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Women in the Life of Balzac By Juanita Helm Floyd Characters: 59971

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


A woman with whom Balzac was to have business dealings early in his literary career was Madame Charles Bechet, of whom he said: "This publisher is a woman, a widow whom I have never seen, and whom I do not know. I shall not send off this letter until the signatures are appended on both sides, so that my missive may carry you good news about my interests; . . ."

Thus began a business relation which, like many of Balzac's financial affairs, was to end unhappily. At first he liked her very much and dined with her, meeting in her company such noted literary men as Beranger, but as usual, he delayed completing his work, meanwhile resorting, in mitigation of his offense, to tactics such as the following words will indicate: ". . . a pretty watch given at the right moment to Madame Bechet may win me a month's freedom. I am going to overwhelm her with gifts to get peace."

Balzac often caused his publishers serious annoyance by re-writing his stories frequently, but at the beginning of this business relation he agreed with Madame Bechet about the cost of corrections. He says of the fair publisher: "The widow Bechet has been sublime: she had taken upon herself the expense of more than four thousand francs of corrections, which were set down to me. Is this not still pleasanter?"

But this could not last long, for she became financially embarrassed and then had to be very strict with him. She refused to advance any money until his work was delivered to her and called upon him to pay for the corrections. This he resented greatly:

"Madame Bechet has become singularly ill-natured and will hurt my interests very much. In paying me, she charges me with corrections which amount on the twelve volumes to three thousand francs, and also for my copies, which will cost me fifteen hundred more. Thus four thousand five hundred francs and my discounts, diminish by six thousand the thirty-three thousand. She could not lose a great fortune more clumsily, for Werdet estimates at five hundred thousand francs the profits to be made out of the next edition of the /Etudes de Moeurs/. I find Werdet the active, intelligent, and devoted publisher that I want. I have still six months before I can be rid of Madame Bechet; for I have three volumes to do, and it is impossible to count on less than two months to each volume."

She evidently relented, for he wrote later that Madame Bechet had paid him the entire thirty-three thousand francs. This, however, did not end their troubles, and he longed to be free from his obligations, and to sever all connection with her.

In the spring of 1836, Madame Bechet became Madame Jacquillart. Whether she was influenced by her husband or had become weary of Balzac's delays, she became firmer. The novelist felt that she was too exacting, for he was working sixteen hours a day to complete the last two volumes for her, and he believed that the suit with which she threatened him was prompted by his enemies, who seemed to have sworn his ruin. Madame Bechet lost but little time in carrying out her threat, for a few days after this he writes:

"Do you know by what I have been interrupted? By a legal notice from Bechet, who summons me to furnish her within twenty-four hours my two volumes in 8vo, with a penalty of fifty francs for every day's delay! I must be a great criminal and God wills that I shall expiate my crimes! Never was such torture! This woman has had ten volumes 8vo out of me in two years, and yet she complains at not getting twelve!"

There had been a question of a lawsuit as early as the autumn of 1835; to avoid this he was then trying to finish the /Fleur-des-Pois/ (afterwards /Le Contrat de Mariage/). But their relations were more cordial at that time, for a short time later, he writes: "My publisher, the sublime Madame Bechet, has been foolish enough to send the corrected proofs to St. Petersburg. I am told nothing is spoken of there but of the /excellence of this new masterpiece/."

Both Madame Bechet and Werdet were in despair over Balzac's journey to Vienna in 1835, but things grew even worse the next year. The novelist gives this glimpse of his troubles:

"My mind itself was crushed; for the failure of the /Chronique/ came upon me at Sache, at M. de Margonne's, where, by a wise impulse, I was plunged in work to rid myself of that odious Bechet. I had undertaken to write in ten days (it was that which kept me from going to Nemours!) the two volumes which had been demanded of me, and in eight days I had invented and composed /Les Illusions perdues/, and had written a third of it. Think what such application meant! All my faculties were strained; I wrote fifteen hours a day. . . ."

In explaining Balzac's association with Madame Bechet, M. Henri d'Almeras states that Madame Bechet was interested, at first, in attaching celebrated writers to her publishing house, or those who had promise of fame. She organized weekly dinner parties, which took place on Saturday, and here assembled Beranger, Henri de Latouche, Louis Reybaud, Leon Gozlan, Brissot-Thivars, Balzac and Dr. Gentil. It was with Madame Bechet as with Charles Gosselin. The publication, less lucrative than she expected, of the first series of the /Scenes de la Vie parisienne/ and the /Scenes de la Vie de Province/ made it particularly disagreeable to her to receive the reproaches of a writer who, with his admirable talent, could not become resigned to meet with less success than other litterateurs not so good as he.

The termination of their business relations is recounted thus: "/Illusions perdues/ appears this week. On the 17th I have a meeting to close up all claims from Madame Bechet and Werdet. So there is one cause of torment the less."

If M. Hughes Rebell is correct in his surmise, at least a part of Werdet's admiration for the novelist was inspired by his wife, who had become a great admirer of the works of the young writer, not well known at that time. Madame Werdet persuaded her husband to speak to Madame Bechet about Balzac, and to advise her to publish his works. Her husband did so, but Madame Werdet did not stop at this. She convinced him that he should leave Madame Bechet and become Balzac's sole publisher; this he was for five years, and, moreover, served him as his banker. M. Rebell thinks also that Madame Werdet is the "delicious /bourgeoise/" referred to in Balzac's letter to Madame Surville.


"You wish to know if I have met Foedora, if she is true? A woman from cold Russia, the Princess Bagration, is supposed in Paris to be the model for her. I have reached the seventy-second woman who has had the impertinence to recognize herself in that character. They are all of ripe age. Even Madame Recamier is willing to /foedorize herself/. Not a word of all that is true. I made Foedora out of two women whom I have known without having been intimate with them. Observation sufficed me, besides a few confidences. There are also some kind souls who will have it that I have courted the handsomest of Parisian courtesans and have concealed myself behind her curtains. These are calumnies. I have met a Foedora; but that one I shall not paint; besides, it has been a long time since /La Peau de Chagrin/ was published."

