Love in a Mask: Balzac

Love in a Mask or Imprudence and Happiness; a hitherto unpublished novel  (L’Amour Masque) was written by Balzac and given as a gift to the Duchesse de Dino. The handwritten manuscript, “incased in finely tooled binding,” remained in the library until gifted and finally published in 1911. Imagine Balzac giving you a handwritten story as a gift.

Love in a Mask is predominantly a romantic tale of a young captain in the Sixth Horse, Léon de Préval, who, when the novel opens, attends a ball on the eve of Mardi Gras. It’s midnight and he’s about to leave when he notices a richly dressed masked woman. They fall into conversation, and the woman, it turns out, is a young widow, who’s enjoying her newfound freedom. Soured by her experiences as a married women, she spurns Léon’s murmurs of sympathy at the death of her husband:

Constancy is but a chain that we pretend to wear in order to impose its weight on another. Now that I am free, perfectly free, I intend to remain so; no man living could induce me to forswear myself.

Léon tries to discover the woman’s identity, but she refuses to give it. She does agree, however, to a meeting at yet another ball in three weeks time. They meet again, and once more the woman wears a mask. He asks for a third meeting and an opportunity to “lay my heart and my hopes at your feet.” (is this a euphemism for sex?) She arranges a third meeting but only if Léon agrees to certain conditions…

While I dislike romances, Balzac creates a well-balanced tale, complete with a coincidence that we could believe is the guiding hand of fate, in which he once again examines the plight of married women who are at the mercy of their demonic husbands. He also argues that this young widow, soured by marriage, is wrong to close herself off to the possibility of love. All men cannot be measured by the experiences with one rotter.

Translated by Alice M. Ivimy

The novel can be read online on Dagny’s blog


Filed under Balzac, Fiction

16 responses to “Love in a Mask: Balzac

  1. What a wonderful present for the Duchess! And it’s available to read online…I won’t need to break my TBR20 (again) to read this one.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out, Guy! I am so pleased to be able to share this hard to find book with others.

    I hadn’t thought of Léon’s remark of “lay my heart and my hopes at your feet” as a euphemism for sex, although it certainly could be. I presumed it meant he wanted to court her – and then, yes, have an intimate relationship eventually. It could be though. I can tell you that I was certainly surprised by and, at first, disappointed by their next meeting. She had her reasons though, as we discover.

    • here’s another bit:
      “We dare not throw light on the darkness that Léon respected. We will not infringe the order of silence; we will only say that his highest hopes were surpassed by the reality, and in the pleasure of that meeting he had no desire to break his word.”

  3. I’m a late comer to Balzac but am thoroughly enjoying my first taste with Old Goriot and was wondering what next to read.You just solved that puzzle. What an amazingly generous act by Dagny to make an online copy available

  4. This sounds like great fun. I’ll have to read it just to find out what those conditions were…

  5. I’ve never heard of that one. I’ll see if I can find it in French. I think Balzac is the only French writer of that time that sides a bit with women when he describes their limited choices in life.

    PS: “Imagine Balzac giving you a handwritten story as a gift.” It’s like Picasso giving you a drawing as a gift.

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