Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Balzac by Frederick Lawton

Part 5 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

one can drag them before the footlights?"

The manager, he said, had been pleased to accept in exchange another
comedy which would be soon performed. This comedy was the resuscitated
/Mercadet/, the title of which had been altered to the /Speculator/ in
1847, and the /Jobber/ in 1848. Under the last appellation, it was
read by the Comedie Committee in August, and unanimously approved.
However, between this date and December, Balzac had taken his
departure to Wierzchownia, where he seemed likely to remain for a
while; and, in his absence, the members of the Committee repented of
their bargain. Another solemn sitting was held in December, and an
amended resolution was passed, accepting the /Jobber/ on condition
that certain corrections were made in it. On being apprized of the
proviso, Balzac immediately cancelled his treaty with Lockroy, and
entered into negotiations with Hostein, who professed himself only too
happy to place the Theatre Historique at the author's disposal. Alas!
the same difficulties and worse cropped up here. Hostein wrote that
his public was a boulevard one, much fonder of melodrama than comedy,
and that, if the /Jobber/ were to succeed, it must be completely
modified. Naturally, Balzac refused. He had not withdrawn it from the
first theatre in Paris, which demanded only trifling alterations, to
permit it to be cut up by a theatre of less importance.

Content to wait till a more complaisant director should make overtures
to him, he filled in his leisure at Wierzchownia by inventing the
/King of Beggars/, which he announced to his friend Laurent Jan as an
up-to-date play flattering the all-powerful plebs; and he likewise
sketched a tragedy in which Madame Dorval was to have the chief role.
This was in April, 1849, and, a few weeks later, Madame Dorval was
dead. Only on the 23rd of August 1851, a year after his own death, did
his executors meet with a director, Monsieur Montigny of the Gymnase,
who undertook to stage /Mercadet the Jobber/. Less intransigent than
Balzac, the executors allowed its five acts to be reduced to three,
and a considerable amount of suppression and remodelling to be
operated by a professional playwright, Adolphe Dennery. Performed with
these concessions to theatrical requirements and popular taste, and
with Geoffroy in the chief role, failing Lemaitre and Regnier,
/Mercadet/ pleased the public greatly, too greatly for some bull and
bear habitues of the Bourse, who feared that their pockets might
suffer. Owing to their complaints, the Minister for the Interior
temporarily suspended the representations, basing his interdiction on
the ground that expressions struck out by the Censor had been inserted
again by the actors. Prudently, Monsieur Montigny ordered a few more
excisions, and the prohibition was raised. Seventeen years elapsed
before the Comedie Francaise at last placed /Mercadet/ on its
repertory and inaugurated the event by a special performance with Got
as the /Jobber/.

The hero of the piece is a financier who has very little cash, but
innumerable projects for gaining money. These involve methods which
are not always straight-forward; yet, since he believes in the success
of what he advocates, he is not absolutely unprincipled, though he
does not mind to some extent gulling the gullible. His chief aim is to
trick his creditors--themselves, as it happens, not worthy of much
pity; and, himself kind-hearted, loving his wife and daughter, and not
a libertine, he appeals to the sympathies of the reader or the
audience. Most of the amusement of the play--and it is very amusing--
is derived from the metamorphoses adopted by the /Jobber/ in dealing
with each sort of creditor. Moreover, the love-passages between Julie,
the daughter, and a poor clerk who thinks her an heiress, are so
managed as to strengthen the comic side of certain situations. The
unexpected arrival of a rich uncle from America releases the /Jobber/
ultimately from the tangle into which he has twisted himself. It is
the least original part of the comedy; but was suggested, like the
rest of the play, by Balzac's own circumstances. Was he not always
expecting a windfall; and was not Eve a kind of rich--relative? To add
one more detail concerning /Mercadet/, it was revived at the Comedie
Francaise in 1879, and again in 1890, there being as many as 107
performances. Its indisputable qualities have caused some writers to
conclude that, if Balzac had lived longer, he would have become as
great a dramatist as he was a novelist. This is very doubtful.
Notwithstanding its long incubation of nearly a decade, and the
advantage it possessed in embodying so much personal experience,
/Mercadet/ was still weak in construction and was largely wanting in
dramatic compression. And, at fifty years of age, with failing powers,
Balzac would have found the task increasingly hard to acquire an art
for which, by his own confession, he had no born aptitude.

