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Passion in the Desert by Balzac

Years ago I saw the film version of Passion in the Desert, so I was curious to read the source material. This is the story of a Napoleonic soldier who, after being captured and then escaping from the Maugrabins in the desert, stumbles into an oasis and becomes the companion of a wild animal. The story begins with the narrator and an acquaintance  attending an entertainment that includes trained hyenas–not something I’d care  to see and the narrator’s companion apparently feels the same way. She asks how the trainer can “have tamed these animals to such a point as to be certain of their affections?” The narrator replies:

“You think beasts are wholly without passions?” I asked her.

“Quite the reverse; we can communicate to them all the vices arising in our own state of civilization.”

Interesting answer, and then the narrator proceeds to tell the story told to him by an old, one-legged soldier. Caught up Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt, the soldier, a young man of 22 was captured by Arabs but managed to escape on a horse that he rode to death. So there he is stuck in the middle of the desert facing certain death;

He was awakened by the sun, whose pitiless rays fell with all their force on the granite and produced an intolerable heat–for he had had the stupidity to place himself adversely to the shadow thrown by the verdant majestic heads of the palm trees. He looked at the solitary trees and shuddered–they reminded him of the graceful shafts crowned with foliage which characterize the Saracen columns in the cathedral of Arles.

But when, after counting the palm trees, he cast his eyes around him, the most horrible despair was infused into his soul. Before him stretched an ocean without limit. The dark sand of the desert spread further than eye could reach in every direction, and glittered like steel struck with bright light. It might have been a sea of looking-glass, or lakes melted together in a mirror. A fiery vapour carried up in surging waves made a perpetual whirlwind over the quivering land. The sky was lit with an oriental splendor of insupportable purity, leaving naught for the imagination to desire.

Heaven and earth were on fire.

A beautiful passage which describes and allows us to envision the raw beauty of this harsh environment and also and the pitiless indifference of nature.  

The soldier is young. Despair at his predicament is quickly replaced with hope when he notices dates on the palm. He has food then to sustain him and he makes a crude shelter. Falling asleep in a cave he has vague thoughts about wild animals of the desert. The next day, he wakes and discovers that he’s in the company of a “lion of Egypt.”

The rest of the story concentrates on the relationship the soldier develops with this wild animal. I’ll admit that I’m a bit confused as to the animal’s precise identity. At one point it’s described as having “the spotted skin of a panther.” I think of a panther as black and a leopard as spotted. Later, we read “the cold cruelty of a tiger was dominant.” This is not a long story, but it is a peculiar one that takes a very different look at the relationship between man and beast. Even as I type that I feel the basic ‘wrongness‘ of using the word beast–after all, who is the brutal one of the pair?

The soldier anthropomorphizes the leopard (I’m going to stick with that identity due to the spots), and that’s the identity given in the film. He calls her a queen, a “sultana of the desert,” and a “regular petite maitresse.” The leopard accepts the soldier’s company and becomes exacting about his attentions:

But he looked at her caressingly, staring into her eyes in order to magnetize her, and let her come quite close to him; then with a movement both gentle and amorous, as though he was caressing the most beautiful of women, he passed his hand over her whole body, from the head to the tail, scratching the inflexible vertebrae which divided the panther’s yellow back. The animal waved her tail voluptuously, and her eyes grew gentle; and when for the third time the Frenchman accomplished this interesting flattery, she gave forth one of those purrings by which cats express their pleasure; but this murmur issued from a throat so powerful and so deep that it responded through the cave like the last vibrations of an organ in a church. The man, understanding the importance of his caresses, redoubled them in such a way as to surprise and stupefy his imperious courtesan.  

So the soldier sees the panther (as he calls her) as a jealous mistress–a demanding female who requires his entire and constant attention. How long can this state of affairs continue?

I’ll admit that I didn’t like how the story ended–back to the narrator’s earlier comment that “we can communicate to [animals] all the vices arising in our own state of civilization.”

The story of the soldier and the leopard does not end well, and I found myself thinking about people and the bizarre desire to own and keep wild animals. This is no doubt influenced by the news today that 2 chimps escaped from an outdoor pen in Vegas and embarked on a rampage that ended with one of them shot dead from three shotgun blasts.

Translated by Ernest Dowson and produced by the hard work of  Dagny and John Bickers. This edition is available FREE for the kindle.



Filed under Balzac, Fiction

The Elixir of Life by Balzac

“Death is as unexpected in his caprice as a courtesan in her disdain; but death is truer–Death has never forsaken any man.” 

In the introduction to this story, Balzac admits to an “innocent piece of plagiarism.” The Elixir of Life (L’Elixir de Longue Vie), he argues, is not one of “those hoaxes in vogue in the year 1830” (what hoaxes?). Balzac admits that he heard about the subject of this story from a friend and later discovered that the same subject matter was likely a “stray fancy of the brain of Hoffman.” If I hadn’t read that disclaimer, I think The Elixir of Life would have struck me more as a  product of German Romanticism and less like Balzac’s usual fare–although La Comédie Humaine includes a few titles with these elements. Balzac’s excellent introduction, which reminds me of Derville in Colonel Chabert, discusses the nature of inheritance and those who eagerly await the death of a supposedly much loved relative.

Does humanity, which according to certain philosophers, is making progress, look on the art of waiting for dead men’s shoes as a step in the right direction? To this art we owe several honorable professions, which open up ways of living on death. There are people who rely entirely on an unexpected demise; who brood over it, crouching each morning upon a corpse, that serves as their pillow at night. To this class belongs bishops’ coadjutors, cardinals’ supernumeraries, tontiniers, and the like. Add to the list many delicately scrupulous persons eager to buy landed property beyond their means, who calculate with dry logic and in cold blood the probable duration of the life of a father or of a step-mother, some old man or woman of eighty or ninety, saying to themselves, “I shall be sure to come in for it in three years’ time, and then —–”

In this marvellous introduction, Balzac argues that many people lurk around the soon-to be deceased relative wishing for ways to hasten death, and that’s not too far a step away from actually committing the act of murder. So it should come as no surprise that The Elixir of Life concerns a most unusual case of parricide.

