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Women in the Life of Balzac By Juanita Helm Floyd Characters: 83963

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"O matre pulchra filia pulchrior!"

Though Balzac did not go out in "society" a great deal, he was fortunate in associating with the best literary women of his time, and in knowing the charming Madame Sophie Gay, whose salon he frequented, and her three daughters. Elisa, the eldest of these, was married to Count O'Donnel. Delphine was married June 1, 1831, to Emile de Girardin, and Isaure, to Theodore Garre, son of Madame Sophie Gail, an intimate friend of Madame Gay. These two women were known as "Sophie la belle" and "Sophie la laide" or "Sophie de la parole" and "Sophie de la musique." Together they composed an /opera-comique/ which had some success. In 1814, Madame Gay wrote /Anatole/, an interesting novel which Napoleon is said to have read the last night he passed at Fontainebleau before taking pathetic farewell of his guard. A few years before this, she wrote another novel which met with much success, /Leonine de Monbreuse/, a study of the society and customs of the /Directoire/ and of the Empire.

Madame Gay had made a literary center of her drawing-room in the rue Gaillon where she had grouped around her twice a week not only many of the literary and artistic celebrities of the epoch, but also her acquaintances who had occupied political situations under the Empire. Madame Gay, who had made her debut under the /Directoire/, had been rather prominent under the Empire, and under the Restoration took delight in condemning the government of the Bourbons. Introduced into this company, though yet unknown to fame, Balzac forcibly impressed all those who met him, and while his physique was far from charming, the intelligence of his eyes reveled his superiority. Familiar and even hilarious, he enjoyed Madame Gay's salon especially, for here he experienced entire liberty, feeling no restraint whatever. At her receptions as in other salons of Paris, his toilet, neglected at times to the point of slovenliness, yet always displayed some distinguishing peculiarity.

Having acquired some reputation, the young novelist started to carry about with him the enormous and now celebrated cane, the first of a series of magnificent eccentricities. A quaint carriage, a groom whom he called Anchise, marvelous dinners, thirty-one waistcoats bought in one month, with the intention of bringing this number to three hundred and sixty-five, were only a few of the number of bizarre things, which astonished for a moment his feminine friends, and which he laughingly called /reclame/. Like many writers of this epoch, Balzac was not polished in the art of conversing. His conversation was but little more than an amusing monologue, bright and at times noisy, but uniquely filled with himself, and that which concerned him personally. The good, like the evil, was so grossly exaggerated that both lost all appearance of truth. As time went on, his financial embarrassments continually growing and his hopes of relieving them increasing in the same proportion, his future millions and his present debts were the subject of all his discourses.

Madame Gay was by no means universally beloved. In her sharp and disagreeable voice she said much good of herself and much evil of others. She had a mania for titles and was ever ready to mention some count, baron or marquis. In her drawing-room, Balzac found a direct contrast to the Royalist salon of the beautiful Duchesse de Castries which he frequented. In both salons, he met a society entirely unfamiliar to him, and acquainted himself sufficiently with the conventions of these two spheres to make use of them in his novels.

The /Physiologie du Mariage/, published anonymously in December, 1829, gave rise to a great deal of discussion. According to Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, two women well advanced in years, Madame Sophie Gay and Madame Hamelin, are supposed to have inspired the work, and even to have dictated some of its anecdotes least flattering to their sex. This Madame Hamelin, born in Guadeloupe about 1776, was the marvel of the /Directoire/, and several times was sent on secret missions by Napoleon. The role she played under the /Directoire/, the /Consulat/ and the Empire is not clear, but she was a confidential friend of Chateaubriand, lived in the noted house called the /Madeleine/, near the forest of Fontainebleau, and wrote about it as did Madame de Sevigne about /Les Rochers/. While living there, she received her Bonapartist friends as well as her Legitimist friends. Having lived in a society where life means enjoyment, she had many anecdotes to relate. She was a fine equestrienne, a most beautiful dancer, apparently naturally graceful, and bore the sobriquet of /la jolie laide/. Her marriage to the banker, M. Hamelin, together with her accomplishments, secured her a place in the society of the /Directoire/. Balzac, in a letter to Madame Hanska, refers to her as /une vieille celebrite/, and states that she wept over the letter of Madame de Mortsauf to Felix in /Le Lys dans la Vallee/. It is interesting to note that he later built his famous house and breathed his last in the rue Fortunee to which Madame Hamelin gave her Christian name, since it was cut through her husband's property, the former Beaujon Park, and that it became in 1851 the rue Balzac.

Delphine Gay, the beautiful and charming daughter of Madame Sophie Gay, was called "the tenth muse" by her friends, who admired the sonorous original verses which she recited as a young girl in her mother's salon. She became, in June, 1831, the wife of Emile de Girardin, the founder of the /Presse/. Possessing in her youth, a /bellezza folgorante/, Madame de Girardin was then in all the splendor of her beauty; her magnificent features, which might have been too pronounced for a young girl, were admirably suited to the woman and harmonized beautifully with her tall and statuesque figure. Sometimes, in the poems of her youth, she spoke as an authority on the subject of "the happiness of being beautiful." It was not coquetry with her, it was the sentiment of harmony; her beautiful soul was happy in dwelling in a beautiful body.

She held receptions for her friends after the opera, and Balzac was one of the frequenters of her attractive salon. Of her literary friends she was especially proud. According to Theophile Gautier, this was her coquetry, her luxury. If in some salon, some one-as was not unusual at that time-attacked one of her friends, with what eloquent anger did she defend them! What keen repartees, what incisive sarcasm! On these occasions, her beauty glowed and became illuminated with a divine radiance; she was magnificent; one might have thought Apollo was preparing to flay Marsyas!

"Madame de Girardin professed for Balzac a lively admiration to which he was sensible, and for which he showed his gratitude by frequent visits; a costly return for him who was, with good right, so avaricious of his time and of his working hours. Never did woman possess to so high a degree as Delphine,-we were allowed to call her by this familiar name among ourselves-the gift of drawing out the wit of her guests. With her, we always found ourselves in poetical raptures, and each left her salon amazed at himself. There was no flint so rough that she could not cause it to emit one spark; and with Balzac, as you may well believe, there was no need of trying to strike fire; he flashed and kindled at once." (Theophile Gautier, /Life Portraits, Balzac/.)

Balzac was interested in the occult sciences-in chiromancy and cartomancy. He had been told of a sibyl even more astonishing than Mademoiselle Lenormand, and he resolved that Madame de Girardin, Mery and Theophile Gautier should drive with him to the abode of the pythoness at Auteuil. The address given them was incorrect, only a family of honest citizens living there, and the old mother became angry at being taken for a sorceress. They had to make an ignominious retreat, but Balzac insisted that this really was the place and muttered maledictions on the old woman. Madame de Girardin pretended that Balzac had invented all this for the sake of a carriage drive to Auteuil, and to procure agreeable traveling companions. But if disappointed on this occasion, Balzac was more successful at another time, when with Madame de Girardin he visited the "magnetizer," M. Dupotet, rue du Bac.

Besides enjoying for a long time the "happiness of being beautiful," Delphine also enjoyed almost exclusively, in her set, that of being good. In this respect, she was superior to her mother who for the sake of a witticism, never hesitated to offend another. She had but few enemies, and, wishing to have none, tried to win over those who were inimical towards her. For twenty-five years she played the diplomat among all the rivals in talent and in glory who frequented her salon in the rue Laffitte or in the Champs-Elysees. She prevented Victor Hugo from breaking with Lamartine; she remained the friend of Balzac when he quarreled with her autocratic husband. She encouraged Gautier, she consoled George Sand; she had a charming word for every one; and always and everywhere prevailed her merry laughter-even when she longed to weep. But her cheery laugh was not her highest endowment; her greatest gift was in making others laugh.

Balzac had a sincere affection for Delphine Gay and enjoyed her salon. In his letters to her he often addressed her as /Cara/ and /Ma chere ecoliere/. Her poetry having been converted into prose by her prosaic husband, she submitted her writings to Balzac as to an enlightened master. He asked /Delphine Divine/ to write a preface for his /Etudes de Femmes/, but she declined, saying that an habitue of the opera who could so transform himself so as to paint the admirable Abbe Birotteau, could certainly surpass her in writing /une preface de femme/. She did, however, write the sonnet on the /Marguerite/ which Lucien de Rubempre displayed as one of the samples of his volume of verses to the publisher Dauriat; also /Le Chardon/. Balzac made use of this poem, however, only in the original edition of his work; it was replaced in the /Comedie humaine/ by another sonnet, written probably by Lassailly. Madame de Girardin brings her master before the public by mentioning his name in her /Marguerite, ou deux Amours/, where a personage in the book tells about Balzac's return from Austria and his inability to speak German when paying the coachman.