The temporary government which was set up, in consequence of the
February Revolution of 1848, conceived the curious idea of summoning
the members of the Men of Letters Society to a meeting in the Palais
Mazarin, for the purpose of eliciting from them an expression of
opinion on the situation of literature and the best way to protect it.
Balzac, who had newly arrived from Wierzchownia, went to the meeting
and was chosen chairman. But no sooner was the discussion opened than
it degenerated into dispute and tumult; the place became a bear-
garden, and, after vainly endeavouring to restore order, he took up
his hat and left the room.

When the general elections were held, for the forming of a Constituent
Assembly, he stood as a candidate, and published a long declaration of
his opinions in the /Constitutionnel/, in which had appeared his /Poor
Relations/. The candidature had no success; it could scarcely be
expected to have any. His political style was not one to catch the
popular vote; and his sympathies were too visibly autocratic to
commend themselves at such a moment. What deceived him was that, at
first, there appeared to be a chance for the establishment of a strong
central power well disposed towards sage reforms of a social,
administrative, and financial character, with men like Lamartine to
elaborate them; and to a government of this kind he could have given
his support. When he realized that the trend of events was towards a
Republic of Utopian experiment which he regarded as doomed to failure
and disaster, he quietly dropped out of the struggle, and, leaving
Paris once more in September, retraced his steps to Wierzchownia.

The political disturbances of the previous six months had been
prejudicial both to his invested capital and to his income accruing
from work. It was difficult to sell fiction advantageously when people
were more interested in facts; nor did he care much to continue his
efforts under a /regime/ that he looked upon as a usurpation. Until
the speedy overthrow which he confidently reckoned upon, he said to
himself that he would do better to occupy himself with the question of
his marriage. The hope was at present a forlorn one, but it was worth
risking. He started with the intention of coming back, like the
Spartan, either on his shield or under it.

Short of available cash, as always, he borrowed five thousand francs
from his publisher, Souverain, for the expenses of his journey and
pocket-money, and placed his mother in charge of his Beaujon mansion,
with procuration to buy the complement of his domestic articles.

The warm welcome he received on reaching Madame Hanska's residence
made him so sanguine that he wrote to Froment-Meurice, his jeweller in
Paris, asking that the cornaline cup might be sent him which had been
on order for the past two years. The jeweller was evidently not
anxious to oblige such a bad payer. This cup, the novelist said, was
to be flanked by two figures, Faith and Hope, the former holding a
scroll, with Neuchatel and the date 1833 on it, the latter, another
scroll, with a kneeling Cupid--the whole resting on a ground covered
with cacti and various thorny plants besides, in silver gilt.

The blasts of winter in a rigorous climate laid him by with bronchitis
in November. He suffered at the same time great difficulty in
breathing; and the doctors diagnosed certain symptoms of heart trouble
that caused them to consider his case a grave one. This malady
relegated all matrimonial projects for the moment into the background.
Madame Hanska did not hide that she regretted having put so much of
her money into the purchase and furnishing of a house that they hardly
seemed likely to inhabit together. Adding up what it had cost them
both, they estimated the total at three hundred and fifty thousand
francs. Into these figures the price of pictures entered for a large
amount. The most recent were Greuze's /Jeune Fille Effrayee/, from the
last King of Poland's Gallery; two Canalettis, once the property of
Pope Clement XIII; /James II of England's Wife/, by Netscher; the same
king's portrait, by Lely, in addition to a Van Dyck, two Van Huysums,
and three canvases by Rotari, a Venetian painter of the eighteenth