The story begins one winter in a palace at Ferrara. Lothario Don Juan Belvidero is hosting a banquet, whooping it up with his dissolute friends, and is surrounded by beautiful women several of whom wonder aloud when Don Juan’s elderly father will die. In the middle of this “orgy” (and I wonder if Balzac means it in the quite the same way as our modern-day interpretation of the word), he is told that his father is dying. He hastens to his father’s chambers, and here his father is on his death-bed with a faithful black poodle for a companion.  Don Juan’s father, Bartolommeo Belvidero is 90 years old. He married at age sixty, and Don Juan, the only product of that tragically short union, has  been overly indulged by his father. Don Juan, we are told, “treated old Bartolommeo as a wilful courtesan treats an elderly adorer; buying indemnity for insolence with a smile, selling good-humor, submitting to be loved.” Love that line which pitilessly sums up the roles between father and son. Don Juan, who can’t wait for his father to die, manages to put on a good show–after all, his father is checking out, and it won’t kill Don Juan to look as though he’s actually devastated that his indulgent father is finally going to die.

“Oh, if it were only possible to keep you here by giving up a part of my own life!” cried Don Juan.

(We can always say this kind of thing,” the spendthrift thought; “it is as if I laid the whole world at my mistress’ feet.”)

The thought had scarcely crossed his mind when the old poodle barked. Don Juan shivered; the response was so intelligent that he fancied the dog must have understood him.

“I was sure that I could count upon you, my son!” cried the dying man. “I shall live. So be it; you shall be satisfied. I shall live, but without depriving you of a single day of your life.”

“He is raving,” thought Don Juan. Aloud he added,” Yes, dearest father, yes, you shall live, of course, as long as I live, for your image will be forever in my heart.”

“It is not that kind of life that I mean,” said the old noble, summoning all his strength to sit up in bed; for a thrill of doubt ran through him, one of those suspicions that come into being under  a dying man’s pillow. “Listen, my son,” he went on, in a voice grown weak with that last effort,”I have no more wish to give up life that you to give up wine and mistresses, horses and hounds, and hawks and gold—-“

“I can well believe it,” thought the son; and he knelt down by the bed and kissed Bartolommeo’s cold hands. “But, father, my dear father,” he added aloud, “we must submit to the will of God.”

Given the title of the story it’s fairly easy to guess what is afoot, but Balzac doesn’t let the reader off lightly, and some rather ghoulish events take place. The marvellous thing about this cynical story is the way it ends, and yes dear readers, pay-back is a bitch.

Translated by Clara Bell and James Waring. Produced by Project Gutenberg by Dagny. Free at Project Gutenberg and also free on Amazon for the kindle.


Filed under Balzac, Fiction

Domestic Peace by Balzac

“Calm and smiling faces and placid brows covered sordid interests, expressions of friendship were a lie, and more than one man was less distrustful of his enemies than of his friends.”

Domestic Peace (La Paix du Ménage) is another gem from Balzac. This story is set in November 1809 at a ball given by the Comte de Gondreville. It’s a very special time: “The moment when Napoleon’s fugitive empire attained the apogee of its splendor.” Napoleon is supposed to attend, but he’s absent. Even though Balzac doesn’t describe the scene, off stage we can almost hear what takes place between Napoleon and Josephine as he breaks the news about the divorce, and she has a “nervous fit” and faints. I’d have preferred it if she’d  thrown something at him. Balzac mentions the “incident” as a way of explaining Napoleon’s absence. Of course, just the mention of this famous moment brings history into Balzac’s tale, and two historical events are used to bookend the tale. While history is being made off stage, the lives of several of the characters at the ball are also undergoing irrevocable change.

Never, as contemporaries tell us, did Paris see entertainments more superb than those which preceded and followed the sovereign’s marriage with an Austrian archduchess. Never, in the most splendid days of the monarchy, had so many crowned heads thronged the shores of the Seine, never had the French aristocracy been so rich or so splendid. The diamonds lavishly scattered over the women’s dresses, and the gold and silver embroidery on the uniforms contrasted so strongly with the penury of the Republic, that the wealth of the globe seemed to be rolling through the drawing-rooms of Paris. Intoxication seemed to have turned the brains of this Empire of a day. All the military, not excepting their chief, reveled like parvenus in the treasure conquered for them by a million men with worsted epaulettes, whose demands were satisfied by a few yards of red ribbon.

That harks back to the quote from Napoleon: “Men will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon.” So much for the men–what of the women?

At this time most women affected that lightness of conduct and facility of morals which distinguished the reign of Louis XV. Whether it were in imitation of the tone of the fallen monarchy, or because certain members of the Imperial family had set the example–as certain malcontents of the Faubourg Saint Germain chose to say–it is certain that men and women alike flung themselves into a life of pleasure with an intrepidity which seemed to forbode the end of the world. But there was at that time another cause for such license. The infatuation of the women for the military became a frenzy, and it was too consonant to the Emperor’s views for him to try to check it.

Many ideas hit me with these passages. Just a few decades after the revolution and decapitated aristocracy have been replaced with aristocracy who are losing their heads over ribbon and uniforms. And then there’s that Austrian bride on the horizon. Did anyone recall the fate of the last Austrian who crossed the borders to rule the country? Did people really have such short memories?

Along with the “infatuation” for military men, there’s a mania for “everything glittering,” and “never were diamonds so highly prized.” Balzac adds sardonically: “Possibly the necessity for carrying plunder in the most portable form made gems the fashion in the army.”

The information about Napoleon’s decision to divorce Josephine is coupled with the details of general morality. He tells us that “between the first and fifth bulletins from the Grand Armee, a woman might be in succession mistress, wife, mother, and widow.” There’s the feeling that life is moving fast for everyone–a sense of frantic gaiety amongst those who attend the ball. One of the functions of the ball is to provide an “opportunity seized upon by wealthy families for introducing their heiresses to Napoleon’s Praetorian Guard, in the foolish hope of exchanging their splendid fortunes for uncertain favours.”

Two men at the ball, Baron Martial de la Roche-Hugon (also called Monsieur le Maitre des Requetes) and General Montcornet (also called Colonel at several points) notice a beautiful but tragically sad young woman sitting tucked away in a corner. The two men can’t take their eyes off the beautiful stranger and after she turns down the General’s request to dance, Martial, who already has the reputation of being a “lady-killer,”  makes a bet that he will succeed in getting the mysterious beauty to dance with him. Martial, an ambitious, cold man, is all but engaged to a wealthy young widow, the “queen of fashion” Madame de Vaudremont. So the evening is spent with the various characters watching each other, and while the ball may seem to be fairly straightforward entertainment, there are undercurrents afoot. Everyone seems to harbour secrets and hidden agendas, and an evening’s entertainment shapes the lives of Balzac’s characters. Domestic Peace could of course refer to the relationship between Napoleon and Josephine, the turbulence between the characters at the ball, or even the various wars raged by Napoleon during his reign.

