle. I am sorry for all your annoyances; I should like to know you are already at home, and believe me, I am not averse to an agricultural life, and even if you were in any sort of hell, I would go there to join you. . . . Dear friend, let me at least tell you now, in the fulness of my heart, that during this long and painful road four noble beings have faithfully held out their hands to me, encouraged me, loved me, and had compassion on me; and you are one of them, who have in my heart an inalienable privilege and priority over all other affections; every hour of my life upon which I look back is filled with precious memories of you. . . . You will always have the right to command me, and all that is in me is yours. When I have dreams of happiness, you always take part in them; and to be considered worthy of your esteem is to me a far higher prize than all the vanities the world can bestow. No, you can give me no amount of affection which I do not desire to return to you a thousand-fold. . . . There are a few persons whose approval I desire, and yours is one of those I hold most dear."

Among those to whom Balzac could look for criticism, Madame Carraud had the high intelligence necessary for such a role; he felt that never was so wonderful an intellect as hers so entirely stifled, and that she would die in her corner unknown. (Perhaps this estimate of her caused various writers to think that Madame Carraud was Balzac's model for the /femme incomprise/.) Balzac not only had her serve him as a critic, but in 1836 he requested her to send him at once the names of various streets in Angouleme, and wished the "Commandant" to make him a rough plan of the place. This data he wanted for /Les deux Poetes/, the first part of /Les Illusions perdues/.

Like his family and some of his most intimate friends, she too interested herself in his future happiness, but when she wrote to him about marriage, he was furious for a long time. Concerning this question, Balzac informs her that a woman of thirty, possessing three or four hundred thousand francs, who would take a fancy to him, would find him willing to marry her, provided she were gentle, sweet- tempered and good-looking, although enormous sacrifices would be imposed on him by this course. Several months later, he writes her that if she can find a young girl twenty-two years of age, worth two hundred thousand francs or even one hundred thousand, she must think of him, provided the dowry can be applied to his business.

If the Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul is correct in his statement, Balzac showed Madame Carraud the first letter from /l'Etrangere/, in spite of his usual extreme prudence and absolute silence in such matters. She answered it, so another explanation of Balzac's various handwritings might be given. At least, Madame Carraud's seal was used.

In later years, Madame Carraud met with financial reverses. The following letter, which is the last to her on record, shows not only what she had been to Balzac in his life struggle, but his deep appreciation and gratitude:

"We are such old friends, you must not hear from any one else the news of the happy ending of this grand and beautiful soul-drama which has been going on for sixteen years. Three days ago I married the only woman I have ever loved, whom I love more than ever, and whom I shall love to my life's end. I believe this is the reward God has kept in store for me through so many years of neither a happy youth nor a blooming spring; I shall have the most brilliant summer and the sweetest of all autumns. Perhaps, from this point of view, my most happy marriage will seem to you like a personal consolation, showing as it does that Providence keeps treasures in store to bestow on those who endure to the end. . . . Your letter has gained for you the sincerest of friends in the person of my wife, from whom I have had no secrets for a long time past, and she has known you by all the instances of your greatness of soul, which I have told her, also by my gratitude for your treasures of hospitality toward me. I have described you so well, and your letter has so completed your portrait, that now you are felt to be a very old friend. Also, with the same impulse, with one voice, and with one and the same feeling in our hearts, we offer you a pleasant little room in our house in Paris, in order that you may come there absolutely as if it were your own house. And what shall I say to you? You are the only creature to whom we could make this offer, and you must accept it or you would deserve to be unfortunate, for you must remember that I used to go to your house, with the sacred unscrupulousness of friendship, when you were in prosperity, and when I was struggling against all the winds of heaven, and overtaken by the high tides of the equinox, drowned in debts. I have it now in my power to make the sweet and tender reprisals of gratitude . . . You will have some days' happiness every three months: come more frequently if you will; but you are to come, that is settled. I did this in the old times. At St. Cyr, at Angouleme, at Frapesle, I renewed my life for the struggle; there I drew fresh strength, there I learned to see all that was wanting in myself; there I obtained that for which I was thirsty. You will learn for yourself all that you have unconsciously been to me, to me a toiler who was misunderstood, overwhelmed for so long under misery, both physical and moral. Ah! I do not forget your motherly goodness, your divine sympathy for those who suffer. . . . Well, then as soon as you wish to come to Paris, you will come without even letting us know. You will come to the Rue Fortunee exactly as to your own house, absolutely as I used to go to Frapesle. I claim this as my right. I recall to your mind what you said to me at Angouleme, when broken down after writing /Louis Lambert/, ill, and as you know, fearing lest I should go mad. I spoke of the neglect to which these unhappy ones are abandoned. 'If you were to go mad, I would take care of you.' Those words, your look, and your expression have never been forgotten. All this is still living in me now, as in the month of July 1832. It is in virtue of that word that I claim your promise to-day, for I have almost gone mad with happiness. . . . When I have been questioned here about my friendships you have been named the first. I have described that fireside always burning, which is called Zulma, and you have two sincere woman-friends (which is an achievement), the Countess Mniszech and my wife."[*]