Quoting Amedee Pichot and Dr. Meniere, S. de Lovenjoul states that Mademoiselle Olympe Pelissier is the woman whom Balzac used as a model for his Foedora, and that, like Raphael, he concealed himself in her bedroom. She is indeed the woman without a heart; she kept in the rue Neuve-du-Luxembourg a salon frequented by noted political people such as the Duc de Fitz-James. Being rich as well as beautiful, and having an exquisite voice, she was highly attractive to the novelist, who aspired to her hand, and who regarded her refusal with bitterness all his life. Several years later she was married to her former voice teacher, M. Rossini.

Balzac met the famous Olympe early in his literary career; he says of her:

"Two years ago, Sue quarreled with a /mauvaise courtesone/ celebrated for her beauty (she is the original of Vernet's /Judith/). I lowered myself to reconcile them, and they gave her to me. M. de Fitz-James, the Duc de Duras, and the old count went to her house to talk, as on neutral ground, much as people walk in the alley of the Tuileries to meet one another; and one expects better conduct of me than of those gentlemen! . . . As for Rossini, I wish him to write me a nice letter, and he has just invited me to dine with his mistress, who happens to be that beautiful /Judith/, the former mistress of Horace Vernet and of Sue you know. . . ."

Some months after this Balzac gave a dinner to his /Tigres/, as he called the group occupying the same box with him at the opera. Concerning this dinner, he writes:

"Next Saturday I give a dinner to the /Tigres/ of my opera-box, and I am preparing sumptuosities out of all reason. I shall have Rossini and Olympe, his /cara dona/, who will preside. . . . My dinner? Why, it made a great excitement. Rossini declared he had never seen eaten or drunk anything better among sovereigns. This dinner was sparkling with wit. The beautiful Olympe was graceful, sensible and perfect."[*]

[*] The present writer has not been able to find any date that would prove positively that Balzac knew Madame Rossini before writing /La Peau de Chagrin/ which appeared in 1830-1831.

Balzac was a great admirer of Rossini, wrote the words for one of his compositions, and dedicated to him /Le Contrat de Mariage/.

Among the famous salons that Balzac frequented was that of Madame Recamier, who was noted even more for her distinction and grace than for her beauty. She appreciated the ability of the young writer, and invited him to read in her salon long before the world recognized his name. He admired her greatly; of one of his visits to her he writes:

"Yesterday I went to see Madame Recamier, whom I found ill but wonderfully bright and kind. I have heard that she did much good, and acted very nobly in being silent and making no complaint of the ungrateful beings she has met. No doubt she saw upon my face a reflection of what I thought of her, and without explaining to herself this little sympathy, she was charming."

Although one would not suspect Madame Hanska of being jealous of Madame Recamier, perhaps it is because she wished to /foedorize/ herself that Balzac writes:

"/Mon Dieu!/ do not be jealous of any one. I have not been to see Madame Recamier or any one else. . . . As to my relations with the person you speak of, I never had any that were tender; I have none now. I answered a very unimportant letter, and apropos of a sentence, I explained myself; that was all. There are relations of politeness due to women of a certain rank whom one has known; but a visit to Madame Recamier is not, I suppose, /relations/, when one visits her once in three months."

One of the famous women whom Balzac met soon after he began to acquire literary fame was the Duchesse de Dino, who was married to Talleyrand's nephew in 1809.

"When her husband's uncle became French Ambassador at Vienna in 1814, she went with him as mistress of the embassy. When he was sent to London in 1830, she accompanied him in the same capacity. She lived with him till his death in 1838, entirely devoted to his welfare, and she had given us in these pages a picture of the old Talleyrand which is among the masterpieces of memoir-writing. From this connection she was naturally for many years in the very heart of political affairs, as no one was, save perhaps that other Dorothea of the Baltic, the Princess de Lieven. To great beauty and spirit she added unusual talents, and in the best sense was a great lady of the /haute politique/."

Balzac had met her in the salon of Madame Appony, but had never visited her in her home until 1836, when he went to Rochecotte to see the famous Prince de Talleyrand, having a great desire to have a view of the "witty turkeys who plucked the eagle and made it tumble into the ditch of the house of Austria." Several years later, on his return from St. Petersburg, he stopped in Berlin, where he was invited to a grand dinner at the home of the Count and Countess Bresson. He gave his arm to the Duchesse de Talleyrand (ex-Dino), whom he thought the most beautiful lady present, although she was fifty-two years of age.

The Duchesse has left this appreciation of the novelist: ". . . his face and bearing are vulgar, and I imagine his ideas are equally so. Undoubtedly, he is a very clever man, but his conversation is neither easy nor light, but on the contrary, very dull. He watched and examined all of us most minutely."

Notwithstanding that the beautiful Dorothea did not admire Balzac, he was sincere in his appreciation of her. A novel recently brought to light, /L'Amour Masque/, or as the author first called it, /Imprudence et Bonheur/, was written for her. Balzac had been her guest repeatedly; he had recognized in her one of the rare women, who by their intelligence and, as it were, instinctive appreciation of genius can compensate to a great /incompris/ like Balzac for the lack of recognition on the part of his contemporaries; one of those women near whom, thanks to tactful treatment, a depressed man will regain confidence in himself and courage to go on.

Of the distinguished houses which were open to Balzac, that of the Comte Appony was one of the most beautiful. This protégé of the Prince of Metternich, having had the rare good fortune to please both governments, was retained by Louis-Philippe, and was as well liked and appreciated in the role of ambassador and diplomat as in that of man of the world. The Countess Appony possessed a very peculiar charm, and was a type of feminine distinction. Balls and receptions were given frequently in her home, where all was of a supreme elegance.

Balzac visited the Count and Countess frequently, often having a letter or a message to deliver for the Comtesse Marie Potocka. He realized that it would be of advantage to be friendly toward the Ambassador of Austria, and he doubtless enjoyed the society of his charming wife. He writes of one of these visits:

"Alas! your /moujik/ also has been /un poco/ in that market of false smiles and charming toilets; he has made his debut at Madame Appony's,-for the house of Balzac must live on good terms with the house of Austria,-and your /moujik/ had some success. He was examined with the curiosity felt for animals from distant regions. There were presentations on presentations, which bored him so that he placed himself in a corner with some Russians and Poles. But their names are so difficult to pronounce that he cannot tell you anything about them, further than that one was a very ugly lady, friend of Madame Hahn, and a Countess Schouwalof, sister of Madame Jeroslas. . . . Is that right? The /moujik/ will go there every two weeks, if his lady permits him."