My favourite character here is Madame de Lansac who has some advice for Madame de Vaudremont:

A widow’s marriage ought not to be some trivial love affair. Is a mouse to be caught a second time in the same trap?

Translated by Ellen Marriage and Clara Bell.

This is available FREE on project Gutenberg and also on Amazon for the kindle. Finally, on the first page, I noticed that a line “produced by Dagny and John Bickers.” So thanks to you both for all your hard work that made this possible.


Filed under Balzac, Fiction

A Second Home by Balzac

“The fatal blunder of mistaking the enchantment of desire for that of love.”

Balzac’s novella A Second Home (Une Double Famille) begins in 1815 with an impoverished mother and daughter slaving away as embroiderers and barely making ends meet. They live in the Rue du Tourniquet-Saint-Jean–a rather dingy place by the sounds of it, with the widest stretch of the street “less than six feet across.” This bit of description serves to explain just why Madame Crochard and her daughter Caroline, who rent two cellar rooms with windows “their sills about five feet above the ground” watch and are in turn watched by those who pass by. Caroline, the heroine of the tale, is of course, young, sweet, beautiful and modest, and the mother, Balzac tells us “almost seemed to be offering her daughter, her gossiping eyes so evidently tried to attract some magnetic sympathy by manoeuvres worthy of the stage.” If this is indeed the plan, it eventually works as Caroline’s beauty and plight touches the heart of a passerby–an intense and rather unhappy man of about 40 who bears the evidence of “long mental suffering.” He’s attracted to Caroline, and she to him, and over the course of many months, long looks through the windows lead to a relationship. Although initially Caroline and her mother nickname him “the Gentleman in Black,” he tells them his name is Monsieur Roger.

The story takes one glance backward but also three leaps ahead in time. The first leap ahead finds Caroline installed in a house in the Rue Taitbout. It’s 1816:

Hangings of gray stuff trimmed with green silk adorned the walls of her bedroom; the seats, covered with light-coloured woolen sateen, were of easy and comfortable shapes, and in the latest fashion; a chest of drawers of some simple wood, inlaid with lines of a darker hue, contained the treasures of the toilet; a writing table to match served for inditing love-letters on scented paper; the bed, with antique draperies, could not fail to suggest thoughts of love by its soft hangings of elegant muslin; the window-curtains, of drab silk with green fringe, were always half drawn to subdue the light; a bronze clock represented Love crowning Psyche; a carpet of gothic design on a red ground set off the other accessories of this delightful retreat.

Caroline is now Roger’s mistress–although the uglier side of things is not referred to, and Caroline must be innocent indeed as she simply doesn’t seem to ‘get it.’  She drops her name Crochard and calls herself Caroline de Bellefeuille. Roger doesn’t visit every day, and often gives work as an excuse, but of course, that’s not the only reason.

The second time leap takes us forward to 1822. Caroline is now the mother of two children, and Roger (Caroline still doesn’t know his last name) arrives and gives her a “deed of gift of securities” for 3,000 francs which will be their daughter Eugenie’s “marriage portion.” In contrast, their son, Charles gets 1500. It’s difficult to completely swallow the story that Caroline never questions Roger about his absences, his identity, or his life away from her, but Balzac argues

Finally, invincible curiosity led her to wonder for the thousandth time what events they could be that led so tender a heart as Roger’s to find his pleasure in clandestine and illicit happiness. She invented a thousand romances on purpose really to avoid recognising the true reason, which she had long suspected but tried not to believe in.

Of course Caroline’s world comes tumbling down, and eventually Roger’s secret is revealed, and the third leap in time takes us forward to 1833. It’s at this point that A Second Home takes a strange turn, and it’s almost as though Balzac does an-about face with the moral of the story. All the moral justification and explanations about Roger’s behaviour have led to disaster…

In the story, Balzac, ever the bon vivant displays his loathing of religious maniacs:

And besides, bigots constitute a sort of republic; they all know each other; the servants they recommend and hand on from one to another are a race apart, and preserved by them, as horse-breeders will admit no animal into their stables that has not a pedigree. The more the impious–as they are thought–come to understand a household of bigots, the more they perceive that everything is stamped with an indescribable squalor; they find there, at the same time, an appearance of avarice and mystery, as in a miser’s home, and the dank scent of cold incense which gives a chill to the stale atmosphere of a chapel. This methodical meanness, this narrowness of thought, which is visible in every detail, can only be expressed by one word–Bigotry.

One point Balzac makes is that there’s a danger in a religious wife who will listen to a priest over her husband. Ah, the pathology of authority….

In Prometheus, a biography of Balzac by André Maurois, there’s the following passage:

A bourgeois of the Marias, a lover of aristocratic women, he had no wish for violent change. He condemned the extremists on both sides. In the Scènes de la Vie Privée he deplores the follies of the counter-revolutionary and anti-Bonapartist purges. All forms of bigotry shocked him. In the Abbé Fontanon, the confessor of Angélique de Granville (Une Double Famille), he gives us a picture of an ambitious, hypocritical priest which might have been drawn by the anti-clerical Stendhal

What I liked most about A Second Home is that while the tale has a veneer of sentimentality, underneath the sugary sweetness is some rather nasty stuff, and Balzac, ever the expert on human nature, explores the power politics of marriage and how one man who breaks out from bigotry causes immeasurable damage to others. What would Roger (and his creator) have made of the Frank Sinatra song: The Tender Trap?

Some starry night, when her kisses make you tingle
She’ll hold you tight, and you’ll hate yourself for being single

And all at once it seems so nice

The folks are throwing shoes and rice
You hurry to a spot, that’s just a dot on the map

You’re hooked, you’re cooked, you’re caught in the tender trap

A Second Home is translated by Clara Bell and available FREE for the kindle.

The Tender Trap lyrics from Cahn/Van Heusen


Filed under Balzac, Fiction

At the Sign of the Cat and Racket by Balzac

“This is what comes of sight-seeing,” exclaimed Monsieur Guillaume, “a headache.”