The winter was not propitious to Madame Hanska either. Two fires on
her estate did enormous damage, and her money losses were important.
Balzac, though tenacious of his plan, talked constantly of going back
to his loneliness, yet stayed on still; and Eve, who either would not
or could not screw up her courage, invented fresh reasons for
procrastinating. One of these was the Emperor's refusal to sanction
the marriage unless Madame Hanska's landed property were transferred
to her daughter's husband. A scolding letter from the novelist's
mother, accusing Honore of remissness towards his nieces and family,
was by chance read to the Wierzchownia hostess, and this further
complicated a situation already sufficiently involved. Balzac's bile
was stirred. He relived his feelings in a long reply to Laure. It
seemed after all he would return to Paris under his shield. "I had a
marriage which made my fortune," he told her. "Everything is now upset
for a bagatelle. Know that it is with marriages as with cream; a
changed atmosphere, a bad odour, spoils them both. Bad marriages are
easily arranged; good ones only with infinite precaution. . . . I can
tell you, Laure," he continued, "it is something, when one wishes, to
be able in Paris to open one's drawing-room and gather in it an
/elite/ of society who will find there a woman as polished and
imposing as a queen, illustrious by her birth, allied to the greatest
families, witty, educated, and beautiful. One has thus a fine means of
domination. With a household thus established, people are compelled to
reckon; and many persons of high position will envy it, especially
since your dear brother will bring to it only glory and a clever

Here we have the secret of Balzac's persistence, and ample proof also
of what has already been asserted, to wit, that his affection for the
/Stranger/ was a fancy born and bred rather in the head than in the

It was perhaps to take the edge off this quip quarrelsome that the
following amusing lines were addressed in the next month to his
nieces, giving them particulars about animal and vegetables foods in
Russia. "The country," he said, "has no veal--I mean eatable veal, for
cows produce calves here as well as elsewhere; but these calves are of
Republican leanness. Beef, such as one gets in Paris, is a myth; one
remembers it only in dreams. In reality, one has meat twenty years
old, which is stringy and which serves to bulk out the packets of hemp
intended for exportation. One consoles one's self with excellent tea
and exquisite milk. As for the vegetables, they are execrable. Carrots
are like turnips, and turnips are like nothing. On the other hand,
there are gruels galore. You make them with millet, buckwheat, oats,
barley; you can make them even with tree-bark. So, my nieces, take
pity on this country, so rich in corn, but so poor in vegetables. Oh!
how Valentine would laugh to see the apples, pears, and plums! She
wouldn't give over at the end of a year. Good-bye, my dear girls, and
accept the Republic patiently; for you have real beef, veal, and
vegetables, and a kind uncle happy and fed on gruel."

Ill again with his heart in the April of 1849, Balzac had the good
luck to be attended by a pupil of the famous Doctor Franck, the latter
being the original of his /Country Doctor/. This disciple, and his son
to a less extent, were men of a newer and more enlightened school; and
the elder man, by bold experiments, reduced his patient's arterio-
sclerosis to the point of what seemed to be convalescence. But the
treatment was tedious and lasted on into the summer, so that the
novelist was left weak and delicate at the end. In such a condition he
was less than ever fit to carry on his wooing.

To give himself a countenance, he spoke again of departure, fixing the
date for the month of October. Madame Hanska was apparently willing to
let him go. She had played the hostess generously during nearly a
twelvemonth to this invalid, and it seemed to her enough. Not that she
intended to sever the engagement. She wished merely to wait and see
how matters turned out. Meantime, he could watch over their common
property, now augmented by the acquisition of an extra plot of land at
the side, which could be resold later at a large profit. But a
resumption of the old burden was more than Balzac could face. In
September he was prostrated by what Dr. Knothe called an intermittent
brain fever, which continued for more than a month. His constitution
pulled him through, with the aid of good nursing; and then, realizing
that her tergiversations had been partly responsible for the attack,
Eve, at last, in conversations between them that followed his
recovery, let him understand that she relented and was willing to
accompany him back to Paris as his wife, if the Emperor would permit
of such a transfer of the estate to Count Mniszech as might enable her
to receive a share of its revenues.