The novelist met many prominent people at these receptions, among them Prince Esterhazy; he went to the beautiful soirees of Madame Appony while refusing to go elsewhere, even to the opera.

Several women Balzac probably met through his intimacy with their husbands. Among these were Madame de Bernard, whose name was Clementine, but whom he called "Mentine" and "La Fosseuse," this character being the frail nervous young girl in /Le Medecin de Campagne/. In August, 1831, M. Charles de Bernard wrote a very favorable article about /La Peau de Chagrin/ in the /Gazette de Franche-Comte/, which he was editing at that time. This naturally pleased the novelist; their friendship continued through many years, and in 1844, Balzac dedicated to him /Sarrazine/, written in 1830.

Early in his literary career Balzac knew Baron Gerard, and in writing to the painter, sent greetings to Madame Gerard. Much later in life, while posing for his bust, made by David d'Angers, he saw Madame David frequently, and learned to like her. He felt flattered that she thought he looked so much younger than he really was. On his return from St. Petersburg, in 1843, he brought her a pound of Russian tea, which, as he explained, had no other merit than the exceeding difficulties it had encountered in passing through twenty custom- houses.


"Madame de Visconti, of whom you speak to me, is one of the most amiable of women, of an infinite, exquisite kindness; a delicate and elegant beauty. She helps me much to bear my life. She is gentle, and full of firmness, immovable and implacable in her ideas and her repugnances. She is a person to be depended on. She has not been fortunate, or rather, her fortune and that of the Count are not in keeping with this splendid name. . . . It is a friendship which consoles me under many griefs. But, unfortunately, I see her very seldom."

Madame Emile Guidoboni-Visconti, nee (Frances Sarah) Lowell, was an Englishwoman another /etrangere/. Balzac shared the same box with her at the Italian opera, and in the summer of 1836, he went to Turin to look after some legal business for the Viscontis. He had not known them long before this, for he writes, in speaking of /Le Lys dans la Vallee/: "Do they not say that I have painted Madame Visconti? Such are the judgments to which we are exposed. You know that I had the proofs in Vienna, and that portrait was written at Sache and corrected at La Bouleauniere, before I had ever seen Madame Visconti."[*]

[*] La Bouleauniere was the home of Madame de Berny, at Nemours.

Balzac visited Madame Hanska at Vienna in the spring of 1835.

Either this new friendship became too ardent for the comfort of Madame Hanska, or she heard false reports concerning it, for she made objections to which Balzac responds:

"Must I renounce the Italian opera, the only pleasure I have in Paris, because I have no other seat than in a box where there is also a charming and gracious woman? If calumny, which respects nothing, demands it, I shall give up music also. I was in a box among people who were an injury to me, and brought me into disrepute. I had to go elsewhere, and, in all conscience, I did not wish Olympe's box. But let us drop the subject."

The friendship continued to grow, however, and in December, 1836, the novelist offered her the manuscript of /La vieille Fille/. He visited her frequently in her home, and on his return from an extended tour to Corsica and Sardinia in 1838 he spent some time in Milan, looking after some business interests for the Visconti family.

When Balzac was living secluded from his creditors, Madame Visconti showed her friendship for him in a very material way. The bailiff had been seeking him for three weeks, when a vindictive Ariadne, having a strong interest in seeing Balzac conducted to prison, presented herself at the home of the creditor and informed him that the novelist was residing in the Champs-Elysees, at the home of Madame Visconti. Nothing could have been more exact than this information. Two hours later, the home was surrounded, and Balzac, interrupted in the midst of a chapter of one of his novels, saw two bailiffs enter, armed with the traditional club; they showed him a cab waiting at the door. A woman had betrayed him-now a woman saved him. Madame Visconti flung ten thousand francs in the faces of the bailiffs, and showed them the door.[*]

[*] Eugene de Mirecourt, /Les Contemporains/, does not give the date of this incident. Keim et Lumet, /H. de Balzac/, state that it occurred in 1837, but E. E. Saltus, /Balzac/, states that it was in connection with the indebtedness to William Duckett, editor of the /Dictionnaire de la Conversation/, in 1846. F. Lawton, /Balzac/, states that it was in connection with his indebtedness to Duckett on account of the /Chronicle/, and that Balzac was sued in 1837. If the letter to Mme. de V., /Memoir and Letters of Balzac/, was addressed to Madame Visconti, he was owing her in 1840. M. F. Sandars, /Honore de Balzac/, states that about 1846- 1848, Balzac borrowed 10,000 or 15,000 francs from the Viscontis, giving them as guarantee shares in the Chemin de Fer du Nord.

During Balzac's residence /aux Jardies/ he was quite near Madame Visconti, as she was living in a rather insignificant house just opposite the home Balzac had built. He enjoyed her companionship, and when she moved to Versailles he regretted not being able to see her more frequently than once a fortnight, for she was one of the few who gave him their sympathy at that time.

Several months later Balzac was disappointed in her, and referred to her bitterly as /L'Anglaise/, /L'Angleterre/, or "the lady who lived at Versailles." He felt that she was ungrateful and inconsiderate, and while he remained on speaking terms with her, he regarded this friendship as one of the misfortunes of his life.

After the death of Madame Visconti (April 28, 1883), a picture of Balzac which had been in her possession was placed in the museum at Tours. This is supposed to be the portrait painted by Gerard-Seguin, exhibited in the /Salon/ in 1842, and presented to her by Balzac at that time.

In answering several of Madame Hanska's questions, Balzac writes: "No, I was not happy in writing /Beatrix/; you ought to have known it. Yes, Sarah is Madame de Visconti; yes, Mademoiselle des Touches is George Sand; yes, Beatrix is even too much Madame d'Agoult." A few months later he writes: "The friendship of which I spoke to you, and at which you laughed, apropos of the dedication, is not all I thought it. English prejudices are terrible, they take away what is an essential to all artists, the /laisser-aller/, unconstraint. Never have I done so well as when, in the /Lys/, I explained the women of that country in a few words."[*]

[*] This is probably the basis for Mr. Monahan's statement that Balzac pictured Madame Visconti as Lady Dudley in /Le Lys dans la Vallee/.

From the above, one would suppose that Madame Visconti is the "Sarah" whom Balzac addresses in the dedication of /Beatrix/:

"To Sarah.