When I saw the title At the Sign of the Cat and Racket,  my first thought was that this Balzac novel concerned a pub. No, the sign of the title is actually an old painting which serves as a trade indicator on the outside of a draper’s shop in 19th century Paris. In this story, Balzac examines how class differences impact male-female relationships, and he also asks the question ‘does it take a particular kind of  woman to live with a man of genius?’  I’d hazard a guess that the question is self-reflective, and that question pales next to the issue of class differences between the characters. Furthermore the behaviour of the fictional ‘man of genius’ in the story, Theodore de Sommervieux, isn’t entirely motivated by his intelligence.

The novella opens on the Rue Saint-Denis with a description of a very old house “which enable[s] historians to reconstruct old Paris by analogy.” The house which is also a business is a “relic of the civic life of the sixteenth century.”  The house, Balzac tells us, “had been encrusted with as many coats of different paint as there are of rouge on an old duchess’ cheek,” and the ancient painting of a cat  is weather-worn and faded. Opposite the house, a young man stands in the pouring rain. He stares at the house … waiting, and of course, it’s easy to guess that he’s waiting for the glimpse of a young girl.

The young man is  Theodore de Sommervieux, artist and scion of a wealthy family. He’s there to catch a glance of a young woman who’s caught his eye, 18-year-old Augustine Guillaume, the youngest daughter of the shopkeeper and master draper, Monsieur Guillaume. The worthy Guillaume has two daughters, and he has a plan to marry the eldest 28-year-old Mademoiselle Virginie, to his long-standing apprentice and chief assistant, the orphaned Joseph Lebas. Guillaume’s plan is that Lebas, who’s like a son to him, will make the legal move to become his son-in-law by marrying Virginie. Then Lebas and Virginie will eventually take over the business and Guillaume and his wife will retire. Well that’s the plan anyway.

 The Guillaume family lead a simple but good life. As daughters of a tradesman, the education of the daughters is sadly limited:

Brought up to a commercial life, accustomed to hear nothing but dreary arguments and calculations about trade, having studied nothing but grammar, book-keeping, a little bible-history, and the history of France in Le Ragois, and never reading any book but what their mother would sanction, their ideas had not acquired much scope. They knew perfectly how to keep house; they were familiar with the prices of things; they understood the difficulty of amassing money; they were economical, and had a great respect for the qualities that make a man of business.

But there’s trouble on the horizon. Virginie and Augustine have been brought up to marry tradesmen, but Augustine may long for something more:

It is possible that two romances discovered by Augustine in the cupboard of a cook Madame Guillaume had lately discharged– Hippolyte Comte de Douglas and Le Comte de Comminges–may have contributed to develop the ideas of the young girl, who had devoured them in secret, during the long nights of the past winter.

Those blasted romances always cause trouble!

Imagine how Augustine feels, then, when she attends the Paris Salon and sees a portrait of her on display. All those romantic thoughts must have rushed through her head. She’s infused with “rapture,” a “chaos of sensations,” and she almost faints.

So it would appear that Balzac has written a fairly simple love story. Apprentice Joseph Lebas is in love with Augustine;  Augustine is in love with Theodore de Sommervieux, and Virginie is in love with Joseph. Will Guillaume, who believes firmly in marrying within one’s class, allow his daughter Augustine to marry Sommervieux? Will Sommervieux marry Augustine? What of Virginie and Lebas? There’s a “crazy mania” for “commerce and finance” to marry into the nobility, but this goes against Guillaume’s staunch principles.

This is the delightful element of this Balzac story–we think we can predict its twists and turns, but Balzac has a few surprises in store.

Balzac has some marvellous comments to make on the subject of trade. The Guillaumes engage in a laborious period of stock-taking during which they called out stock items and their value which were “spouted over the counters like verses of modern poetry, quoted by romantic spirits, to excite each other’s enthusiasm for one of their poets.” And here’s Balzac’s take on the Guillaumes:

In the evening, Guillaume, shut up with his assistant and his wife balanced his accounts, carried on the balance, wrote to debtors in arrears, and made out bills. All three were busy over this enormous labor, of which the result could be stated on a sheet of foolscap, proving to the head of the house that there was so much to the good in hard cash, so much in goods, so much in bills and notes; that he did not owe a sou; that a hundred or two hundred thousand francs were owing to him; that the capital had been increased; that the farmlands, the houses, or the investments were extended, or repaired, or doubled. Whence it became necessary to begin again with increased ardor, to accumulate more crown-pieces, without its ever entering the brain of these laborious ants to ask–“To what end?”

Yet at the same time, Balzac finds a great deal that’s admirable about Guillaume and his life. He’s a good man, a moral man. He lacks imagination, and is too parsimonious, but then his talents lie elsewhere.  Balzac’s biggest beef about their lifestyle seems to be ‘when are these people going to start enjoying themselves?‘ The annual stock-taking is rewarded by a rare “debauch,” a trip to the theatre.

Translated by Clara Bell


Filed under Balzac, Fiction

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

“He talked non-stop about my beauty, as all men do. If a woman were hump-backed, and had only one eye, they wouldn’t be ashamed to tell her she was a Venus.”

I have a backlog of reviews–something I’m never that happy about–but this does grant room for choice, and I decided to make a Trollope review my first post of the year. Can You Forgive Her?, the first of six Palliser novels, stands at 830 pages in my Penguin Classics edition (a different edition from the one pictured below). I read just a few pages at night, and what a delightful read this is. It’s not often you go to sleep chuckling at the foibles of human nature, and this is one of those novels I was sad to see end.

Can You Forgive Her? was originally published in monthly parts, so in typical Victorian multi-plot fashion, this is a huge rambling tale with a vast cast of characters and various sub-plots set against a glittering society of 19th century England. This is a complex world and Trollope hints that the world of marriage and the world of politics have a great deal in common.  To some readers, that description alone is enough to reject the book, but for this reader, Can You Forgive Her? was a leisurely excursion into the trials and tribulations of three women–specifically on the issue of marriage. These are the days in which wealthy women, when married, were stuck with the behaviour of their husbands. Marriage was a serious, permanent choice, and women were under tremendous pressure to make ‘suitable’ alliances. This issue is at the core of Trollope’s novel, and through the labyrinth plot, we see the struggles of three women as they make–or live with–the choices they make. These women live in an age of not exactly ‘arranged’ marriages, but let us say it’s the age of ‘organised’ marriage–and this is, as Trollope shows us, rather a fine line.