It was at the home of Madame de Girardin that Lamartine met Balzac for the first time, June, 1839. He asked her to invite Balzac to dinner with him that he might thank him, as he was just recovering from an illness during which he had "simply lived" on the novels of the /Comedie humaine/. The invitation she wrote Balzac runs as follows: "M. de Lamartine is to dine with me Sunday, and wishes absolutely to dine with you. Nothing would give him greater pleasure. Come then and be obliging. He has a sore leg, you have a sore foot, we will take care of both of you, we will give you some cushions and footstools. Come, come! A thousand affectionate greetings." And Lamartine has left this appreciation of her and her friendship for Balzac:

"Madame Emile de Girardin, daughter of Madame Gay who had reared her to succeed on her two thrones, the one of beauty, the other of wit, had inherited, moreover, that kindness which inspires love with admiration. These three gifts, beauty, wit, kindness, had made her the queen of the century. One could admire her more or less as a poetess, but, if one knew her thoroughly, it was impossible not to love her as a woman. She had some passion, but no hatred. Her thunderbolts were only electricity; her imprecations against the enemies of her husband were only anger; that passed with the storm. It was always beautiful in her soul, her days of hatred had no morrow. . . . She knew my desire to know Balzac. She loved him, as I was disposed to love him myself. . . . She felt herself in unison with him, whether through gaiety with his joviality, through seriousness with his sadness, or through imagination with his talent. He regarded her also as a rare creature, near whom he could forget all the discomforts of his miserable existence."

A few years after their meeting, Lamartine inquired Balzac's address of Madame de Girardin, as she was one of the few people who knew where he was hiding on account of his debts. Balzac was appreciative of the many courtesies extended to him by Madame de Girardin and was delighted to have her received by his friends, among whom was the Duchesse de Castries.

Madame de Girardin made constant effort to keep the peace between Balzac and her husband, the potentate of the /Presse/. Balzac had known Emile de Girardin since 1829, having been introduced to him by Levavasseur, who had just published his /Physiologie du Mariage/. Later Balzac took his Verdugo to M. de Girardin which appeared in /La Mode/ in which Madame de Girardin and her mother were collaborating; but these two men were too domineering and too violent to have amicable business dealings with each other for any length of time. Balzac, while being /un bourreau d'argent/, would have thought himself dishonored in subordinating his art to questions of commercialism; M. de Girardin only esteemed literature in so far as it was a profitable business. They quarreled often, and each time Madame de Girardin defended Balzac.

Their first serious controversy was in 1834. Balzac was no longer writing for /La Mode/; he took the liberty of reproducing elsewhere some of his articles which he had given to this paper; M. de Girardin insisted that they were his property and that his consent should have been asked. Madame de Girardin naturally knew of the quarrel and had a difficult role to play. If she condemned Balzac, she would be lacking in friendship; if she agreed with him, she would be both disrespectful to her husband and unjust. Like the clever woman that she was, she said both were wrong, and when she thought their anger had passed, she wrote a charming letter to Balzac urging him to come dine with her, since he owed her this much because he had refused her a short time before. She begged that they might become good friends again and enjoy the beautiful days laughing together. He must come to dinner the next Sunday, Easter Sunday, for she was expecting two guests from Normandy who had most thrilling adventures to relate, and they would be delighted to meet him. Again, her sister, Madame O'Donnel, was ill, but would get up to see him, for she felt that the mere sight of him would cure her.

Anybody but Balzac would have accepted this invitation of Madame de Girardin's, were it only to show his gratitude for what she had done for him; but Balzac was so fiery and so mortified by the letter of M. de Girardin that, without taking time to reflect, he wrote to Madame Hanska:

"I have said adieu to that mole-hill of Gay, Emile de Girardin and Company. I seized the first opportunity, and it was so favorable that I broke off, point-blank. A disagreeable affair came near following; but my susceptibility as man of the pen was calmed by one of my college friends, ex-captain in the ex-Royal Guard, who advised me. It all ended with a piquant speech replying to a jest."

However, in answering the invitation of Madame de Girardin, Balzac wrote most courteously expressing his regrets at Madame O'Donnel's illness and pleading work as his excuse for not accepting. This did not prevent the ardent peacemaker from making another attempt. Taking advantage of her husband's absence a few weeks later, she invited Balzac to lunch with Madame O'Donnel and herself. But time had not yet done its work, so Balzac declined, saying it would be illogical for him to accept when M. de Girardin was not at home, since he did not go there when he was present. The following excerpts from his letters, declining her various invitations, show that Balzac regarded her as his friend:

"The regret I experience is caused quite as much by the blue eyes and blond hair of a lady who I believe to be my friend-and whom I would gladly have for mine-as by those black eyes which you recall to my remembrance, and which had made an impression on me. But indeed I can not come. . . . Your /salon/ was almost the only one where I found myself on a footing of friendship. You will hardly perceive my absence; and I remain alone. I thank you with sincere and affectionate feeling, for your kind persistence. I believe you to be actuated by a good motive; and you will always find in me something of devotion towards you in all that personally concerns yourself."

Her attempts to restore the friendship were futile, owing to the obstinacy of the quarrel, but she eventually succeeded by means of her novel, /La Canne de Monsieur de Balzac/. In describing this cane as a sort of club made of turquoises, gold and marvelous chasings, Madame de Girardin incidentally compliments Balzac by making Tancrede observe that Balzac's large, black eyes are more brilliatn than these gems, and wonder how so intellectual a man can carry so ugly a cane.

This famous cane belongs to-day to Madame la Baronne de Fontenay, daughter of Doctor Nacquart. In October, 1850, Madame Honore de Balzac wrote a letter to Doctor Nacquart, Balzac's much loved physician, asking him to accept, as a souvenir of his illustrious friend, this cane which had created such a sensation,-the entire mystery of which consisted in a small chain which she had worn as a young girl, and which had been used in making the knob. There has been much discussion as to its actual appearance. He describes it to Madame Hanska (March 30, 1835), as bubbling with turquoise on a chased gold knob. The description of M. Werdet can not be relied on, for he states that Gosselin brought him the cane in October, 1836, and that Balzac conceived the idea of it while at a banquet in prison, but, as has been shown, the cane was in existence as early as March, 1835, and Madame de Girardin's book appeared in May, 1836. As to the description of the cane given by Paul Lacroix, the Princess Radziwill states that the cane owned by him is the one that Madame Hanska gave Balzac, and which he afterwards discarded for the gaudier one he had ordered for himself. This first cane was left by him to his nephew, Edouard Lacroix. Several years later (1845), Balzac had Froment Meurice make a cane /aux singes/ for the Count George de Mniszech, future son-in-law of Madame Hanska, so the various canes existing in connection with Balzac may help to explain the varying descriptions.

Balzac could not remain indifferent after Madame de Girardin had thus brought his celebrated cane into prominence. He was absent from Paris when the novel appeared, and scarcely had he returned when he wrote her (May 27, 1836), cordially thanking her as an old friend. He also after this made peace with M. de Girardin. But one difficulty was scarcely settled before another began, and the ever faithful Delphine was continually occupied in trying to establish peace. Her numerous letters to Balzac are filled with such expressions as: "Come to-morrow, come to dinner. Come, we can not get along without you! Come, Paris is an awful bore. We need you to laugh. Come dine with us, come! Come!!! Now come have dinner with us to-morrow or day after to-morrow, to-day, or even yesterday, every day!! A thousand greetings from Emile." Thus with her hospitality and merry disposition, she bridged many a break between her husband and Balzac.

Finally, not knowing what to do, she decided not to let Balzac mention the latest quarrel. When he referred to it, she replied: "Oh, no, I beg you, speak to Theophile Gautier. If is not for nothing that I have given him charge of the /feuilleton/ of the /Presse/. That no longer concerns me, make arrangements with him." Then she counseled her husband to have Theophile Gautier direct this part of the /Presse/ in order not to contend with Balzac, but the novelist was so unreasonable that M. de Girardin had to intervene. "My beautiful Queen," once wrote Theophile to Delphine, "if this continues, rather than be caught between the anvil Emile and the hammer Balzac, I shall return my apron to you. I prefer planting cabbage or raking the walls of your garden." To this, Madame de Girardin replied: "I have a gardener with whom I am very well satisfied, thank you; continue to maintain order /du palais/."

The relations between M. de Girardin and the novelist became so strained that Balzac visited Madame de Girardin only when he knew he would not encounter her husband. M. de Girardin retired early in the evening; his wife received her literary friends after the theater or opera. At this hour, Balzac was sure not to meet her husband, whose non-appearance permitted the intimate friends to discuss literature at their ease.