"In clear weather, on the Mediterranean shores, where formerly extended the magnificent empire of your name, the sea sometimes allows us to perceive beneath the mist of waters a sea-flower, one of Nature's masterpieces; the lacework of its tissues, tinged with purple, russet, rose, violet, or gold, the crispness of its living filigrees, the velvet texture, all vanish as soon as curiosity draws it forth and spreads it on the strand. Thus would the glare of publicity offend your tender modesty; so, in dedicating this work to you, I must reserve a name which would, indeed, be its pride. But, under the shelter of its half-concealment, your superb hands may bless it, your noble brow may bend and dream over it, your eyes, full of motherly love, may smile upon it, since you are here at once present and veiled. Like this pearl of the ocean- garden, you will dwell on the fine, white, level sand where your beautiful life expands, hidden by a wave that is transparent only to certain friendly and reticent eyes. I would gladly have laid at your feet a work in harmony with your perfections; but as that was impossible, I knew, for my consolation, that I was gratifying one of your instincts by offering you something to protect.


[*] S. de Lovenjoul, /Histoire des Oeuvres de Balzac/, states that the

"Sarah" to whom Balzac dedicated /Beatrix/ is no other than an

Englishwoman, Frances Sarah Lowell, who became the Comtesse Emile

Guidoboni-Visconti. She was born at Hilks, September 29, 1804, and

died at Versailles April 28, 1883.

In sending the corrected proofs of /Beatrix/ to "Madame de V--,"

Balzac writes:

"My dear friend,-Here are the proofs of /Beatrix/: a book for which you have made me feel an affection, such as I have not felt for any other book. It has been the ring which has united our friendship. I never give these things except to those I love, for they bear witness to my long labors, and to that patience of which I spoke to you. My nights have been passed over these terrible pages, and amongst all to whom I have presented them, I know no heart more pure and noble than yours, in spite of those little attacks of want of faith in me, which no doubt arises from your great wish to find a poor author more perfect than he can be. . . ."

In contradiction to the preceding, M. Leon Seche thinks that /Beatrix/ was dedicated to Madame Helene- Marie-Felicite Valette, and that she is the "Madame de V---" to whom the letter is addressed. Helene de Valette (she probably had no right to the "nobiliary" /de/ although she signed her name thus) was the daughter of Pierre Valette, Lieutenant de Vaisseau, who after the death of Madame Valette, in 1818, became a priest at Vannes in order to be near their daughter Helene, who was in the convent of the Ursulines. At the age of eighteen he married her to a notary of Vannes, thirty years her senior, a widower with a bad reputation, whose name was Jean-Marie- Angele Gougeon. Scarcely had she married when she had an intrigue with a physician; her husband died soon after this, and she resumed her maiden name. She adopted the daughter of a /paludier/,[*] Le Gallo, whose wife had saved her from drowning, and named her "Marie" in memory of de Balzac's favorite name for herself.

[*] /Paludier/. One who works in the salt marshes.

In stating that the letter to "Madame de V---" is addressed to Madame Valette, M. Seche publishes a letter almost identical with the one that is found in both the /Memoir and Letters of Balzac/ and the /Correspondence, 1819-1850/, one of the chief differences being that in this letter Balzac addresses her as "My dear Marie" instead of "My dear friend." In telling "Madame de V---" that he is sending her the proofs of /Beatrix/, Balzac refers to the suppression of his play /Vautrin/, and says that the director /des beaux-arts/ has come a second time to offer him an indemnity which /ne faisait pas votre somme/. This might lead one to think that he had had some financial dealings with her.

In the dedication of /Beatrix/, dated /Aux Jardies/, December, 1838, Balzac speaks of Sarah's being a pearl of the Mediterranean. In the Island of Malta is a town called Cite-Vallette-suggestive of the name Felicite Valette. Felicite is also the name of the heroine, Felicite des Touches, although Marie is the name of Madame Valette that Balzac liked best.

In 1836, after reading some of Balzac's novels, Madame de Valette wrote to Balzac. Attracted by her, he went to Guerande where he took his meals at a little hotel kept by the demoiselles Bouniol, mentioned in /Beatrix/. Under her guidance he roamed over the country and then wrote /Beatrix/. She pretended to him to have been born at Guerande and to have been reared as a /paludiere/ by her godmother, Madame de Lamoignon-Lavalette, whence the reference in the dedication to the former "empire of your name." Her real godmother was Marie-Felicite Burgaud. Balzac did not know that she had been married to the notary Gougeon, and thought that her mother was still living.

When Madame de Valette went to Paris to reside, she was noted for her beauty and eccentric manners; she rode horseback to visit Balzac /aux Jardies/. She met a young writer, Edmond Cador, who revealed to Balzac all that she had kept from him. This deception provoked Balzac and gave rise to an exchange of rather sharp letters, and a long silence followed. After Balzac's death she gave Madame Honore de Balzac trouble concerning /Beatrix/ and her correspondence with Balzac, which she claimed. She died January 14, 1873, at the home of the Baron Larrey whom she had appointed as her residuary legatee. She is buried in the Pere-Lachaise cemetery, and on her tomb is written /Veuve Gougeon/.

In her letters to Balzac, given by Spoelberch de Lovenjoul to the French Academy, she addressed him as "My dear beloved treasure," and signed her name /Babouino/. There exists a letter from her to him in which she tells him that she is going to Vannes to visit for a fortnight, after which she will go to Bearn to make the acquaintance of her husband's people, and asks him to address her under the name of Helene-Marie.[*]

[*] Leon Seche, /Les Inspiratrices de Balzac, Helene de Valette, Les Annales Romantiques/, supposes that this is another falsehood, since he could find no record of where any member of the Gougeon family had ever lived in Bearn. Much of his information has been secured from Dr. Closmadeuc, who lived at Vannes and who attended Madame de Valette in her late years; also, from her adopted daughter, Mlle. Le Gallo.

After the death of Madame de Valette, the Baron Larrey, in memory of her relations with Balzac, presented to the city of Tours the corrected proofs of /Beatrix/, and a portrait of Balzac which he had received from her.