The victory was won, yet at a heavy cost. For a man so worn down by
illness Russia was not the place to recruit in. Its biting winds
throughout the winter of 1849 and 1850 withered what little vitality
Balzac had still remaining, and at Kiew, where he had gone with Madame
Hanska on business, he was again laid up with fever.

All the different formalities required by Russian law having been
finally complied with, the wedding was celebrated on the 14th of
March, in the Church of Saint Barbara at Beriditchef, some few hours
distant from Wierzchownia. At once the bridegroom despatched the news
to his family and friends. His joy was such that he fancied he had
never known happiness before. "I have had no flowery spring," said his
letter to Madame Carraud. "But I shall have the most brilliant of
summers, the mildest of autumns. . . . I am almost crazy with

More than a month elapsed ere the newly married couple were able to
set out on their journey to the French capital, and, even then, they
had to travel along roads studded with quagmires into which their
carriage frequently sank up to the axle. Sometimes fifteen or sixteen
men and a crick were necessary to extricate them. Though on their
honeymoon, they found the repetition of these incidents monotonous,
and were so tired when they reached Dresden that they stayed there to
recover themselves. From this town Balzac sent a few lines to his
mother and sister mentioning the approximate date of their reaching
home; and instructions were given that everything should be in order,
flowers on the table, and a meal prepared. He did not want his mother
to be at the house to receive them, deeming it more proper that his
wife should call on her first, either at Laure's, or at Suresnes where
she was living. They got into Paris on the 22nd or 23rd of May.

Monsieur de Lovenjoul relates that the two travellers drove up to the
Beaujon mansion a little before midnight. Weary with the journey, they
stepped out of the cab and rang the bell, rang more than once, for no
one came to open the door. Through the windows they could see the
lamps lighted and signs of their being expected. But where was the
valet, Francois Munck, who had been left in charge by the novelist's
mother? Apparently, he had deserted his post. Balzac kept on ringing,
shouting at intervals, and thumping the gate. Still there was silence
inside. The one or two people passing at this late hour stopped out of
curiosity, and began in their turn to call and knock; while the
cabman, tired of waiting, put down the luggage on the footpath.

Madame de Balzac grew impatient. It was cold standing in the night-
air. Her husband, nonplussed and exceedingly annoyed, did not know
what to say to the bystanders. One of the latter offered to fetch a
locksmith, named Grimault, who lived in a street close by. The
suggestion was gladly agreed to, since there seemed nothing else to be
done. However, until such time as the locksmith should come, they
continued battering at the gate and throwing tiny pebbles at the
windows; and the master, thus shut out from his own dwelling, hallooed
to the invisible valet: "I am Monsieur de Balzac." It was useless. The
door refused to open. Around Madame de Balzac, now seated on one of
the trunks, other passers-by had gathered and listened to the
novelist's excited comments on his predicament. The occurrence was
certainly extraordinary.

At length, the locksmith was brought and the gate was forced. The
whole party, hosts and impromptu guests, hurried through the narrow
courtyard, entered the house without further hindrance, and were met
by a strange spectacle. The valet had been seized with a sudden fit of
madness and had smashed the crockery, scattered the food about, spilt
a bottle of wine on the carpet, upset the furniture, and ruined the
flowers. Having performed these exploits, he was wandering aimlessly
to and fro with demented gestures, and in this state they discovered
him. After securing and fastening him up in a small room, the visitors
helped to place the luggage in the yard and then retired, with profuse
thanks from the novelist, who being thoroughly unnerved by this
untoward incident, was obliged to go straight to bed. The next day,
Francois was taken to an asylum at his master's expense, as is proved
by a receipt still existing in which Balzac is dubbed a Count. Perhaps
the title was a piece of flattery on the doctor's part, or the
novelist may have imagined that his marrying a Countess conferred on
him letters of nobility.