[*] Balzac is not exaggerating about the free use he made of her home, for besides going there for rest, he worked there, and two of his works, /La Grenadiere/ and /La Femme abandonnee/, were signed at Angouleme.

His devotion is again seen in the beautiful words with which he dedicates to her in 1838 /La Maison Nucingen/:

"To Madame Zulma Carraud.

"To whom, madame, but to you should I inscribe this work, to you whose lofty and candid intellect is a treasury to your friends, to you who are to me not only an entire public, but the most indulgent of sisters? Will you deign to accept it as a token of a friendship of which I am proud? You, and some few souls as noble as your own, will grasp my thought in reading /la Maison Nucingen/ appended to /Cesar Birotteau/. Is there not a whole social contrast between the two stories?


While hiding from his creditors, Balzac took refuge with Madame Carraud at Issoudun, where he assumed the name of Madame Dubois to receive his mail. Here he met some people whose names he made immortal by describing them in his /Menage de Garcon/, called later /La Rabouilleuse/. The priest Badinot introduced him to /La Cognette/, the landlady to whom the vineyard peasant sold his wine. La Cognette, some of whose relatives are still living, plays a minor role in the /Comedie humaine/. Her real name was Madame Houssard; her husband, whom Balzac incorrectly called "Pere Cognet," kept a little cabaret in the rue du Bouriau. "Mere Cognette," who lost her husband about 1835, opened a little café at Issoudun during the first years of her widowhood. Balzac was an intermittent and impecunious client of hers; he would enter her shop, quaff a cup of coffee, execrable to the palate of a connoisseur like him, and "chat a bit" with the good old woman who probably unconsciously furnished him with curious material.

The coffee drunk, the chat over, Balzac would strike his pockets, and declaring they were empty, would exclaim: "Upon my word, Mere Cognette, I have forgotten my purse, but the next time I'll pay for this with the rest!" This habit gave "Mere Cognette" an extremely mediocre estimate of the novelist, and she retained a very bad impression of him. Upon learning that he had, as she expressed it, "put me in one of his books," she conceived a violent resentment which ended only with her death (1855). "The brigand," she exclaimed, "he would have done better to pay me what he owes me!"

Another poor old woman, playing a far more important role in Balzac's work, lived at Issoudun and was called "La Rabouilleuse." For a long time, she had been the servant and mistress of a physician in the town. This wretched creature had an end different to the one Balzac gave his Rabouilleuse, but just as miserable, for having grown old, sick, despoiled and without means, she did not have the patience to wait until death sought her, but ended her miserable existence by throwing herself into a well.

The doctor, it seems, at his death had left her a little home and some money, but his heirs had succeeded in robbing her of it entirely.- Perhaps this story is the origin of the contest of Dr. Rouget's heirs with his mistress.

This Rabouilleuse had a daughter who inherited her name, there being nothing else to inherit; she was a dish washer at the Hotel de la Cloche, where Balzac often dined while at Issoudun. Can it be that he saw her there and learned from her the story of her mother?

Balzac was acquainted also with Madame Carraud's sister, Madame Philippe Nivet. M. Nivet was an important merchant of Limoges, living in a pretty, historical home there. It was in this home that Balzac visited early in his literary career, going there partly in order to visit these friends, partly to see Limoges, and partly to examine the scene in which he was going to place one of his most beautiful novels, /Le Cure de Village/. While crossing a square under the conduct of the young M. Nivet, Balzac perceived at the corner of the rue de la Vieille-Poste and the rue de la Cite an old house, on the ground-floor of which was the shop of a dealer in old iron. With the clearness of vision peculiar to him, he decided that this would be a suitable setting for the work of fiction he had already outlined in his mind. It is here that are unfolded the first scenes of /Le Cure de Village/, while on one of the banks of the Vienne is committed the crime which forms the basis of the story.

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