Although Madame de Girardin was married to a publicist, she did not like journalists, so she conceived the fancy of writing a satirical comedy, /L'Ecole des Journalistes/, in which she painted the journalists in rather unflattering colors. The work was received by the committee of the Theatre-Francais, but the censors stopped the performance. Balzac was angry at this interdiction, for he too disliked journalists, but Madame de Girardin took the censorship philosophically. In her salon she read /L'Ecole des Journalistes/ to her literary friends; there Balzac figured prominently, dressed for this occasion in his blue suit with engraved gold buttons, making his coarse Rabelaisian laughter heard throughout the evening.

Balzac's fame increased with the years, but he still regarded the friendship of Madame de Girardin among those he most prized, and in 1842 he dedicated to her /Albert Savarus/. When she moved into the little Greek temple in the Champs-Elysees, she was nearer Balzac, who was living at that time in the rue Basse at Passy, so their relations became more intimate. Yet when, after his return from St. Petersburg where he had visited Madame Hanska in 1843, the /Presse/ published the scandalous story about his connection with the Italian forger, he vowed he would never see again the scorpions Gay and Girardin.

Madame de Girardin regretted Balzac's not being a member of the Academy. In 1845, a chair being vacant, she tried to secure it for him. Although her salon was not an "academic" one, she had several friends who were members of the Academy and she exerted her influence with them in his behalf; when, after all her solicitude, he failed to gain a place among the "forty immortals," she had bitter words for their poor judgment, Balzac at that time being at the zenith of his reputation. Some time before this, too, she promised to write a /feuilleton/ on the great conversationalists of the day, maintaining that Balzac was one of the most brilliant; and she was thoughtful in inserting in her /feuilleton/ a few gracious words about his recent illness and recovery.

Balzac confided to Madame de Girardin his all absorbing passion for Madame Hanska. She knew of the secret visit of the "Countess" to Paris and of his four days' visit with her in Wiesbaden. She knew all the noble qualities and countless charms of the adored "Countess," but never having seen her, she felt that Madame Hanska did not fully reciprocate the passionate love of her /moujik/. Becoming ironical, she called Balzac a /Vetturino per amore/, and told him she had heard that Madame Hanska was, to be sure, exceedingly flattered by his homage and made him follow wherever she went-but only through vanity and pride,-that she was indeed very happy in having for /patito/ a man of genius, but that her social position was too high to permit his aspiring to any other title.

When the /Avant-Propos/ of the /Comedie humaine/ was reprinted in the /Presse/, October 25, 1846, it was preceded by a very flattering introduction written by Madame de Girardin. She continued to entertain the novelist, sending him many amusing invitations. In spite of the "Potentate of the /Presse/," her friendship with Balzac lasted until 1847, when she had to give him up.

The ever faithful Delphine knew of Balzac's financial embarrassment and persuaded her husband to postpone pressing him for the debts which he had partially paid before setting out for the Ukraine. The Revolution of February seriously affected Balzac's financial matters. After the death of Madame O'Donnel, in 1841, Madame de Girardin's friendship lost a part of its charm for Balzac and the rest of it vanished in these troubles. Since the greater part of the last few years of Balzac's life was spent in the Ukraine, she saw but little of him, but she hoped for his return with his long sought bride to the home he had so lovingly prepared for her in the rue Fortunee.

Whether Balzac was fickle in his nature, or whether he was trying to convince Madame Hanska that she was the only woman for whom he cared, one finds, throughout his letters to her, various comments on Madame de Girardin, some favorable, some otherwise. He admired her beauty very much, and was saddened when, at the height of her splendor, she was stricken with smallpox. He was grateful to her for the service she rendered him in arranging for the first presentation of his play /Vautrin/, throughout the misfortune attending this production she proved to be a true friend. Although he accepted her hospitality frequently, at times being invited to meet foreigners, among them the German Mlle. De Hahn, enjoying himself immensely, he regretted the time he sacrificed in this manner, and when he quarreled with her husband, he expressed his happiness in severing his relations with them. While a charming hostess at a small dinner party, she became, Balzac felt, a less agreeable one at a large reception, her talents not being sufficient to conceal her /bourgeois/ origin.

Madame de Girardin was in the country near Paris when she heard the sad news of the death of the author of the /Comedie humaine/. The shock was so great that she fainted, and, on regaining consciousness, wept bitterly over the premature death of her fried. A few years before her own death, in 1855, Madame de Girardin was greatly depressed by painful disappointments. The death of Balzac may be numbered as one of the sad events which discouraged, in the decline of life, the heart and the hope of this noble woman.

Madame Desbordes-Valmore was another literary woman whom Balzac met in the salon of Madame Sophie Gay, where she and Delphine recited poetry. Losing her mother at an early age under especially sad circumstances and finding her family destitute, after long hesitation, she resigned herself to the stage. Though very delicate, by dint of studious nights, close economy and many privations, she prepared herself for this work. At this time she contracted a /habit/ of suffering which passed into her life. She played at the /Opera Comique/ and recited well, but did not sing. At the age of twenty her private griefs compelled her to give up singing, for the sound of her own voice made her weep. So from music she turned to poetry, and her first volume of poems appeared in 1818. She began her theatrical career in Lille, played at the Odeon, Paris, and in Brussels, where she was married in 1817 to M. Valmore, who was playing in the same theater. Though she went to Lyons, to Italy, and to the Antilles, she made her home in Paris, wandering from quarter to quarter.

Of her three children, Hippolyte, Undine (whose real name was Hyacinthe) and Ines, the two daughters passed away before her. Her husband was honor and probity itself, and suffered only as a man can, from compulsory inaction. He asked but for honest employment and the privilege to work. She was so sensitive and felt so unworthy that she did not call for her pension after it was secured for her by her friends, Madame Recamier and M. de Latouche. A letter written by her to Antoine de Latour (October 15, 1836) gives a general idea of her life: "I do not know how I have slipped through so many shocks,-and yet I live. My fragile existence slipped sorrowfully into this world amid the pealing bells of a revolution, into whose whirlpool I was soon to be involved. I was born at the churchyard gate, in the shadow of a church whose saints were soon to be desecrated."

She was indeed a "tender and impassioned poetess, . . . one who united an exquisite moral sensibility to a thrilling gift of song. . . . Her verses were doubtless the expression of her life; in them she is reflected in hues both warm and bright; they ring with her cries of love and grief. . . . Hers was the most courageous, tender and compassionate of souls."

A letter written to Madame Duchambye (December 7, 1841), shows what part she played in Balzac's literary career:

"You know, my other self, that even ants are of some use. And so it was I who suggested, not M. de Balzac's piece, but the notion of writing it and the distribution of the parts, and then the idea of Mme. Dorval, whom I love for her talent, but especially for her misfortunes, and because she is dear to me. I have made such a moan, that I have obtained the sympathy and assistance of-whom do you guess?-poor Thisbe, who spends her life in the service of the /litterrateur/. She talked and insinuated and insisted, until at last he came up to me and said, 'So it shall be! My mind is made up! Mme. Dorval shall have a superb part!' And how he laughed! . . . Keep this a profound secret. Never betray either me or poor Thisbe, particularly our influence on behalf of Mme. Dorval."

His friendship for her is seen in a letter written to her in 1840:

"Dear Nightingale,-Two letters have arrived, too brief by two whole pages, but perfumed with poetry, breathing the heaven whence they come, so that (a thing which rarely happens with me) I remained in a reverie with the letters in my hand, making a poem all alone to myself, saying, 'She has then retained a recollection of the heart in which she awoke an echo, she and all her poetry of every kind.' We are natives of the same country, madame, the country of tears and poverty. We are as much neighbors and fellow- citizens as prose and poetry can be in France; but I draw near to you by the feeling with which I admire you, and which made me stand for an hour and ten minutes before your picture in the Salon. Adieu! My letter will not tell you all my thoughts; but find by intuition all the friendship which I have entrusted to it, and all the treasures which I would send you if I had them at my disposal."

Soon after Balzac met Madame Hanska, he reserved for her the original of an epistle from Madame Desbordes-Valmore which he regarded as a masterpiece. Balzac's friendship for the poetess, which began so early in his literary life, was a permanent one. Just before leaving for his prolonged visit in Russia, he wrote her a most complimentary letter in which he expressed his hopes of being of service to M. Valmore at the Comedie Francaise, and bade her good-bye, wishing her and her family much happiness.