The novel’s main heroine is 24-year-old Alice Vavasour, and she’s the one–as the title suggests–is in need of forgiveness. It’s true that Alice makes some horrible mistakes in the course of the story, and the underlying explanation of her actions isn’t entirely successful, but more of that later.  When the story begins, Alice, the only child of a London bureaucrat is engaged to be married to John Grey–a handsome, good-natured gentleman of substance. Grey adores Alice, but for her part Alice has reservations. She keeps delaying the wedding day and while her relatives approve of Mr. Grey–who’s literally a paragon, there’s an edge of discontent nagging away inside Alice. She knows that she loves Mr. Grey but can’t quite see herself  living as Mrs. Grey bundled off to his country estate near Cambridge. Trollope tells us that part of Alice’s problem is that she would like to be married to a ‘great man,’–perhaps someone in politics, and this isn’t Mr. Grey’s bag.

Another problem Alice must deal with is that she’s been engaged before to her cousin, the wastrel George Vavasour, the brother of her best friend, Kate. We don’t know quite what went wrong but we can speculate that it was something scandalous enough for her to brook family criticism when she broke this first engagement. According to the elderly Lady Macleod, “the fact was, Alice, that George Vavasour’s mode of life was such that an engagement with him would have been absolute madness.”

When the book begins, we can believe that George’s largest fault lies in the fact he has no money, but as the plot plays out, George’s more unsavoury characteristics are revealed, and in any other continent or class we’d call him an adventurer, but in the upper echelons of British society, George’s true nature is largely concealed, and this is due in so small part to the fact that he actively compartmentalises his true nature.

But back to the plot. The book begins with Alice engaged to Mr. Grey and beginning various delaying tactics to postpone the wedding. One of those tactics is to take a European holiday with Kate and George, and several of Alice’s relatives are alarmed by this action due to Alice’s prior history with George. Alice’s travels seal her decision to jilt Mr. Grey, and Alice calls off her engagement to Mr. Grey claiming that she finds him too perfect, and then she becomes re-engaged to George. A mess ensues with Alice not really being able to make her mind up while her relatives, with the exception of Kate, becoming extremely frustrated with her ever-changing choice of fiancés.

Ok so that’s more-or-less the plot, but obviously there’s a lot more to the book than that. Two other plots run parallel to Alice’s dilemma, and the characters involved serve to enervate her argument against marrying Mr. Grey. While Alice shies away from marriage to Mr. Grey (even though she says she loves him), she argues that she wants a public life. At one point in the novel, she goes to stay with Lady Glencora Palliser at Matching Priory, and while this should be an opportunity for Alice to enjoy politically important company, instead she is intimidated by the heavily-nuanced society in which she feels uncomfortable.

Lady Glencora, one of the greatest heiresses in the country, once loved her cousin, the impoverished Burgo Fitzgerald, and she was steered away from Burgo and into the arms of the eminently respectable, but overly staid Plantagenet Palliser–a promising young politician and the heir of the Duke of Omnium. Alice goes to visit Lady Glencora, and there’s some history here as Alice refused to participate in secret assignations between Glencora and Burgo before her marriage to Palliser. Lady Glencora invites Alice to visit her, and while the primary idea is that Lady Glencora will set Alice straight by example, instead Glencora confesses that she is still madly in love with Burgo and bored and unhappy with Palliser. Alice becomes a bystander to Glencora’s unhappiness:

If he [Palliser] was dull as a statesman he was more dull in private life, and it may be imagined that such a woman as his wife would find some difficulty in making his society the source of her happiness. Their marriage, in a point of view regarding business, had been a complete success, –and a success, too, when on the other side, that of Lady Glencora, there had been terrible dangers of shipwreck, and when on his side also there had been some little fears of a mishap. As regards her it has been told how near she went to throwing herself, with all her vast wealth, into the arms of a young man, whom no father, no guardian could have regarded as a well-chosen husband for any girl; –one who as yet had shown no good qualities, who had been a spendthrift, unprincipled, and debauched. Alas, she had loved him! It is possible that her love and her wealth might have turned him from evil to good. But who would have ventured to risk her, –and I will not say her and her vast inheritance, –on such a chance? That evil, however, had been prevented, and those about her had managed to marry her to a young man, very steady by nature, with worldly prospects as brilliant as her own, and with a station than which the world offers nothing higher.

But while disaster seems to have been averted by Glencora’s marriage to Palliser, this is not a formula for Glencora’s happiness. She’s bored and extremely unhappy. Her situation isn’t helped by the fact that she’s monitored by two of Palliser’s toadies, and she’s under constant surveillance by the sanctimonious Mrs Marsham, and the loathsome Mr. Bott. Trollope shows us that the upper echelons of British society protects its assets but with little provision for personal happiness.

The third subplot concerns Alice and Kate’s widowed Aunt Greenow (Arabella Vavasour)– a woman whose state of wealthy widowhood allows her more freedom than any other female in the novel. As an old maid, she was a burden to her relatives who dismissed her as an “old flirt,” when suddenly and unexpectedly she landed a wealthy, elderly husband in ill health. After Arabella became Mrs. Greenow, her currency increased measurably within the family. Now she’s a widow, and unfettered by matrimony and fueled with money, Aunt Greenow is out to enjoy life, and she does so with gusto–taking Kate along for the ride. It’s through this character that Trollope’s humour shines. At Yarmouth, Aunt Greenow is pursued by no less than two suitors–the impecunious Captain Bellfield and Mr Cheesacre–a gentleman farmer of Oileymead who’s known as Cheesy. Both Bellfield and Cheesy desperately court Aunt Greenow while she plays fast and loose, claiming mourning (and an ever-shifting time period since the death of her dear Mr. Greenow) as an excuse against making a commitment. Bellfield and Cheesacre–rivals in adversity–are driven to extreme lengths in their amorous siege of the stubborn widow. They are rather like dogs fighting for possession of a bone, and at one point, Cheesacre decides to invite Bellfield to the country thinking this will allow unfettered access to the widow Greenow:

Driven to despair, he at last resolved to ask Bellfield to come to Oileymead for a month. That drilling at Norwich, or the part of it which was supposed to be profitable, was wearing itself out. Funds were low with the Captain, –as he did not scruple to tell his friend Cheesacre, and he accepted the invitation. “I’ll mount you with the harriers, old fellow,” Cheesacre had said, “and give you a little shooting. Only I won’t have you go out when I’m not with you.” Bellfield agreed. Each of them understood the nature of the bargain; though Bellfield, I think, had somewhat the clearer understanding in the matter. He would not be so near the widow as he had been at Norwich, but he would not be less near than his kind host. And his host would no doubt watch him closely;– but then he also could watch his host. There was a railway station not two miles from Oileymead and the journey thence into Norwich was one of half an hour. Mr Cheesacre would doubtless be very jealous of such journeys, but with all his jealousy he could not prevent them. And then, in regard to this arrangement, Mr Cheesacre paid the piper, whereas Captain Bellfield paid nothing. Would it not be sweet to him if he could carry off his friend’s prize from under the very eaves of his friend’s house?