Among Balzac's numerous Russian friends was Mademoiselle Sophie Kozlowska. "Sophie is the daughter of Prince Kozlowski, whose marriage was not recognized; you must have heard of that very witty diplomat, who is with Prince Paskevitch in Warsaw."[*]

[*] /Lettres a l'Etrangere/. By explaining to Madame Hanska who Sophie is, one would not suppose that Balzac met her at Madame Hanska's home, as M. E. Pilon states in his article.

This friendship seems to have been rather close for a while, Balzac addressing her as /Sofka/, /Sof/, /Sophie/ and /carissima Sofi/. Just before the presentation of his play /Quinola/ he wrote her, asking for the names and addresses of her various Russian friends who wished seats, as many enemies were giving false names. He wanted to place the beautiful ladies in front, and wished to know in what party she would be, and the definit

e number of tickets and location desired for each friend.

In this same jovial vein he writes her: "Mina wrote me that you were ill, and that dealt me a blow as if one had told Napoleon his aide-de- camp was dead." His attitude towards her changed some months after writing this; she became the means of alienating his friend Gavault from him, or at least he so suspected, and thought that she was influenced by Madame Visconti. This coldness soon turned to enmity, and she completely won from him his former friend, Gavault, who had become very much enamored with her. The novelist expressed the same bitterness of feeling for her as he did for Madame Visconti, but as the years went by, either his aversion to these two women softened, or he thought it good policy to retain their good will, for he wished their names placed on his invitation list.

Balzac's feeling of friendship for her must have been sincere at one time, for he dedicated /La Bourse/:

"To Sofka.

"Have you not observed, mademoiselle, that the painters and

sculptors of the Middle Ages, when they placed two figures in

adoration, one on each side of a fair Saint, never fail to give

them a family likeness? On seeing your name among those who are

dear to me, and under whose auspices I place my works, remember

that touching harmony, and you will see in this not so much an act

of homage as an expression of the brotherly affection of your

devoted servant,



"I have found a letter from the kind Comtesse Loulou, who loves you and whom you love, and in whose letter your name is mentioned in a melancholy sentence which drew tears to my eyes; . . . I am going to write to the good Loulou without telling her all she has done by her letter, for such things are difficult to express, even to that kind German woman. But she spoke of you with so much soul that I can tell her that what in her is friendship, in me is worship that can never end."

The Countess Louise Turheim called "Loulou" by her intimate friends and her sister Princess Constantine Razumofsky, met Madame Hanska in the course of her prolonged stay in Vienna in 1835, and the three women remained friends throughout their lives. The Countess Loulou was a canoness, and Balzac met her while visiting in Vienna; he admired her for herself as well as for her friendship for his /Chatelaine/. Her brother-in-law, Prince Razumofsky, wished Balzac to secure him a reader at Paris, but since there was limitation as to the price, he had some trouble in finding a suitable one. This made a correspondence with the Countess necessary, as it was she who made the request; but Madame Hanska was not only willing that Balzac should write to her but sent him her address and they exchanged messages frequently about the canoness.

In 1842, /Une double Famille/, a story written in 1830, was dedicated:

"To Madame la Comtesse de Turheim

"As a token of remembrance and affectionate respect.


The Countess de Bocarme, nee du Chasteler, was an artist who helped Balzac by painting in water-colors the portraits of her uncle, the field-marshal, and Andreas Hofer; he wished these in order to be able to depict the heroes of the Tyrol in the campaign of 1809. She painted also the entire armorial for the /Etudes de Moeurs/; this consisted of about one hundred armorial bearings, and was a masterpiece. She promised to paint his study at Passy in water-colors, which was to be a souvenir for Madame Hanska of the place where he was to finish paying his debts. All this pleased the novelist greatly, but she presented him with one gift which he considered as in bad taste. This was a sort of monument with a muse crowning him, another writing on a folio: /Comedie humaine/, with /Divo Balzac/ above.

Madame de Bocarme had been reared in a convent with a niece of Madame Rosalie Rzewuska, had traveled much, and was rather brilliant in describing what she had seen. She visited Balzac while he was living /aux Jardies/. She was a great friend of the Countess Chlendowska, whose husband was Balzac's bookseller, and the novelist counted on her to lend the money for one of his business schemes. Being fond of whist, she took Madame Chlendowska to Balzac's house during his illness of a few weeks, and they entertained him by playing cards with him.

Balzac called her /Bettina/, and after she left Paris for the Chateau de Bury in Belgium, he took his housekeeper, Madame de Brugnolle, to visit her. Madame de Chlendowska was there also, but he did not care for her especially, as she pretended to know too much about his intimacy with his "polar star." Madame de Bocarme had one fault that annoyed him very much; she, too, was inclined to gossip about his association with Madame Hanska.

In 1843, Balzac erased from /Le Colonel Chabert/ the dedication to M. de Custine, and replaced it by one to Madame la Comtesse Ida de Bocarme, nee du Chasteler.

One of the most attractive salons in Paris at the beginning of the Monarchy of July was that of Countess Merlin, where all the celebrities met, especially the musicians. Born in Havana, the young, beautiful, rich and talented Madame Merlin added to the poetic grace of a Spaniard the wit and distinction of a French woman. General Merlin married her in Madrid in 1811, and brought her to Paris, where she created a sensation. Being an accomplished musician, she gave delightful concerts, and though also gifted as a writer she was as simple and unpretentious as if she had been created to remain obscure. In addition, she was so truly good that she had almost no enemies; her charity was inexhaustible, and she possessed one of those hearts which live only to do good and to love.

It was Balzac's good fortune to be introduced into the salon. He explained to Madame Hanska that he went there to play lansquenet in order to escape becoming insane! He was anxious to have Madame Merlin present at the first presentation of his /Quinola/, where she wished to have Martinez de la Rosa with her, but the novelist dissuaded her from this.

Madame Merlin was a friend of Madame de Girardin, and ridiculed the Princesse Belgiojoso when these two were rival candidates for the presidency of the new Academy that was being formed.

During Madame Hanska's secret visit to Paris in 1847, Balzac declined an invitation to dinner with Madame Merlin, excusing himself on the ground of lack of time, but promised to call upon her soon. A few months before this (1846), he dedicated to her /Les Marana/, a short story written in 1832. /Juana/ is inscribed to her also.