Madame Desbordes-Valmore was one of the three women whom Balzac used as a model in portraying some of the traits of his noted character, Cousin Bette. He made Douai, her native place, the setting of /La Recherche de l'Absolu/, and dedicated to her in 1845 one of his early stories, /Jesus-Christ en Flandres/:

"To Marceline Desbordes-Valmore,

"To you, daughter of Flanders, who are one of its modern glories, I dedicate this na?ve tradition of old Flanders.


Though Balzac's first play, and first attempt in literature, /Cromwell/, was a complete failure, this did not deter him from longing to become a successful playwright. After having established himself as a novelist, he turned again to this field of literature. Having written several plays, he was acquainted, naturally, with the leading actresses of his day; among these was Madame Dorval, whom he liked. He purposed giving her the main role in /Les Ressources de Quinola/, but when he assembled the artists to hear his play, he had not finished it, and improvised the fifth act so badly that Madame Dorval left the room, refusing to accept her part.

Again, he wished her to take the leading role in /La Maratre/ (as the play was called after she had objected to the name, /Gertrude, Tragedie bourgeoise/). To their disappointment, however, the theater director, Hostein, gave the heroine's part to Madame Lacressoniere; the tragedy was produced in 1848. The following year, while in Russia, Balzac sketched another play in which Madame Dorval was to have the leading role, but she died a few weeks later.

Mademoiselle Georges was asked to take the role of Brancadori in /Les Ressources de Quinola/, presented for the first time on March 19, 1842, at the Odeon.

Balzac was acquainted with Mademoiselle Mars also, and was careful to preserve her autograph in order to send it to his "Polar Star," when the actress wrote to him about her role in /La grande Mademoiselle/.


"She has ended like the Empire."

Another of Balzac's literary friends was Madame Laure Junot, the Duchesse d'Abrantes. She was an intimate friend of Madame de Girardin and it was in the salon of the latter's mother, Madame Sophie Gay, that Balzac met her.

The Duchesse d'Abrantes, widow of Marechal Junot, had enjoyed under the Empire all the splendors of official life. Her salon had been one of the most attractive of her epoch. Being in reduced circumstances after the downfall of the Empire and having four children (Josephine, Constance, Napoleon and Alfred) to support, her life was a constant struggle to obtain a fortune and a position for her children. But as she had no financial ability, and had acquired very extravagant habits, the money she was constantly seeking no sooner entered her hands than it vanished. Wishing to renounce none of her former luxuries, she insisted upon keeping her salon as in former days, trying to conceal her poverty by her gaiety; but it was a sorrowful case of /la misere doree/.

Feeling that luxury was as indispensable to her as bread, and finding her financial embarrassment on the increase, she decided to support herself by means of her pen. She might well have recalled the wise words of Madame de Tencin when she warned Marmontel to beware of depending on the pen, since nothing is more casual. The man who makes shoes is sure of his pay; the man who writes a book or a play is never sure of anything.

Though the Generale Junot belonged to a society far different from Balzac's they had many things in common which brought him frequently to her salon. Balzac realized the necessity of frequenting the salon, saying that the first requisite of a novelist is to be well-bred; he must move in society as much as possible and converse with the aristocratic /monde/. The kitchen, the green-room, can be imagined, but not the salon; it is necessary to go there in order to know how to speak and act there.

Though Balzac visited various salons, he presented a different appearance in the drawing-room of Madame d'Abrantes. The glories of the Empire overexcited him to the point of giving to his relations with the Duchesse a vivacity akin to passion. The first evening, he exclaimed: "This woman has seen Napoleon as a child, she has seen him occupied with the ordinary things of life, then she has seen him develop, rise and cover the world with his name! She is for me a saint come to sit beside me, after having lived in heaven with God!: This love of Balzac for Napoleon underwent more than one variation, but at this time he had erected in his home in the rue de Cassini a little altar surmounted by a statue of Napoleon, with this inscription: "What he began with the sword, I shall achieve with the pen."

When Balzac first met the Duchesse d'Abrantes, she was about forty years of age. It is probably she whom he describes thus, under the name of Madame d'Aiglemont, in /La Femme de trente Ans/:

"Madame d'Aiglemont's dress harmonized with the thought that dominated her person. Her hair was gathered up into a tall coronet of broad plaits, without ornament of any kind, for she seemed to have bidden farewell forever to elaborate toilets. Nor were any of the small arts of coquetry which spoil so many women to be detected in her. Only her bodice, modest though it was, did not altogether conceal the dainty grace of her figure. Then, too, the luxury of her long gown consisted in an extremely distinguished cut; and if it is permissible to look for expression in the arrangement of materials, surely the numerous straight folds of her dress invested her with a great dignity. Moreover, there may have been some lingering trace of the indelible feminine foible in the minute care bestowed upon her hand and foot; yet, if she allowed them to be seen with some pleasure, it would have tasked the utmost malice of a rival to discover any affectation in her gestures, so natural did they seem, so much a part of old childish habit, that her careless grace absolves this vestige of vanity. All these little characteristics, the nameless trifles which combine to make up the sum of a woman's beauty or ugliness, her charm or lack of charm, can not be indicated, especially when the soul is the bond of all the details and imprints on them a delightful unity. Her manner was in perfect accord with her figure and her dress. Only in certain women at a certain age is it given to put language into their attitude. Is it sorrow, is it happiness that gives to the woman of thirty, to the happy or unhappy woman, the secret of this eloquence of carriage? This will always be an enigma which each interprets by the aid of his hopes, desires, or theories. The way in which she leaned both elbows on the arm of her chair, the toying of her inter-clasped fingers, the curve of her throat, the freedom of her languid but lithesome body which reclined in graceful exhaustion, the unconstraint of her limbs, the carelessness of her pose, the utter lassitude of her movements, all revealed a woman without interest in life. . . ."

Balzac's parents having moved from Villeparisis to Versailles, he had an excellent opportunity of seeing the Duchess while visiting them, as she was living at that time in the Grand-Rue de Montreuil No. 65, in a pavilion which she called her /ermitage/. In /La Femme de trente Ans/, Balzac has described her retreat as a country house between the church and the barrier of Montreuil, on the road which leads to the Avenue de Saint-Cloud. This house, built originally for the short-lived loves of some great lord, was situated so that the owner could enjoy all the pleasures of solitude with the city almost at his gates.

Soon after their meeting, a sympathetic friendship was formed between the two writers; they had the same literary aspirations, the same love for work, the same love of luxury and extravagant tastes, the same struggles with poverty and the same trials and disappointments.

Since Balzac was attracted to beautiful names as well as to beautiful women, that of the Duchesse d'Abrantes appealed to him, independently of the wealth of history it recalled. He was happy to make the acquaintance of one who could give him precise information of the details of the /Directoire/ and of the Empire, an instruction begun by the /commere Gay/. Thus the Duchesse d'Abrantes was to exercise over him, though in a less degree, the same influence for the comprehension of the Imperial world that Madame de Berry did for the Royalist world, just as the Duchesse de Castries later was to initiate him into the society of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.

Madame d'Abrantes, pleased as she was to meet literary people, welcomed most cordially the young author who came to her seeking stories of the Corsican. Owing to financial difficulties she was leading a rather retired and melancholy life, and the brilliant and colorful language of Balzac, fifteen years her junior, aroused her heart from its torpor, and her friendship for him took a peculiar tinge of sentiment which she allowed to increase. It had been many years since she had been thus moved, and this new feeling, which came to her as she saw the twilight of her days approaching, was for her a love that meant youth and life itself.

Hence her words pierced the very soul of Balzac and kindled an enthusiasm which made her appear to him greater than she really was; she literally dazzled and subjugated him. Her gaiety and animation in relating incidents of the Imperial court, and her autumnal sunshine, its rays still glowing with warmth as well as brightness, compelled Balzac to perceive for the second time in his life the insatiability of the woman who has passed her first youth-the woman of thirty, or the tender woman of forty. The fact is, however, not that Balzac created /la femme sensible de guarante ans/, as is stated by Philarete Chasles, so much as that two women of forty, Madame de Berny and Madame d'Abrantes, created him.

This affection savored of vanity in both; she was proud that at her years she could inspire love in a man so much younger than herself, while Balzac, whose affection was more of the head than of the heart, was flattered-it must be confessed-in having made the conquest of a duchess. Concealing her wrinkles and troubles under an adorable smile, no woman was better adapted than she to understand "the man who bathed in a marble tub, had no chairs on which to sit or to seat his friends, and who built at Meudon a very beautiful house without a flight of stairs."[*]

[*] This house, /Les Jardies/, was at Ville-d'Avray and not at Meudon.

But the love on Balzac's side must have been rather fleeting, for many years later, on March 17, 1850, he wrote to his

old friend, Madame Carraud, announcing his marriage with Madame Hanska: "Three days ago I married the only woman I have ever loved." Evidently he had forgotten, among others, the poor Duchess, who had passed away twelve years before.