Anyway, this assumed lordship was poor compensation for the immense
disappointment of his marriage in every other respect. From the moment
he and his wife took possession of their fine Beaujon residence,
whatever bonds of friendship and tenderness had previously existed
between them were irremediably snapped asunder. Peculiarities of
character and temperament in each, which, as long as they were lovers,
had been but slightly felt, now came into close contact, clashed, and
were proved to be incompatible. Moreover, there were disagreeable
revelations on either side. The husband learnt that his wife's
available income was very much inferior to what he had supposed or
been led to believe, and the wife learnt that her husband's debts, far
from being paid, as he had asserted, subsisted and were more numerous
and larger than he had ever in sober truth admitted. So, instead of
coming to Paris to be the queen of a literary circle, the /Stranger/
saw herself involved in liabilities that threatened to swallow up her
own fortune, if she lent her succour.

Reproaches and disputes began in the week following their instalment.
The disillusioned Eve withdrew to her own apartments in anger; and
Balzac, whose bronchitis and congestion of the liver had grown worse,
remained an invalid in his. They had intended spending only a
fortnight or so in Paris, and then travelling south to the Pyrenees
and Biarritz; but this programme was perforce abandoned. All through
the month of June the patient was under medical treatment, able to go
out only in a carriage, and, even so, in disobedience to the doctor's
orders. One of these visits was to the door of the Comedie Francaise,
where Arsene Houssaye, the Director, came to speak to him about
/Mercadet/, and indulgently promised him, it should be staged soon,
the /Resources of Quinola/ also.

On the 20th of June, he wrote, through his wife, to Theophile Gautier,
telling him that his bronchitis was better and that the doctor was
proceeding to treat him for his heart-hypertrophy, which was now the
chief obstacle to his recovery. At the end of the letter he signed his
name, adding: "I can neither read nor write." They were the last words
of his correspondence. From that date his heart-disease undermined him
rapidly; and the few friends whom he received augured ill from what
they remarked. Not that he lost hope himself. Although suffering
acutely at intervals from difficulty in breathing, and from the oedema
of his lower limbs, which slowly crept upwards, he spoke with the same
confidence as always of his future creations that he meditated. His
brain was the one organ unattacked. From Dr. Nacquart he inquired
every day how soon he might get to work again.

The month of July and the first half of August passed thus, the dropsy
gaining still on him in spite of all that Nacquart and other medical
men could do to combat it. To every one but the patient himself, it
was evident that he was dying. Houssaye, who came to see him on the
16th of August, found Dr. Nacquart in the room. He relates that
Balzac, addressing the latter, said: "Doctor, I want you to tell me
the truth. . . . I see I am worse than I believed. . . . I am growing
weaker. In vain I force myself to eat. Everything disgusts me. How
long do you think I can live?"--The doctor did not reply.--"Come,
doctor," continued the sick man, "do you take me for a child? I can't
die as if I were nobody. . . . A man like me owes a will and testament
to the public."--"My dear patient, how much time do you require for
what you have to do?" asked Nacquart.--"Six months," replied Balzac;
and he gazed anxiously at his interlocutor.--"Six months, six months,"
repeated the doctor, shaking his head.--"Ah!" cried Balzac dolorously;
"I see you don't allow me six months. . . . You will give me six weeks
at least. . . . Six weeks with the fever, is an eternity. Hours are
days; and then the nights are not lost."--The doctor shook his head
again. Balzac raised himself, almost indignant.--"What, doctor! Am I,
then, a dead man? Thank God! I still feel strength to fight. But I
feel also courage to submit. I am ready for the sacrifice. If your
science does not deceive you, don't deceive me. What can I hope for
yet? . . . Six days? . . . I can in that time indicate in broad
outlines what remains to be done. My friends will see to details. I
shall be able to cast a glance at my fifty volumes, tearing out the
bad pages, accentuating the best ones. Human will can do miracles. I
can give immortal life to the world I have created. I will rest on the
seventh day."--Since beginning to speak, Balzac had aged ten years,
and finally his voice failed him.--"My dear patient," said the doctor,
trying to smile, "who can answer for an hour in this life? There are
persons now in good health who will die before you. But you have asked
me for the truth; you spoke of your will and testament to the
public."--"Well?"--"Well! this testament must be made to-day. Indeed,
you have another testament to make. You mustn't wait till to-morrow."
--Balzac looked up.--"I have, then, no more than six hours," he
exclaimed with dread.