As has been seen, Balzac frequently depicted the features, lives, or peculiarities of various friends under altered names, but toward the close of /Beatrix/ he laid aside all disguise in comparing the appearance of one of his famous women to the beauty of the Countess: "Madame Schontz owed her fame as a beauty to the brilliancy and color of a warm, creamy complexion like a creole's, a face full of original details, with the clean-cut, firm features, of which the Countess de Merlin was the most famous example and the most perennially young . . ."

In 1846, Balzac dedicated /Un Drame au Bord de la Mer/, written several years before, to Madame La Princesse Caroline Galitzin de Genthod, nee Comtesse Walewska. Balzac doubtless met her while visiting Madame Hanska in Geneva in 1834, as she was living at Genthod. He met a Princesse Sophie Galitzin, whom he considered far more attractive, and later met another Princesse Galitzin. One of these ladies evidently aroused the suspicions of Madame Hanska, but the novelist assured her that there was no cause for her anxiety.

Another woman whom Balzac honored with a dedication of one of his books, but for whom he apparently cared little, was Madame la Baronne de Rothschild, wife of the founder of the banking house in Paris. Balzac had met Baron James de Rothschild and his wife at Aix, where she coquetted with him. He had business dealings with this firm, and planned, several years later, to present to Madame de Rothschild as a New Year's greeting some of his works handsomely bound; the volumes were delayed, and he accordingly made a change in some of his business matters, for this was evidently a gift with a motive. The dedication to her of /L'Enfant Maudit/ in 1846, as well as that of /Un Homme d'Affaires/ to her husband in 1845, was perhaps for financial reasons or favors, since he never seemed to care for the couple in society.

In the winter of 1837, Countess San-Severino Porcia wrote from Paris to her friend in Milan, the Countess Clara Maffei, that Balzac was coming to her city, and suggested that she receive him in her salon. This distinguished and cultured woman had visited the novelist in Paris, and had been much surprised at the kind of home in which he was living, how like a hermit he was secluded from the world and the persecutions of his creditors; she was amazed when he received her in his celebrated monastic role.

The Countess Maffei retained her title after her marriage (in 1832) with the poet, Andrea Maffei, who was many years older than she. She was a great friend of the Princess Belgiojoso, and during the stirring times of 1848 the Princess had been a frequent visitor in her salon. Six years younger than the Princess, the Countess threw herself heart and soul into the political and literary life of Milan.

"For fifty-two consecutive years (1834-1886) her salon was the rendezvous not merely of her compatriots but of intellectual Europe. The list of celebrities who thronged her modest drawing- room rivals that of Belgiojoso's Parisian salon, and includes many of the same immortal names. Daniel Stern, Balzac, Manzoni, Liszt, Verdi, and a score of others, are of international fame; but the annuals of Italian patriotism, belles-lettres and art teem with the names of men and women who, during that half century of uninterrupted hospitality, sought guidance, inspiration and intellectual entertainment among the politicians, poets, musicians and wits who congregated round the hostess."[*]

[*] W. R. Whitehouse, /A Revolutionary Princess/.

Balzac arrived in Milan in February, 1837, was well received, and was invited to the famous salon of Countess Maffei. The novelist was at once charmed with his hostess, whom he called /la petite Maffei/, and for whom he soon began to show a tender friendship which later became blended with affection.

Unfortunately Balzac did not like Milan; only the fascination of the

Countess Maffei pleased him. He quarreled with the Princess San-

Severino Porcia, who would not allow him to say anything unkind about

Italy, and was depressed when calling on the Princess Bolognini, who

laughed at him for it.

In the salon of the Countess Maffei the novelist preferred listening to talking; occasionally he would break out into sonorous laughter, and would then listen again, and-in spite of his excessive use of coffee-would fall asleep. The Countess was often embarrassed by Balzac's disdainful expressions about people he did not like but who were her friends. She tried to please him, however and had many of her French-speaking friends to meet him, but he seemed most to enjoy tea with her alone. Referring to her age, he wrote in her album: "At twenty-three years of age, all is in the future."

After Balzac's return to Paris he asked her, in response to one of her letters, to please ascertain why the Princess San-Severino was angry with him. Later he showed his appreciation of her kindness by sending her the corrected proofs of /Martyres ignores/, and by dedicating to her /La fausse Maitresse/, published in 1841. The dedication, however, did not appear until several months later.

In a long and beautiful dedication, Balzac inscribed /Les Employes/ to the Comtesse Serafina San-Severino, nee Porcia, and to her brother, Prince Alfonso Serafino di Porcia, he dedicated /Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes/, concerning which he thought a great deal while visiting in the latter's home in Milan. The hotel having become intolerable to the novelist, he was invited by Prince Porcia to occupy a little room in his home, overlooking the gardens, where he could work at his ease. The Prince, a man of about Balzac's age, was very much in love with the Countess Bolognini, and was unwilling to marry at all unless he could marry her, but her husband was still living. The Prince lived only ten doors from his Countess, and his happiness in seeing her so frequently, together with his riches, provoked gloomy meditations in the mind of the poor author, who was so far from his /Predilecta/, so overcome with debts, and forced to work so hard.

To Madame la Comtesse Bolognini, nee Vimercati, who was afterwards married to Prince Porcia, Balzac dedicated /Une Fille d'Eve/:

"If you remember, madame, the pleasure your conversation gave to a certain traveler, making Paris live for him in Milan, you will not be surprised that he should lay one of his works at your feet, as a token of gratitude for so many delightful evenings spent in your society, nor that he should seek for it in the shelter of your name which, in old times, was given to not a few of the tales by one of your early writers, dear to the Milanese. You have a Eugenie, already beautiful, whose clever smile proclaims her to have inherited from you the most precious gifts a woman can possess, and whose childhood, it is certain, will be rich in all those joys which a sad mother refused to the Eugenie of these pages. If Frenchmen are accused of bring frivolous and inconstant, I, you see, am Italian in my faithfulness and attachments. How often, as I write the name of Eugenie, have my thoughts carried me back to the cool stuccoed drawing-room and little garden of the /Viccolo dei Capuccini/, which used to resound to the dear child's merry laughter, to our quarrels, and our stories. You have left the /Corso/ for the /Tre Monasteri/, where I know nothing of your manner of life, and I am forced to picture you, no longer amongst the pretty things, which doubtless still surround you, but like one of the beautiful heads of Raffaelle, Titian, Correggio or Allori which, in their remoteness, seem to us like abstractions. If this book succeeds in making its way across the Alps, it will prove to you the lively gratitude and respectful friendship of your humble servant,



Several women whom Balzac knew, but who apparently had no special influence over his life, are mentioned here; he evidently did not care enough for them or did not know them well enough to include their names in the dedicatory register of the /Comedie humaine/. This, however, by no means exhausts the list of his acquaintances among women. Many of them he had met through his intimacy with his "Polar Star"; he was indeed so popular that he once exclaimed to her that he was overwhelmed with Russian princesses and took to flight to avoid them.