But how could Balzac remain long her ardent lover, when Madame de Berny, of whom Madame d'Abrantes was jealous, felt that he was leaving her for a duchess? And how could he remain more than a friend to Madame Junot, when the beautiful Duchesse de Castries was for a short time complete mistress of his heart,[*] and was in her turn to be replaced by Madame Hanska? The Duchess could probably understand his inconstancy, for she not only knew of his attachment to Madame de Castries but he wrote her on his return from his first visit to Madame Hanska at Neufchatel, describing the journey and saying that the Val de Travers seemed made for two lovers.

[*] It is an interesting coincidence that the Duchess whose star was waning had been in love with the fascinating Austrian ambassador, Comte de Metternich, and the Duchess who was to take her place, was just recovering from an amorous disappointment in connection with his son when she met Balzac.

Knowing Balzac's complicated life, one can understand how, having gone to Corsica in quest of his Eldorado just before the poor Duchess breathed her last, he could write to Madame Hanska on his return to Paris: "The newspapers have told you of the deplorable end of the poor Duchesse d'Abrantes. She has ended like the Empire. Some day I will explain her to you,-some good evening at Wierzschownia."

Balzac wished to keep his visits to Madame d'Abrantes a secret from his sister, Madame Surville, and some obscurity and a "mysterious pavilion" is connected with their manner of communication. For a while she visited him frequently in his den. He enjoyed her society, and though oppressed by work, was quite ready to fix upon an evening when they could be alone.

It was not without pain that she saw his affection for her becoming less ardent while hers remained fervent. She wrote him tender letters inviting him to dine with her, or to meet some of her friends, assuring him that in her /ermitage/ he might feel perfectly at home, and that she regarded him as one of the most excellent friends Heaven had preserved for her.

"Heaven grant that you are telling me the truth, and that indeed I may always be for you a good and sincere friend. . . . My dear Honore, every one tells me that you no longer care for me. . . . I say that they lie. . . . You are not only my friend, but my sincere and good friend. I have kept for you a profound affection, and this affection is of a nature that does not change. . . . Here is /Catherine/, here is my first work. I am sending it to you, and it is the heart of a friend that offers it to you. May it be the heart of a friend that receives it! . . . My soul is oppressed on account of this, but it is false, I hope."

Balzac continued to visit her occasionally, and there exists a curious specimen of his handwriting written (October, 1835) in the album of her daughter, Madame Aubert. He sympathized with the unfortunate Duchess who, raised to so high a rank, had fallen so low, and tried to cheer her in his letters:

"You say you are ill and suffering, and without any hope that finer weather will do you any good. Remember that for the soul there arises every day a fresh springtime and a beautiful fresh morning. Your past life has no words to express it in any language, but it is scarcely a recollection, and you cannot judge what your future life will be by that which is past. How many have begun to lead a fresh, lovely, and peaceful life at a much more advanced age than yours! We exist only in our souls. You cannot be sure that your soul has come to its highest development, nor whether you receive the breath of life through all your pores, nor whether as yet you see with all your eyes."

Being quite a linguist, Madame d'Abrantes began her literary career by translations from the Portuguese, Spanish and Italian, and by writing novels, in the construction of which, Balzac advised her. As she had no business ability, he was of great assistance to her also in arranging for the publication of her work:

"In the name of yourself, I entreat you, do not enter into any engagement with anybody whatsoever; do not make any promise, and say that you have entrusted your business to me on account of my knowledge of business matters of this kind, and of my unalterable attachment to yourself personally. I believe I have found what I may call /living money/, seventy thousand healthy francs, and some people, who will jump out of themselves, to dispose in a short time of 'three thousand d'Abrantes,' as they say in their slang. Besides, I see daylight for a third and larger edition. If Mamifere (Mame) does not behave well, say to him, 'My dear sir, M. de Balzac has my business in his charge still as he had on the day he presented you to me; you must feel he has the priority over the preference you ask for.' This done, wait for me. I shall make you laugh when I tell you what I have concocted. If Everat appears again, tell him that I have been your attorney for a long time past in these affairs, when they are worth the trouble; one or two volumes are nothing. But twelve or thirteen thsousand francs, oh! oh! ah! ah! things must not be endangered. Only manoeuver cleverly, and, with that /finesse/ which distinguishes Madame the Ambassadress, endeavor to find out from Mame how many volumes he still has on hand, and see if he will be able to oppose the new edition by slackness of sale or excessive price.

"Your entirely devoted."


Such assistance was naturally much appreciated by a woman so utterly ignorant of business matters. But if Balzac aided the Duchess, he caused her publishers much annoyance, and more than once he received a sharp letter rebuking him for interfering with the affairs of Madame d'Abrantes.

It was doubtless due to the suggestion of Balzac that Madame d'Abrantes wrote her /Memoires/. He was so thrilled by her vivid accounts of recent history, that he was seized with the idea that she had it in her power to do for a brilliant epoch what Madame Roland attempted to do for one of grief and glory. He felt that she had witnessed such an extraordinary multiplicity of scenes, had known a remarkable number of heroic figures and great characters, and that nature had endowed her with unusual gifts.

A few years before her death, /La Femme abandonnee/ was dedicated:

"To her Grace the Duchesse d'Abrantes,

"from her devoted servant,


If such was the role played by Balzac in the life of Madame d'Abrantes, how is she reflected in the /Comedie humaine/?

It is a well known fact that Balzac not only borrowed names from living people, but that he portrayed the features, incidents and peculiarities of those with whom he was closely associated. In the /Avant-propos de la Comedie humaine/, he writes: "In composing types by putting together traits of homogeneous natures, I might perhaps attain to the writing of that history forgotten by so many historians,-the history of manners."

In fact, he too might have said: "I take my property wherever I find it;" accordingly one would naturally look for characteristics of Madame d'Abrantes in his earlier works.

According to M. Joseph Turquain, Mademoiselle des Touches, in /Beatrix/, generally understood to be George Sand, has also some of the characteristics of Madame d'Abrantes. Balzac describes Mademoiselle des Touches as being past forty and /un peu homme/, which reminds one that the Countess Dash describes Madame d'Abrantes as being rather masculine, with an /organe de rogome/, and a virago when past forty. Calyste became enamored of Beatrix after having loved Mademoiselle des Touches, while Balzac became infatuated with Madame de Castries after having been in love with Madame d'Abrantes, in each case, the blonde after the brunette.

Mademoiselle Josephine, the elder and beloved daughter of Madame d'Abrantes, entered the Convent of the Sisters of Charity of Saint- Vincent de Paul, contrary to the desires of her mother. In writing to the Duchess (1831), Balzac asks that Sister Josephine may not forget him in her prayers, for he is remembering her in his books. Balzac may have had her in mind a few years later when he said of Mademoiselle de Mortsauf in /Le Lys dans la Vallee/: "The girl's clear sight had, though only of late, seen to the bottom of her mother's heart. . . ." for Mademoiselle Josephine entered the convent for various reasons, one being in order to relieve the financial strain and make marriage possible for her younger sister, another perhaps being to atone for the secret she probably suspected in the heart of her mother, and which she felt was not complimentary to the memory of her father. And also, in /La Recherche de l'Absolu/: "There comes a moment, in the inner life of families, when the children become, either voluntarily or involuntarily, the judges of their parents."

In writing the introduction to the /Physiologie du Mariage/, Balzac states that here he is merely the humble secretary of two women. He is doubtless referring to Madame d'Abrantes as one of the two when he says:

"Some days later the author found himself in the company of two ladies. The first had been one of the most humane and most intellectual women of the court of Napoleon. Having attained a high social position, the Restoration surprised her and caused her downfall; she had become a hermit. The other, young, beautiful, was playing at that time, in Paris, the role of a fashionable woman. They were friends, for the one being forty years of age, and the other twenty-two, their aspirations rarely caused their vanity to appear on the same scene. 'Have you noticed, my dear, that in general women love only fools?'-'/What are you saying, Duchess?/' "[*]

[*] M. Turquain states that Madame Hamelin is one of these women and that the Duchesse d'Abrantes in incontestably the other. For a different opinion, see the chapter on Madame Gay. The italics are the present writer's.