So Trollope shows us penniless men: Burgo Fitzgerald, George Vavasour, and Captain Bellfield and unleashes them on the women who have the means to provide for the lifestyles they crave. But even while I put these three men in the same bag, they are different and perhaps they don’t deserve to be lumped together. Burgo and Bellfield are good-natured men; Burgo has been brought up into life of privilege without the means to sustain this abundance, and poor Captain Bellfield lives off the meagre pocket money given to him by his sister. Of course there’s a great irony here as the women with money (with the exception of Arabella Greenow) are subjected to tremendous social pressure to conform–look at the tremendous wealth of Glencora, for example, who still couldn’t do as she pleased. Lest I give the wrong impression, I should add that some of the women in the tale come off as badly as the men–Lady Monk leaps to mind. She’s a woman who “had succeeded in marrying her daughter to the greatest fool in the peerage.” And what of Alice–I’d argue that Alice’s root problem is fear of sex and not all those other excuses she dreams up.


Filed under Fiction, Trollope, Anthony

Gobseck by Balzac

“I like to leave mud on a rich man’s carpet; it is not petty spite; I like to make them feel a touch of the claws of necessity.”

The lawyer Derville is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve met in Balzac’s Comédie Humaine, and so I was delighted to find him again in the story Gobseck. It’s the winter of 1829-1830, and the action takes place in the salon of the Vicomtesse de Grandlieu. The evening’s entertainment is over, and most of the guests have left–with the exception of the Vicomtesse’s brother and an old trusted friend of the family who turns out to be Derville. The Vicomtesse takes the opportunity to lecture her 17-year-old daughter Camille about her improper behaviour towards the Comte de Restaud. Apparently the Comte carries considerable baggage–namely his mother:

A mother who wasted millions of francs; a woman of no birth, a Mlle Goriot; people talked a great deal about her at one time. She behaved so badly to her own father, that she certainly does not deserve to have so good a son.

Ok, so the objections to the Comte are largely his mother, and the Vicomtesse adds:

So long as his mother lives, any family would take alarm at the idea of intrusting a daughter’s fortune and future to young Restaud.

I’ve read Old Goriot, so I knew just what the Vicomtesse was talking about, and at this point Derville, who finishes his hand of cards, interjects with a story from his youth. And what an incredible story this is–one that shows Balzac’s amazing powers of perception, and here he’s at his supreme best as he dissects the nature of greed and various other human vices. The story (which racks in at about 154 pages) gives us a dash of Derville’s early career, a man who according to Balzac “had not an attorney’s soul.” Derville is a successful man who’s trusted by some of France’s most prominent families, but he’s not driven by ambition–there’s some nebulous design to his actions. Can it be that he’s interested in gaining some sort of justice for those wronged in a world in which the unjust, corrupt and greedy prosper so well? Does Derville’s intelligence demand at least some sort of fascination for those he represents? Both of these elements–fascination and a sense of justice–seem to be in play when he represents Colonel Chabert.

Derville takes his story back in time to when he was a 25-year-old student lodging in a dreadful boarding house in the Rue de Gres. One of Derville’s fellow lodgers is Gobseck–a notorious money lender:

His age was a problem; it was hard to say whether he’d grown old before his time, or whether by economy of youth he had saved enough to last him his life.

His room and everything in it, from the green baize of the bureau to the strip of the carpet by the bed, was as clean and threadbare as the chilly sanctuary of some elderly spinster who spends her days rubbing her furniture. In winter time, the live brands of the fire smouldered all day in his grate. He went through his day, from his uprising to the evening coughing-fit, with the regularity of a pendulum, and in some sort was a clockwork man, wound up by a night’s slumber. Touch a wood-louse on an excursion across your sheet of paper, and this creature shams death; and in something the same way my acquaintance would stop short in the middle of a sentence, while a cart went by, to save the strain to his voice. …

His life flowed soundless  as the sands of an hour-glass. His victims sometimes flew into a rage and made a great deal of noise, followed by a great silence; so is it in a kitchen after a fowl’s neck has been wrung.

A miserable and appropriate image indeed. Derville is clearly fascinated by Gobseck, and over the years, an unlikely relationship slowly develops between the two men, and strangely this relationship grants Derville an education in the deviousness of human nature. Here’s Gobseck to the young Derville:

You have all sorts of beliefs, while I have no beliefs at all. Keep your illusions–if you can. Now I will show you life with the discount taken off. Go wherever you like, or stay at home by the fireside with your wife, there always comes a time when you settle down in a certain groove, the groove is your preference; and then happiness consists in the exercise of your faculties by applying them to realities.

According to Gobseck there is only “one concrete reality” in the world, and yes, it’s GOLD which he says “represents every form of human power.” Living next to Gobseck over the course of several years, Derville sees many people from all walks of life fall into the moneylender’s dreadful and pitiless power. There are some people who seek money from Gobseck to assuage the vices of others, but there are also members of the ‘finest’ families in France who come to Gobseck’s door as a result of a range of secret behaviours. Derville sees it all, and amasses experience through witnessing the constant, unceasing caravan of the desperate who seek money from the hands of Gobseck–the moneylender of last resort.

One of the things that amuses Gobseck the most is the massive, constant upkeep of the wealthy. Here’s Gobseck arriving at the home of a certain Countess de Restaud to collect his money:

A painter would have paid money to stay a while to see that scene that I saw. Under the luxurious hanging draperies, the pillow crushed into the depths of an eider-down quilt, its lace border standing out in contrast against the background of blue silk, bore a vague impress that kindled the imagination. A pair of satin slippers gleamed from the great bear-skin rug spread by the carved mahogany lions at the bed-foot, where she had flung them off in her weariness after the ball. A crumpled gown hung over a chair, the sleeves touching the floor;  stockings which a breath would have blown away were twisted about the leg of an easy-chair; while ribbon garters straggled over a settee. A fan of price, half unfolded, glittered on the chimney piece. Drawers stood open; flowers, diamonds, gloves, a bouquet, a girdle were littered about. The room was full of vague sweet perfume. And–beneath all the luxury and disorder, beauty and incongruity, I saw Misery crouching in wait for her or for her adorer, Misery rearing its head, for the Countess had begun to feel the edge of those fangs. Her tired face was an epitome of the room strewn with relics of past festivals. The scattered gewgaws, pitiable this morning when gathered together and coherent, had turned heads the night before.