The noted salon of the charming Princesse Bagration, wife of the Russian field-marshal, was open to the novelist early in his career. With her aristocratic ease and the distinction of her manners, she had been one of the most brilliant stars at Vienna where her salon, as at Paris, was one of the most popular. Among her intimate friends was Madame Hamelin whom she had known during her stay in Vienna. Notwithstanding Balzac's careless habits of dress, he was welcome in this salon, where the ladies enjoyed the stories which he told with such charm, and at which he was always the first to laugh, though told against himself.

As has been mentioned the Princess Bagration passed at Paris for the model of Foedora. If M. Gabriel Ferry is correct, Balzac met the Duchesse de Castries in the salon of the Princess Bagration before their correspondence began, but never talked to her and did not suppose that he had attracted her attention.

One of Balzac's acquaintances whom he met during his visit to Madame Hanska at Geneva was the Countess Bossi. He met her again at Milan in 1838, on his return from his journey to Corsica, but he was not favorably impressed with her, although he once deemed it wise to explain to his /Chatelaine/ his conduct relative to her.

Madame Kisseleff was one of Madame Hanska's friends whom he probably met in Vienna; he dined at her home frequently and enjoyed her company, for she could talk to him of his /Louloup/. She was a friend of Madame Hamelin, and moved to Fontainebleu to be near her while the latter was living at /La Madeleine/. While living in Paris, Madame Kisseleff entertained Madame Hamelin and several other ladies together with Balzac; these dinners and his /visites de digestion/ caused him to see much of her for awhile, but as in many of his other friendships, his ardor cooled later, and he went to her home only when specially invited. In 1844, she left Paris to reside at Homburg where she built a house. The novelist took advantage of her friendship to send articles to Madame Hanska through the Russian ambassador.

Balzac made /visites de politesse/ to the Princesse de Schonburg, an acquaintance of Madame Hanska's, but no more than were required by courtesy. It would have been convenient for him to have seen much of her, had he cared to, for she had placed her child in the same house with him on account of its vicinity to the orthopaedic hospital.

One of Madame Hanska's friends whom Balzac liked was Madame Jaroslas Potocka, sister of the Countess Schouwaloff. She wrote some very pleasing letters to him, but he was too busy to answer them, so he sent her messages, or enclosed notes to her in his letters to his /Predilecta/.

La Baronne de Pfaffins, nee Comtesse Mierzciewska, was a Polish lady whom Balzac met rather late in life. He first thought she was Madame Hanska's cousin, but later learned that it was to M. de Hanski that she was related. Her Polish voice reminded him so much of his /Louloup/ that he was moved to tears; this friendship, however, did not continue long.

Another acquaintance from the land of Balzac's "Polar Star" was Madame Delphine Potocka who was a great friend of Chopin, to whom he dedicated some of his happiest inspirations, and whose voice he so loved that he requested her to sing while he was dying. Her box at the opera was near Balzac's so that he saw her frequently, and dined with her, but did not admire her.


"To Maria:

"May your name, that of one whose portrait is the noblest ornament of this work, lie on its opening page like a branch of sacred box, taken from an unknown tree, but sanctified by religion, and kept ever fresh and green by pious hand to protect the home.


Just who is the "Maria" to whom the dedication of /Eugenie Grandet/ is addressed is a question that in the opinion of the present writer has never been satisfactorily answered. The generally accepted answer is that of Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, who thought that "Maria" was the girl whom Balzac described as a "poor, simple and delightful /bourgeoise, . . . the most na?ve creature that ever was, fallen like a flower from heaven," and who said to Balzac: "Love me a year, and I will love you all my life."

Even admitting that this much disputed letter of October 12, 1833, was written by Balzac, though it does not bear his signature, the name "Maria" does not appear in it, so it is no proof that she is the woman to whom Balzac dedicated one of his greatest and probably the most popular of his works, /Eugenie Grandet/, although the heroine has some of the characteristics of the woman referred to in that letter in that she is a "na?ve, simple, and delightful /bourgeoise/." But in reviewing the women to whom Balzac dedicated his stories in the /Comedie humaine/, one does not find any of this type. Either they are members of his family, old family friends, literary friends, rich people to whom he was indebted, women of the nobility, or women whom he loved for a time at least, and all were women whom he could respect and recognize in society, while the woman referred to in the letter of October 12, 1833, does not seem to have had this last qualification.

In reply to his sister Laure's criticism that there were too many millions in /Eugenie Grandet/, he insisted that the story was true, and that he could create nothing better than the truth. In investigating the truth of this story, it has been found that Jean Niveleau, a very rich man having many of the traits of Grandet, lived at Saumur, and that he had a beautiful daughter whom he is said to have refused to give in marriage to Balzac. Whether this be true or not, the novelist has screened some things of a personal nature in this work.

Although the book is dated September, 1833, he did not finish it until later. It was just at this time that he met Madame Hanska, and visited her on two different occasions during the period that he was working on /Eugenie Grandet/. As he was pressed for money, as usual, his /Predilecta/ offered to help him financially; this he refused, but immortalized the offer by having Eugenie give her gold to her lover.

In declining Madame Hanska's offer, he writes her:

"Beloved angel, be a thousand times blessed for your drop of water, for your offer; it is everything to me and yet it is nothing. You see what a thousand francs would be when ten thousand a month are needed. If I could find nine, I could find twelve. But I should have liked, in reading that delightful letter of yours, to have plunged my hand into the sea and drawn out all its pearls to strew them on your beautiful black hair. . . . There is a sublime scene (to my mind, and I am rewarded for having it) in /Eugenie Grandet/, who offers her fortune to her cousin. The cousin makes an answer; what I said to you on that subject was more graceful. But to mingle a single word that I have said to my Eve in what others will read!-Ah! I would rather have flung /Eugenie Grandet/ into the fire! . . . Do not think there was the least pride, the least false delicacy in my refusal of what you know of, the drop of gold you have put angelically aside. . . ."