In /La Femme abandonnee/, Madame de Beauseant resembles the Duchess as portrayed in this description:

"All the courage of her house seemed to gleam from the great lady's brilliant eyes, such courage as women use to repel audacity or scorn, for they were full of tenderness and gentleness. The outline of that little head, . . . the delicate, fine features, the subtle curve of the lips, the mobile face itself, wore an expression of delicate discretion, a faint semblance of irony suggestive of craft and insolence. It would have been difficult to refuse forgiveness to those two feminine failings in her in thinking of her misfortunes, of the passion that had almost cost her her life. Was it not an imposing spectacle (still further magnified by reflection) to see in that vast, silent salon this woman, separated from the entire world, who for three years had lived in the depths of a little valley, far from the city, alone with her memories of a brilliant, happy, ardent youth, once so filled with fetes and constant homage, now given over to the horrors of nothingness? The smile of this woman proclaimed a high sense of her own value."

In the postscript to the /Physiologie du Mariage/, Balzac mentions a gesture of one of these "intellectual" women, who interrupts herself to touch one of her nostrils with the forefinger of her right hand in a coquettish manner. In /La Femme abandonnee/, Madame de Beauseant has the same gesture. Another gesture of Madame de Beauseant in /La Femme abandonnee/ indicates that Balzac had in mind the Duchesse d'Abrantes: ". . . Then, with her other hand, she made a gesture as if to pull the bell-rope. The charming gesture, the gracious threat, no doubt, called up some sad thought, some memory of her happy life, of the time when she could be wholly charming and graceful, when the gladness of her heart justified every caprice, and gave one more charm to her slightest movement. The lines of her forehead gathered between her brows, and the expression of her face grew dark in the soft candle- light. . . ." The Duchesse d'Abrantes had on two occasions rung to dismiss her lovers, M. de Montrond and General Sebastiani. Balzac had doubtless heard her relate these incidents, and they are contained in the /Journal intime/, which she gave him.[*]

[*] Madame d'Abrantes presented several objects of a literary nature to Balzac, among others, a book of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a few leaves of which he presented to Madame Hanska for her collection of autographs.

In /La Femme abandonnee/, Balzac describes Madame de Beauseant as having taken refuge in Normandy, "after a notoriety which women for the most part envy and condemn, especially when youth and beauty in some way excuse the transgression." Can it be that the novelist thus condones the fault of this noted character because he wishes to pardon the /liaison/ of Madame d'Abrantes with the Comte de Metternich?

Is it then because so many traces of Madame d'Abrantes are found in /La Femme abandonnee/, and allusions are made to minute episodes known to them alone, that he dedicated it to her?

Was Balzac thinking of the Duchesse d'Abrantes when, in /Un Grand Homme de Province a Paris/, speaking of Lucien Chardon, who had just arrived in Paris at the beginning of the Restoration, he writes: "He met several of those women who will be spoken of in the history of the nineteenth century, whose wit, beauty and loves will be none the less celebrated than those of queens in times past."

In depicting Maxime de Trailles, the novelist perhaps had in mind M. de Montrond, about whom the Duchess had told him. Again, many characteristics of her son, Napoleon d'Abrantes, are seen in La Palferine, one of the characters of the /Comedie humaine/.

If Madame de Berny is Madame de Mortsauf in /Le Lys dans la Vallee/, Madame d'Abrantes has some traits of Lady Dudley, of whom Madame de Mortsauf was jealous. The Duchess gave him encouragement and confidence, and Balzac might have been thinking of her when he made the beautiful Lady Dudley say: "I alone have divined all that you were worth." After Balzac's affection for Madame de Berny was rekindled, Madame d'Abrantes, who was jealous of her, had a falling out with him.

It was probably Madame Junot who related to Balzac the story of the necklace of Madame Regnault de Saint-Jean d'Angely, to which allusion is made in his /Physiologie du Mariage/, also an anecdote which is told in the same book abut General Rapp, who had been an intimate friend of General Junot. At this time Balzac knew few women of the Empire; he did not frequent the home of the Countess Merlin until later. While Madame d'Abrantes was not a duchess by birth, Madame Gay was not a duchess at all, and Madame Hamelin still further removed from nobility.

It is doubtless to Madame d'Abrantes that he owes the subject of /El

Verdugo/, which he places in the period of the war with Spain; to her

also was due the information about the capture of Senator Clement de

Ris, from which he writes /Une tenebreuse Affaire/.

M. Rene Martineau, in proving that Balzac got his ideas for /Une tenebreuse Affaire/ from Madame d'Abrantes, states that this is all the more remarkable, since the personage of the senator is the only one which Balzac has kept just as he was, without changing his physiognomy in the novel. The senator was still living at the time Madame d'Abrantes wrote her account of the affair, his death not having occurred until 1827. In her /Memoires/, Madame d'Abrantes refers frequently to the kindness of the great Emperor, and it is doubtless to please her that Balzac, in the /denouement/ of /Une tenebreuse Affaire/, has Napoleon pardon two out of the three condemned persons. Although the novelist may have heard of this affair during his sojourns in Touraine, it is evident that the origin of the lawsuit and the causes of the conduct of Fouche were revealed to him by Madame Junot.

Who better than Madame d'Abrantes could have given Balzac the background for the scene of Corsican hatred so vividly portrayed in /La Vendetta/? Balzac's preference for General Junot is noticeable when he wishes to mention some hero of the army of the Republic or of the Empire; the Duc and Duchesse d'Abrantes are included among the noted lodgers in /Autre Etude de Femme/. It is doubtless to please the Duchess that Balzac mentions also the Comte de Narbonne (/Le Medecin de Campagne/).

Impregnating his mind with the details of the Napoleonic reign, so vividly portrayed in /Le Colonel Chabert/, /Le Medecin de Campagne/, /La Femme de trente Ans/ and others, she was probably the direct author of several observations regarding Napoleon that impress one as being strikingly true. Balzac read to her his stories of the Empire, and though she rarely wept, she melted into tears at the disaster of the Beresina, in the life of Napoleon related by a soldier in a barn.

The Generale Junot had a great influence over Balzac; she enlightened him also about women, painting them not as they should be, but as they are.[*]

[*] M. Joseph Turquain states that when the correspondence of Madame d'Abrantes and Balzac, to which he has had access, is published, one will be able to determine exactly the role she has played in the formation of the talent of the writer, and in the development of his character. His admirable work has been very helpful in the preparation of this study of Madame d'Abrantes.

During the last years of the life of Madame d'Abrantes, a somber tint spread over her gatherings, which gradually became less numerous. Her financial condition excited little sympathy, and her friends became estranged from her as the result of her poverty. Under her gaiety and in spite of her courage, this distress became more apparent with time. Her health became impaired; yet she continued to write when unable to sit up, so great was her need for money. From her high rank she had fallen to the depth of misery! When evicted from her poverty-stricken home by the bailiff, her maid at first conveyed her to a hospital in the rue de Chaillot, but there payment was demanded in advance. That being impossible, the poor Duchess, ill and abandoned by all her friends, was again cast into the street. Finally, a more charitable hospital in the rue des Batailles took her in. Thus, by ironical fate, the widow of the great /Batailleur de Junot/, who had done little else during the past fifteen years than battle for life, was destined to end her days in the rue des Batailles.


"The Princess (Belgiojoso) is a woman much apart from other women, not very attractive, twenty-nine years old, pale, black hair, Italian-white complexion, thin, and playing the vampire. She has the good fortune to displease me, though she is clever; but she poses too much. I saw her first five years ago at Gerard's; she came from Switzerland, where she had taken refuge."

The Princesse Belgiojoso had her early education entrusted to men of broad learning whose political views were opposed to Austria. She was reared in Milan in the home of her young step-father, who had been connected with the /Conciliatore/. His home was the rendezvous of the artistic and literary celebrities of the day; but beneath the surface lay conspiracy. At the age of sixteen she was married to her fellow townsman, the rich, handsome, pleasure-loving, musical Prince Belgiojoso, but the union was an unhappy one. Extremely patriotic, she plunged into conspiracy.

In 1831, she went to Paris, opened a salon and mingled in politics, meeting the great men of the age, many of whom fell in love with her. Her salon was filled with people famous for wit, learning and beauty, equaling that of Madame Recamier; Balzac was among the number. If Madame de Girardin was the Tenth Muse, the Princesse Belgiojoso was the Romantic Muse. She was almost elected president of /Les Academies de Femmes en France/ under the faction led by George Sand, the rival party being led by Madame de Girardin.

Again becoming involved in Italian politics, and exiled from her home and adopted country, she went to the Orient with her daughter Maria, partly supporting herself with her pen. After her departure, the finding of the corpse of Stelzi in her cupboard caused her to be compared to the Spanish Juana Loca, but she was only eccentric. While in the Orient she was stabbed and almost lost her life. In 1853 she returned to France, then to Milan where she maintained a salon, but she deteriorated physically and mentally.