So the signs of vice are slowly demolishing the beauty of the young Countess, and Derville goes on to tell the tale of just how he becomes involved with Gobseck and his business dealings with the Restauds. Gobseck predicts the worst for the Comte and the Comtesse de Restaud, and Derville sees Gobseck’s worst predictions come true.

Anyway, an incredibly powerful novella–one that immediately shoots to my favourite Balzac list. Not only does Gobseck give us another glimpse of the intelligent and fascinatingly elusive Derville, but here we also see just how Gobseck–one of literature’s greatest creations operates and exists parasitically on the vices of others. Yet we should remember that Gobseck only feeds the vices that already exist–he doesn’t own a gambling house, he doesn’t encourage spending or the keeping of mistresses (or gigolos), he just feeds the vices of others until those vices consume those who indulge weaknesses.

Pay the price of your luxury, pay for your name, pay for your ease, pay for the monopoly which you enjoy! The rich have invented judges and courts of law to secure their goods, and the guillotine–that candle in which so many lie in silk, under silken coverlets, there is remorse, and grinding of teeth beneath a smile, and those fantastical lions’ jaws are gaping to set their fangs in your heart.

Translated by Ellen Marriage

(The photo depicts Fabrice Luchini as Derville in the film Colonel Chabert)


Filed under Balzac, Fiction

The Ball at Sceaux by Balzac

“Only the poor are generous as a rule; the rich have always excellent reasons for not handing over twenty thousand francs to a relation.”

The Ball at Sceaux (Le bal de Sceaux), published in 1830, is one of the novels in Balzac’s La Comédie Humaine, and this well-crafted novella slots into the Scènes de la Vie Privée (Scenes of Private Life) category. Balzac is a master at depicting the human vices, and this creation is no exception. Here the vice is Pride.

First to place the story in its historical context:

It’s France post-Napoleon–although the backstory concerns past history. The story concerns the Comte de Fontaine and his family–specifically his youngest daughter Emilie. The Comte was loyal to the Bourbons and consequently was ruined. Later, he “refused the lucrative posts offered to him by the Emperor Napoleon,” and when it came time to marry, the Comte chose an impoverished but  ‘great name’ over a “rich but revolutionary parvenu.” Fortune eventually turned for the Comte after The Hundred Days and he received an appointment as an administrator. Attached to the king, the Comte managed to ensure that his children’s fortunes were secured. His three sons were placed well, and he married off two of his three daughters. These daughters and sons-in-law were not of “noble birth.” But no matter–after all, it is post French Revolution, and the marriages are sound and certain to bring security and wealth. This leaves the youngest daughter, Emilie de Fontaine yet to wed, and as it turns out, she is the most difficult. Perhaps this is because she is the youngest and she’s been spoiled:

Emilie had spent her childhood on the family estate, enjoying the abundance which suffices for the joys of early youth; her lightest wishes had been law to her sisters, her brothers, her mother, and even her father. All her relations doted on her.

Emilie is well-educated and beautiful, but she also has more than her share of flaws:

This enchanting veneer covered a careless heart; the opinion–common to many young girls–that no one else dwelt in a sphere so lofty as to be able to understand the merits of her soul; and a pride based no less on her birth than on her beauty. In the absence of the overwhelming sentiment which, sooner or later, works havoc in a woman’s heart, she spent her young ardor in an immoderate love of distinctions , and expressed the deepest contempt for persons of inferior birth.

Emilie’s pride and snobbery come to the fore when it’s time for her to marry. A parade of young men all fail to meet her exacting standards, and her abrupt dismissals of potential suitors are, at times, cruel. In some ways, each rejection seems to cause her pride and vanity to swell:

Wherever she went she seemed to be accepting homage rather than compliments, and even in a princess her airs and manner would have transformed the chair on which she sat into an imperial throne.

Balzac tells us:

As yet the graces of youth and the charms of talent hid these faults from every eye; faults all the more odious in a woman, since she can only please by self-sacrifice and unselfishness.

Where to start with that statement? Balzac is saying that Emilie can get away with this behaviour because she is young and beautiful. As the story plays out, it’s fairly obvious that Emilie has a cruel streak and that’s a character fault, of course–although apparently since she’s female, it’s a character fault to not go around acting with “self-sacrifice and unselfishness.”

In the Physiology of Marriage, Balzac mentions the problem of aristocratic pride and its role in unhappy marriages:

Before the Revolution, several aristocratic families used to send their daughters to the convent. This example was followed by a number of people who imagined that in sending their daughters to a school where the daughters of some great noblemen were sent, they would assume the tone and manner of aristocrats. This delusion of pride was, from the first, fatal to domestic happiness.

The insufferably proud Emilie wants a young, handsome, healthy, rich suitor, and she has a couple of other stipulations:

“Though young and of an ancient family, he must be a peer of France,” said she to herself. “I could not bear to see my coat-of-arms on the panels of my carriage among the folds of azure mantling, not to drive like the princes down the Champs-Élysées on the days of Longchamps in Holy Week. Besides, my father says that it will someday be the highest dignity in France. He must be a soldier–but I reserve the right of making him retire; and he must bear an Order, that the sentries may present arms to us.”

Of course, with a list of requirements like that, Emilie’s expectations are going to be tested and that is the heart of the story. What will happen if Emilie falls in love? Will love outweigh a coat-of-arms? Will she learn a lesson or will she get her just desserts? The nasty little twists and turns of this marvellous novella are classic Balzac–it’s those human vices once again, and what delightful havoc they play with his characters’ lives.

The Ball at Sceaux is available through Project Gutenberg. I downloaded my copy FREE for the kindle from Amazon. The nice thing about these editions is that a list of characters appears at the end of the text so that we can trace them in Le Comédie Humaine.


Filed under Balzac, Fiction

Vendetta by Balzac

“The tradition of the Vendetta will long prevent the reign of law in Corsica.”

Vendetta, a short story from Balzac, came free via Amazon for the kindle, and my copy is translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley. While I am a die-hard fan of Balzac (I’m currently working my way, slowly through La Comédie Humaine), Vendetta is not going to make my favourite list. This is not something that I can pin on Balzac; the story is well-written, and while I enjoyed the first 2/3s of it, I disliked the final 1/3. This is a matter of personal taste. Stories in which characters passively accept their plight drive me around the bend, and unfortunately, Vendetta falls into the category.