The details of this narration given to the /Figaro/ many years after
the event[*] do not read much like history. A more probable account
tells that Balzac, after one of his fits of gasping, asked Nacquart to
say whether he would get better or not. The doctor hesitated, then
answered: "You are courageous. I will not hide the truth from you.
There is no hope." The sick man's face contracted and his fingers
clutched the sheet. "How long have I to live?" he questioned after a
pause. "You will hardly last the night," replied Nacquart. There was a
fresh silence, broken only by the novelist's murmuring as if to
himself: "If only I had Bianchon, he would save me." Bianchon, one of
his fictitious personages, had become for the nonce a living reality.
It was Balzac who had taken the place of his medical hero in the
kingdom of shadows. Anxious to soften the effect of his sentence,
Nacquart inquired if his patient had a message or recommendation to
give. "No, I have none," was the answer. However, just before the
doctor's departure, he asked for a pencil, and tried to trace a few
lines, but was too week; and, letting the pencil drop from his
fingers, he fell into a slumber.

[*] 20th of August 1883.

In his /Choses Vues/, Victor Hugo informs us that, on the afternoon of
the 18th, his wife had been to the Hotel Beaujon and heard from the
servants that the master of the house was dying. After dinner he went
himself, and reached the Hotel about nine. Received at first in the
drawing-room, lighted dimly by a candle placed on a richly carved oval
table that stood in the centre of the room, he saw there an old woman,
but not, as he asserts, the brother-in-law, Monsieur Surville. No
member of Balzac's own family was present in the house that evening.
Even the wife remained in her apartments. The old woman told Hugo that
gangrene had set in, and that tapping now produced no effect on the
dropsy. As the visitor ascended the splendid, red-carpeted staircase,
cumbered with statues, vases, and paintings, he was incommoded by a
pestilential odour that assailed his nostrils. Death had begun the
decomposition of the sick man's body even before it was a corpse. At
the door of the chamber Hugo caught the sound of hoarse, stertorous
breathing. He entered, and saw on the mahogany bed an almost
unrecognizable form bolstered up on a mass of cushions. Balzac's
unshaven face was of blackish-violet hue; his grey hair had been cut
short; his open eyes were glazed; the profile resembled that of the
first Napoleon. It was useless to speak to him unconscious of any
one's presence.

Hugo turned and hastened from the spot thinking sadly of his previous
visit a month before, when, in the same room, the invalid had joked
with him on his opinions, reproaching him for his demagogy. "How could
you renounce, with such serenity, your title as a peer of France?" he
had asked. He had spoken also of the Beaujon residence, the gallery
over the little chapel in the corner of the street, the key that
permitted access to the chapel from the staircase; and, when the poet
left him, he had accompanied him to the head of the stairs, calling
out to Madame de Balzac to show Hugo his pictures.

Death took him the same evening.[*] During the last hours of his life
Giraud had sketched his portrait for a pastel;[+] and, on the morning
of the 19th, a man named Marminia was sent to secure a mould of his
features. This latter design had to be abandoned. An impression of the
hands alone was obtainable. Decomposition had set in so rapidly that
the face was distorted beyond recognition. A lead coffin was hastily
brought to cover up the ghastly spectacle of nature in a hurry.

[*] De Lovenjoul says that Balzac died on the 17th, not the 18th. This
discrepancy is most curious, the latter date figuring as the
official one, as well as being given by Hugo and others.