For almost half a century her name was familiar not alone in Italian political and patriotic circles, but throughout intellectual Europe. The personality of this strange woman was veiled in a haze of mystery, and a halo of martyrdom hung over her head. Notwithstanding her eccentricities and exaggerations, she wielded an intellectual fascination in her time, and her exalted social position, her beauty, and her independence of character gave to her a place of conspicuous prominence.

As to whether Balzac always sustained an indifferent attitude towards the Princesse Belgiojoso there is some question, but he always expressed a feeling of nonchalance in writing about her to Madame Hanska. He regarded her as a courtesan, a beautiful /Imperia/, but of the extreme blue-stocking type. She was superficial in her criticism, and received numbers of /criticons/ who could not write. She wrote him at the request of the editor asking him to contribute a story for the /Democratie Pacifique/.

Balzac visited her frequently, calling her the Princesse /Bellejoyeuse/, and she rendered him many services, but he probably guarded against too great an intimacy, having witnessed the fate of Alfred de Musset. He was, however, greatly impressed by her beauty, and in the much discussed letter to his sister Laure he speaks of Madame Hanska as a masterpiece of beauty who could be compared only to the Princesse /Bellejoyeuse/, only infinitely more beautiful. Some years later, however, this beauty had changed for him into an ugliness that was even repulsive.

It amused the novelist very much to have people think that he had dedicated to the Princesse Belgiojoso /Modeste Mignon/, a work written in part by Madame Hanska, and dedicated to her. In the first edition this book was dedicated to a foreign lady, but seeing the false impression made he dedicated it, in its second edition to a Polish lady. He did, however, dedicate /Gaudissart II/ to:

Madame la Princesse de Belgiojoso, nee Trivulce.

Balzac found much rest and recuperation in travel, and in going to Turin, in 1836, instead of traveling alone, he was accompanied by a most charming lady, Madame Caroline Marbouty. She had literary pretensions and some talent, writing under the pseudonym of /Claire Brune/. Her work consisted of a small volume of poetry and several novels. She was much pleased at being taken frequently for George Sand, whom she resembled very much; and like her, she dressed as a man. Balzac took much pleasure in intriguing every one regarding his charming young page, whom he introduced in aristocratic Italian society; but to no one did he disclose the real name or sex of his traveling companion.

On his return from Turin he wrote to Comte Frederic Sclopis de Salerano explaining that his traveling companion was by no means the person whom he supposed. Knowing his chivalry, Balzac confided to the Count that it was a charming, clever, virtuous woman, who never having had the opportunity of breathing the Italian air and being able to escape the ennui of housekeeping for a few weeks, had relied upon his honor. She knew whom the novelist loved, and found in that the greatest of guarantees. For the first and only time in her life she amused herself by playing a masculine role, and on her return home had resumed her feminine duties.

During this journey Madame Marbouty was known as /Marcel/, this being the name of the devoted servant of Raoul de Nangis in Meyerbeer's masterpiece, /Les Huguenots/, which had been given for the first time on February 29, 1836. The two travelers had a delightful but very fatiguing journey, for there were so many things to see that they even took time from their sleep to enjoy the beauties of Italy. In writing to Madame Hanska of this trip, he spoke of having for companion a friend of Madame Carraud and Jules Sandeau.

Madame Marbouty was also a friend of Madame Carraud's sister, Madame Nivet, so that when Balzac visited Limoges he probably called on his former traveling companion.

When the second volume of the /Comedie humaine/ was published (1842),

Balzac remembered this episode in his life and dedicated /La

Grenadiere/ to his traveling companion:

"To Caroline, to the poetry of the journey, from the grateful


In explaining this dedication to Madame Hanska, Balzac states that the /poesie du voyage/ was merely the poetry of it and nothing more, and that when she comes to Paris he will take pleasure in showing to her this intimate friend of Madame Carraud, this charming, intellectual woman whom he has not seen since.

Balzac went to Madame Marbouty's home to read to her the first acts of /L'Ecole des Menages/, which she liked; a few days later, he returned, depressed because a great lady had told him it was /ennuyeux/, so she tried to cheer him. /Souvenirs inedits/, dated February, 1839, left by her, and a letter from her to Balzac dated March 12, 1840, in which she asks him to give her a ticket to the first performance of his play,[*] show that they were on excellent terms at this time. But later a coolness arose, and in April, 1842, Madame Marbouty wrote /Une fausse Position/. The personages in this novel are portraits, and Balzac appears under the name of Ulric. This explains why the dedication of /La Grenadiere/ was changed. Some writers seem to think that Madame Marbouty suggested to Balzac /La Muse du Departement/, a Berrichon bluestocking.

[*] The play referred to is doubtless /Vautrin/, played for the first time March 14, 1840.

Among the women in the /Comedie humaine/ who have been identified with women the novelist knew in the course of his life, Beatrix (Beatrix), depicting the life of the Comtesse d'Agoult, is one of the most noted. Balzac says of this famous character: "Yes, Beatrix is even too much Madame d'Agoult. George Sand is at the height of felicity; she takes a little vengeance on her friend. Except for a few variations, /the story is true/."

Although Balzac wrote /Beatrix/ with the information about the heroine which he had received from George Sand, he was acquainted with Madame d'Agoult. Descended from the Bethmanns of Hamburg or Frankfort, she was a native of Touraine, and played the role of a "great lady" at Paris. She became a journalist, formed a /liaison/ with Emile de Girardin, and wrote extensively for the /Presse/ under the name of Daniel Stern. She had some of the characteristics of the Princesse Belgiojoso; she abandoned her children. Balzac never liked her, and described her as a dreadful creature of whom Liszt was glad to be rid. She made advances to the novelist, and invited him to her home; he dined there once with Ingres and once with Victor Hugo, but he did not enjoy her hospitality. Notwithstanding the aversion which Balzac had for her, he sent her autograph to Madame Hanska, and met her at various places.

Among women Balzac's most noted literary friend was George Sand, whom he called "my brother George." In 1831 Madame Dudevant, having attained some literary fame by the publication of /Indiana/, desired to meet the author of /La Peau de Chagrin/, who was living in the rue Cassini, and asked a mutual friend to introduce her.[*] After she had expressed her admiration for the talent of the young author, he in turn complimented her on her recent work, and as was his custom, changed the conversation to talk of himself and his plans. She found this interview helpful and he promised to counsel her. After this introduction Balzac visited her frequently. He would go puffing up the stairs of the many-storied house on the quai Saint-Michel where she lived. The avowed purpose of these visits was to advise her about her work, but thinking of some story he was writing, he would soon begin to talk of it.

[*] Different statements have been made as to who introduced George Sand to Balzac. In her /Histoire de ma Vie/, George Sand merely says it was a friend (a man). Gabriel Ferry, /Balzac et ses Amies/, makes the same statement. Seche et Bertaut, /Balzac/, state that it was La Touche who presented her to him, but Miss K. P. Wormeley, /A Memoir of Balzac/, and Mme. Wladimir Karenine, /George Sand/, state that it was Jules Sandeau who presented her to him. Confirming this last statement, the Princess Radziwill states that it was Jules Sandeau, and that her aunt, Madame Honore de Balzac, has so told her.

They seem to have had many enjoyable hours with each other. She relates that one evening when she and some friends had been dining with Balzac, after a rather peculiar dinner he put on with childish glee, a beautiful brand-new /robe de chambre/ to show it to them, and purposed to accompany them in this costume to the Luxembourg, with a candlestick in his hand. It was late, the place was deserted, and when George Sand suggested that in returning home he might be assassinated, he replied: "Not at all! If I meet thieves they will think me insane, and will be afraid of me, or they will take me for a prince, and will respect me." It was a beautiful calm night, and he accompanied them thus, carrying his lighted candle in an exquisite carved candlestick, talking of his four Arabian horses, which he never had had, but which he firmly believed he was going to have. He would have conducted them to the other end of Paris, if they had permitted him.

Once George Sand and Balzac had a discussion about the /Contes droletiques/ during which she said he was shocking, and he retorted that she was a prude, and departed, calling to her on the stairway: "/Vous n'etes qu'une bete!/" But they were only better friends after this.

Early in their literary career Balzac held this opinion of her: "She has none of the littleness of soul nor any of the base jealousies which obscure the brightness of so much contemporary talent. Dumas resembles her in this respect. George Sand is a very noble friend, and I would consult her with full confidence in my moments of doubt on the logical course to pursue in such or such a situation; but I think she lacks the instinct of criticism: she allows herself to be too easily persuaded; she does not understand the art of refuting the arguments of her adversary nor of justifying herself." He summarized their differences by telling her that she sought man as he ought to be, but that he took him as he is.