The story begins in the year 1800 with the arrival in Paris of a man, his wife and a small girl. The man is Bartolomeo di Piombo–a Corsican who’s fled Corsica under some strange, disturbing circumstances. Piombo and his wife and child arrive at the Tuileries, and once here, Piombo demands to talk to Napoleon. At first this is denied, but eventually Piombo is taken to see Napoleon. The two men know each other, and Napoleon asks Piombo what brings him to Paris:

“To ask asylum and protection from you, if you are a true Corsican,” replied Bartolemeo, roughly.

“What ill fortune drove you from the island? You were the richest, the most—“

“I have killed all the Portas,” replied the Corsican, in a deep voice, frowning heavily.

Then Piombo relates what happened:

“We had made friends,” replied the man; “the Barbantis had reconciled us. The day after we had drunk together to drown our quarrels, I left home because I had business at Bastia. The Portas remained in my house, and set fire to my vineyard at Longone. They killed my son Gregorio. My daughter Ginevra and my wife, having taken the sacrament that morning, escaped; the virgin protected them. When I returned I found no house; my feet were in its ashes as I searched for it. Suddenly they struck against the body of Gregorio; I recognised him in the moonlight. ‘The Portas have dealt me this blow, I said; and forthwith, I went to the woods, and there I called together all the men whom I had ever served,–do you hear me, Bonaparte?–and we marched to the vineyards of the Portas. We got there at five in the morning; at seven they were all before god.”

There was, apparently, one survivor, a child, but Piombo tied the child to a bed before setting the house on fire. Then Piombo, his wife and child set sail for France. Napoleon, who owes Piombo  agrees to give sanctuary to his old acquaintance as long as he forgets the idea of vendetta and obeys the laws of France. Fast forward fifteen years. It’s now 1815–a significant year for French history.

At this point Vendetta delves into the politics of the time and then becomes a love story. The lovers are the young, passionate and single-minded Ginevra Piombo and Luigi, a young man who fought with Napoleon’s defeated army and who is now hiding in the attic belonging to art teacher Servin.  The story sets up the dynamics of the art class, the rivalries between the female students, and the division between the supporters of Napoleon and those who wish to see the return of the Bourbons:

The second return of the Bourbons had shaken many friendships which had held firm under the first Restoration. At this moment families, almost all divided in opinion, were renewing many of the deplorable scenes which stain the history of all countries in times of civil or religious wars.

The war that has divided France now continues in the art class. Ginevra “loved Napoleon to idolatry,” whereas other girls in the class “belonged to the most devoted royalist families in Paris.” Politics taints the friendships between the girls, and opinion is sharply divided between the two camps. Since Napoleon’s power is at an end, Ginevra’s popularity is in question.

These scenes in the classroom are brilliantly constructed, throughly enjoyable and peppered with Balzac’s sagacious observations of human nature.  However, as the love story takes over and morphs into the morbidly sad conclusion, I can’t say that I enjoyed this part of the tale nearly as much. I loathe to be goaded into sentiment, and for me, this story did just that.


Filed under Balzac, Fiction

An Episode Under the Terror by Balzac

An Episode Under the Terror, according to my copy, was published in 1831. This  story takes place in January 1793 in Paris, and you don’t need to be a student of French history to know that this was a time of turmoil. France had become a Republic, and on January 21st, 1793, Louis XVI was executed by guillotine. The story An Episode Under the Terror begins the day after the execution of Louis as a fearful old lady walks through the streets of Paris at night:

It had snowed so heavily all day long that the lady’s footsteps were scarcely audible; the streets were deserted, and a feeling of dread, not unnatural amid the silence, was further increased by the whole extent of the Terror beneath which France was groaning in those days; what was more, the old lady so far had met no one by the way.

Hearing footsteps steadily behind her, the old lady imagines that she’s being followed by a spy. She is not, however, deterred from her mission, and she continues on her errand to a pastry-cook’s shop. The old woman is dressed plainly with no powder on her hair, but in spite of this, it’s very easy for the pastry-cook and his wife to spot their customer as a noble woman:

The manners and habits of people of condition were so different from those of other classes in former times that a noble was easily known, and the shopkeeper’s wife felt persuaded that her customer was a ci-devant, and that she had been about the court.

The old lady pays her last gold louis for the contents of a small pastry box and returns home to a cold garret she shares with two other people. She’s followed home by the same man who followed her to the shop. Is he a spy? Will he denounce the old woman and the two other residents who are hiding under the most miserable of circumstances?

Even though this is a very simple story, Balzac gives a sense of the uncertainty unleashed by Reign of Terror. The shopkeepers feel some pity for the old lady but they are “drawn two ways by pity and self-interest.” As usual there are some marvellous observations from Balzac on the subject of human behaviour and money–this is seen through the behaviour of the pastry cook who fleeces the old lady and feels a momentary prick of conscience for his thievery.

One of the issues Balzac brings up is that the priest, a Jansenist, in the story refused to take “the Oath.” Another issue that emerges in the story, and one of quite surprising prescient is the subject of individual responsibility. The priest discusses the current “wickedness” and the stranger asks if he will be punished for his “indirect participation.” 

“But do you think that an indirect participation will be punished?” The stranger asked with a bewildered look. “There is the private soldier commanded to fall into line–is he actually responsible?”

The priest hesitated. The stranger was glad; he had put the Royalist precisian in a dilemma, between the dogma of passive obedience on the one hand (for the upholders of the Monarchy maintained that obedience was the first principle of military law), and the equally important dogma which turns respect for the person of a king into a matter of religion. 

While I wasn’t that interested in the wrestling of religious dogma, the stranger’s question–just how responsible was he for ‘following orders’ resonates today. How can loyalty or obedience to a king, a president or a general trump individual conscience or morality?

Balzac was born in 1799, so he hadn’t been born when the events of the story take place. Balzac’s mother gave birth to a first son in 1798, nursed him herself, and he died a few weeks later. Honoré Balzac was sent off to a wet nurse, the wife of a gendarme at Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire. He was four years old when he returned home to his parents in Tours, and this separation from his mother set the tone for his relationship with her–and perhaps all women.

My copy came free on the kindle, but it’s also available on Project Gutenberg.


Filed under Balzac, Fiction