The novelist not only gave Madame Hanska the manuscript of /Eugenie

Grandet/, but had her in mind while writing it: "One must love, my

Eve, my dear one, to write the love of /Eugenie Grandet/, a pure,

immense, proud love!"

The dedication of /Eugenie Grandet/ to "Marie" did not appear until in 1839. Balzac knew several persons named "Marie." The present writer was at one time inclined to think that this Marie might have been the Countess Marie Potocka, whom he met while writing /Eugenie/, but her cousin, the Princess Radziwill, says that she is sure she is not the one he had in mind, and that she was not the type of woman to whom Balzac would ever have dedicated a book. The novelist had dealings with Madame Marie Dorval, and in 1839, at the time the dedication was written, doubtless knew of her love for Jules Sandeau. Balzac knew also the Countess Marie d'Agoult, but she never would have inspired such a dedication.

Still another "Marie" with whom he was most intimate about 1839, is Madame Helene-Marie-Felicite de Valette, and it will be remembered that while she was usually called "Helene," "Marie" was Balzac's favorite name for her. But it is doubtful that he knew her when he wrote the book.

Yet Balzac's love was so fleeting that if he had had this "Maria" in mind in 1833 when he wrote /Eugenie/, he probably would have long since forgotten her by the time the dedication was made. It is a well known fact that Balzac dedicated many of his earlier books to friends that he did not meet until years later, and many dedications were not added until 1842.

"To Helene:

"The tiniest boat is not launched upon the sea without the

protection of some living emblem or revered name, placed upon it

by the mariners. In accordance with this time-honored custom,

Madame, I pray you to be the protectress of this work now launched

upon our literary ocean; and may the imperial name which the

Church has canonized and your devotion has doubly sanctified for

me guard it from peril.


The identity of the enchantress who inspired this beautiful dedication of /Le Cure de Village/ has been the subject of much speculation for students of Balzac. The author of the /Comedie humaine/ knew the beautiful Helene Zavadovsky as early as 1835, and, as has been seen, knew Madame de Valette in 1836.

The Princess Radziwill states that this "Helene" was a sister of Madame Hanska, and that she died unmarried in 1842. She was much loved by all her family, and after the death of her mother in 1837 made her home with her sister Eve in Wierzchownia. The present author has found no mention of her in Balzac's letters in connection with /Le Cure de Village/, of which novel he speaks frequently, nor of his having known her personally, but since Balzac was continually twitting Madame Hanska about her pronunciation of various words, he was doubtless referring to her sister Helene's Russian pronunciation when he writes: "From time to time, I recall to mind all the gowns I have seen you wear from the white and yellow one that first day at Peterhof (Petergoff, /idiome/ Helene), . . ."

While Balzac evidently knew personally the women whom he had in mind in the dedications to "Maria" and to "Helene,"-problems which have perplexed students of Balzac,-he found time for correspondence with a lady whom he never saw, and about whom he knew nothing beyond the Christian name "Louise." The twenty-three letters addressed to her bear no precise dates, but were written in 1836-1837.

Her first letter was sent to Balzac through his bookseller, who saw her seal; but Balzac allayed, without gratifying, his curiosity by assuring him that such letters came to him frequently. The writer was under the impression that Balzac's name was "Henry" and some of her correspondence was in English.

That he should have taken the time to write to this unknown correspondent shows that her letters must have possessed some intrinsic value for him, yet he refused to learn her identity.

"Chance permitted me to know who you might be, and I refused to learn. I never did anything so chivalrous in my life; no, never! I consider it is grander than to risk one's life for an interview of ten minutes. Perhaps I may astonish you still more, when I say that I can learn all about you in any moment, any hour, and yet I refuse to learn, because you wish I should not know!"

In reply to a letter from Louise in which she complained that her time was monopolized by visits, he writes:

"Visits! Do they leave behind them any good for you? For the space of twelve years, an angelic woman stole two hours each day from the world, from the claims of family, from all the entanglements and hindrances of Parisian life-two hours to spend them beside me -without any one else's being aware of the fact; for twelve years! Do you understand all that is contained in these words? I can not wish that this sublime devotedness which has been my salvation should be repeated. I desire that you should retain all your illusions about me without coming one step further; and I do not dare to wish that you should enter upon one of these glorious, secret, and above all, rare and exceptional relationships. Moreover, I have a few friends among women whom I trust-not more than two or three-but they are of an insatiable exigence, and if they were to discover that I corresponded with an /inconnue/, they would feel hurt."[*]

[*] /Memoir and Letters of Balzac/. The woman Balzac refers to here is

Madame de Berny, but this is an exaggeration.

He revealed to her his ideas regarding women and friendship; how he longed to possess a tender affection which would be a secret between two alone. He complained of her want of confidence in him, and of his work in his loneliness. She tried to comfort him, and being artistic, sent him a sepia drawing. He sought a second one to hang on the other side of his fireplace, and thus replaced two lithographs he did not like. As a token of his friendship he sent her a manuscript of one of his works, saying:

"All this is suggested while looking at your sepia drawing; and while preparing a gift, precious in the sight of those who love me, and of which I am chary, I refuse it to all who have not deeply touched my heart, or who have not done me a service; it is a thing of no value, except where there is heartfelt friendship."

During his imprisonment by order of the National Guard, she sent him flowers, for which he was very profuse in expressing his thanks. He appreciated especially the roses which came on his birthday, and wished her as many tender things as there were scents in the blooming buds.

She apparently had some misfortune, and their correspondence terminated abruptly in this, his last letter to her:

"/Carina/, . . . On my return from a long and difficult journey, undertaken for the refreshment of my over-tired brain, I find this letter from you, very concise, and melancholy enough in its solitude; it is, however, a token of your remembrance. That you may be happy is the wish of my heart, a very pure and disinterested wish, since you have decided that thus it is to be. I once more take up my work, and in that, as in a battle, the struggle occupies one entirely; one suffers, but the heart becomes calm."

/Facino Cane/ was dedicated to Louise:

"As a mark of affectionate gratitude."

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