If Madame Hanska was not jealous of George Sand, she was at least interested to know the relations existing between her and Balzac, for we find him explaining: "Do not fear, madame, that Zulma Dudevant will ever see me attached to her chariot. . . . I only speak of this because more celebrity is fastened on that woman than she deserves; which is preparing for her a bitter autumn. . . . /Mon Dieu!/ how is it that with such a splendid forehead you can think little things! I do not understand why, knowing my aversion for George Sand, you make me out her friend." Since Madame Hanska was making a collection of autographs of famous people, Balzac promised to send her George Sand's, and he wished also to secure one of Aurore Dudevant, so that she might have her under both forms.

It is interesting to note that at various times Balzac compared Madame Hanska to George Sand. While he thought his "polar star" far more beautiful, she reminded him of George Sand by her coiffure, attitude and intellect, for she had the same feminine graces, together with the same force of mind.

On his way to Sardinia, Balzac stopped to spend a few days with George Sand at her country home at Nohant. He found his "comrade George" in her dressing-gown, smoking a cigar after dinner in the chimney-corner of an immense solitary chamber. In spite of her dreadful troubles, she did not have a white hair; her swarthy skin had not deteriorated and her beautiful eyes were still dazzling. She had been at Nohant about a year, very sad, and working tremendously. He found her leading about the same life as he; she retired at six in the morning and arose at noon, while he retired at six in the evening and arose at midnight; but he conformed to her habits while spending these three days at her chateau, talking with her from five in the evening till five the next morning; after this, they understood each other better than they had done previously. He had censured her for deserting Jules Sandeau, but afterwards had the deepest compassion for her, as he too had found him to be a most ungrateful friend.

Balzac felt that Madame Dudevant was not lovable, and would always be difficult to love; she was a /garcon/, an artist, she was grand, generous, devoted, chaste; she had the traits of a man,-she was not a woman. He delighted in discussing social questions with a comrade to whom he did not need to show the /galanterie d'epiderme/ necessary in conversation with ordinary women. He thought that she had great virtues which society misconstrued, and that after hours of discussion he had gained a great deal in making her recognize the necessity of marriage. In discussing with him the great questions of marriage and liberty, she said with great pride that they were preparing by their writings a revolution in manners and morals, and that she was none the less struck by the objections to the one than by those to the other.

She knew just what he thought about her; she had neither force of conception, nor the art of pathos, but-without knowing the French language-she had /style/. Like him, she took her glory in raillery, and had a profound contempt for the public, which she called /Jumento/. Defending her past life, he says: "All the follies that she has committed are titles to fame in the eyes of great and noble souls. She was duped by Madame Dorval, Bocage, Lammennais, etc., etc. Through the same sentiment she is now the dupe of Liszt and Madame d'Agoult; she has just realized it for this couple as for la Dorval, for she has one of those minds that are powerful in the study, through intellect, but extremely easy to entrap on the domain of reality."

During this week-end visit, Madame Dudevant related to Balzac the story of Liszt and Madame d'Agoult, which he reproduced in /Beatrix/, since in her position, she could not do so herself. In the same book, George Sand is portrayed as Mademoiselle des Touches, with the complexion, pale olive by day, and white under artificial light, characteristic of Italian beauty. The face, rather long than oval, resembles that of some beautiful Isis. Her hair, black and thick, falls in plaited loops over her neck, like the head-dress with rigid double locks of the statues at Memphis, accentuating very finely the general severity of her features. She has a full, broad forehead, bright with its smooth surface on which the light lingers, and molded like that of a hunting Diana; a powerful, wilful brow, calm and still. The eyebrows, strongly arched, bend over the eyes in which the fire sparkles now and again like that of fixed stars. The cheek-bones, though softly rounded, are more prominent than in most women, and confirm the impression of strength. The nose, narrow and straight, has high-cut nostrils, and the mouth is arched at the corners. Below the nose the lip is faintly shaded by a down that is wholly charming; nature would have blundered if she had not placed there that tender smoky tinge.

Balzac admitted that this was the portrait of Madame Dudevant, saying

that he rarely portrayed his friends, exceptions being G. Planche in

Claude Vignon, and George Sand in Camille Maupin (Mademoiselle des

Touches), both with their consent.

Madame Dudevant was an excessive smoker, and during Balzac's visit to her, she had him smoke a hooka and latakia which he enjoyed so much that he wrote to Madame Hanska, asking her to get him a hooka in Moscow, as he thought she lived near there, and it was there or in Constantinople that the best could be found; he wished her also, if she could find true latakia in Moscow, to send him five or six pounds, as opportunities were rare to get it from Constantinople. Later, on his visit to Sardinia, he wrote her from Ajaccio: "As for the latakia, I have just discovered (laugh at me for a whole year) that Latakia is a village of the island of Cyprus, a stone's throw from here, where a superior tobacco is made, named from the place, and that I can get it here. So mark out that item."[*]

[*] /Lettres a l'Etrangere. This contradicts the statement of S. de Lovenjoul, /Bookman/, that Balzac had a horror of tobacco and is known to have smoked only once, when a cigar given him by Eugene Sue made him very ill. He evidently had this excerpt of a letter in mind: "I have never known what drunkenness was, except from a cigar which Eugene Sue made me smoke against my will, and it was that which enabled me to paint the drunkenness for which you blame me in the /Voyage a Java/." This visit to George Sand was made five years after this letter was written. Or S. de Lovenjoul might have had in mind the statement of Theophile Gautier that Balzac could not endure tobacco in any form; he anathematized the pipe, proscribed the cigar, did not even tolerate the Spanish /papelito/, and only the Asiatic narghile found grace in his sight. He allowed this only as a curious trinket, and on account of its local color.

George Sand and Balzac discussed their work freely and did not hesitate to condemn either plot or character of which they did not approve. Some of Balzac's women shocked her, but she liked /La premiere Demoiselle/ (afterwards L'Ecole des Manages), a play which Madame Surville found superb, but which Madame Hanska discouraged because she did not like the plot. She aided him in a financial manner by signing one of his stories, /Voyage d'un Moineau de Paris/. At that time, Balzac needed money and Stahl (Hetzel) refused to insert in his book, /Scenes de la Vie privee de Animaux/ (2 vols., 1842), this story of Balzac's, who had already furnished several articles for this collection. George Sand signed her name, and in this way, Balzac obtained the money.

Madame Dudevant not only remained a true friend to Balzac in a literary and financial sense, but was glad to defend his character, and was firm in refuting statements derogatory to him. In apologizing to him for an article that had appeared without her knowledge in the /Revue independente/, edited by her, she asked his consent to write a large work about him. He tried to dissuade her, telling her that she would create enemies for herself, but, after persistence on her part, he asked her to write a preface to the /Comedie humaine/. The plan of the work, however, was very much modified, and did not appear until after Balzac's death.

Balzac dined frequently with Madame Dudevant and political as well as social and literary questions were discussed. He enjoyed opposing her views; after his return from his prolonged visit to Madame Hanska in St. Petersburg (1843), George Sand twitted him by asking him to give his /Impressions de Voyage/.

A story told at Issoudun illustrates further the genial association of the two authors: Balzac was dining one day at the Hotel de la Cloche in company with George Sand. She had brought her physician, who was to accompany her to Nohant. The conversation turned on the subject of insane people, and the peculiar manner in which the exterior signs of insanity are manifested. The physician claimed to be an expert in recognizing an insane person at first sight. George Sand asked very seriously: "Do you see any here?" Balzac was eating, as always, ravenously, and his tangled hair followed the movement of his head and arm. "There is one!" said the Doctor; "no doubt about it!" George Sand burst out laughing, Balzac also, and, the introduction made, the confused physician was condemned to pay for the dinner.

Balzac expresses his admiration for her in the dedication of the

/Memoires de deux jeunes mariees/:

"To George Sand.

"This dedication, dear George, can add nothing to the glory of your name, which will cast its magic luster on my book; but in making it there is neither modesty nor self-interest on my part. I desire to bear testimony to the true friendship between us which continues unchanged in spite of travels and absence,-in spite, too, of our mutual hard work and the maliciousness of the world. This feeling will doubtless never change. The procession of friendly names which accompany my books mingles pleasure with the pain their great number causes me, for they are not written without anxiety, to say nothing of the reproach cast upon me for my alarming fecundity,-as if the world which poses before me were not more fecund still. Would it not be a fine thing, George, if some antiquary of long past literatures should find in that procession none but great names, noble hearts, pure and sacred friendships,-the glories of this century? May I not show myself prouder of that certain happiness than of other successes which are always uncertain? To one who knows you well it must ever be a great happiness to be allowed to call himself, as I do here,

"Your friend,


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