[+] De Lovenjoul says that the sketch was made after death. But, if
the mask was not possible, it is difficult to understand how a
pencil likeness could have been drawn.

Two days later, on the 21st of August, the interment took place at
Pere Lachaise cemetery. The procession started from the Church of
Saint-Philippe-du-Roule, to which the coffin had been transported
beforehand. There was no pomp in either service or ceremony. A two-
horse hearse and four bearers--Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Francis Wey, and
Baroche, the Minister for the Interior made up the funeral
accessories. But an immense concourse of people followed the body to
the grave. The Institute, the University, the various learned
societies were all represented by eminent men, and a certain number of
foreigners, English, German, and Russian, were present also. Baroche
attended rather from duty than appreciation. On the way to the
cemetery, he hummed and hawed, and remarked to Hugo: "Monsieur Balzac
was a somewhat distinguished man, I believe?" Scandalized, Hugo looked
at the politician and answered shortly: "He was a genius, sir." It is
said that Baroche revenged himself for the rebuff by whispering to an
acquaintance near him: "This Monsieur Hugo is madder still than is

Over the coffin, as it was laid under the ground near the ashes of
Charles Nodier and Casimir Delavigne, the author of /Les Miserables/
and /Les Feuilles d'Automne/ pronounced an oration which was a
generous tribute to the talent of his great rival. On such an occasion
there was no room for the reservations of criticism. It was the moment
to apply the maxim, /De mortuis nil nisi bonum/. "The name of Balzac,"
he said, "will mingle with the luminous track projected by our epoch
into the future. . . . Monsieur de Balzac was the first among the
great, one of the highest among the best. All his volumes form but a
single book, wherein our contemporary civilization is seen to move
with a certain terrible weirdness and reality--a marvellous book which
the maker of it entitled a comedy and which he might have entitled a
history. It assumes all forms and all styles; it goes beyond Tacitus
and reaches Suetonius; it traverses Beaumarchais and attains even
Rabelais; it is both observation and imagination, it lavishes the
true, the intimate, the bourgeois, the trivial, the material, and,
through every reality suddenly rent asunder, it allows the most
sombre, tragic ideal to be seen. Unconsciously, and willy nilly, the
author of this strange work belongs to the race of revolutionary
writers. Balzac goes straight to the point. He grapples with modern
society; and from everywhere he wrests something--here, illusion;
there, hopes; a cry; a mask. He investigates vice, he dissects
passion, he fathoms man--the soul, the heart, the entrails, the brain,
the abyss each has within him. And by right of his free, vigorous
nature--a privilege of the intellects of our time, who see the end of
humanity better and understand Providence--Balzac smilingly and
serenely issues from such studies, which produced melancholy in
Moliere and misanthropy in Rousseau. The work he has bequeathed us is
built with granite strength. Great men forge their own pedestal; the
future charges itself with the statue. . . . His life was short but
full, fuller of works than of days. Alas! this puissant, untired
labourer, this philosopher, this thinker, this poet, this genius lived
among us the life of all great men. To-day, he is at rest. He has
entered simultaneously into glory and the tomb. Henceforth, he will
shine above the clouds that surround us, among the stars of the

To the credit of Balzac's widow it should be said that, although not
legally obliged, she accepted her late husband's succession, heavy as
it was with liabilities, the full extent of which was communicated to
her only after the funeral. The novelist's mother, having renounced
her claim on the capital lent by her at various times to her son,
received an annuity of three thousand francs, which was punctually
paid until the old lady's demise in 1854. Buisson the tailor, Dablin,
Madame Delannoy, and the rest of the creditors, one after the other,
were reimbursed the sums they had also advanced, the profits on
unexhausted copyright aiding largely in the liberation of the estate.
Before Eve's own death, every centime of debt was cleared off.

In the romance of Balzac's life it will be always arduous, if not
infeasible, to estimate exactly Madame Hanska's role, unless, by some
miracle, her own letters to the novelist could arise phoenix-like from
their ashes. The liaison that she is said to have formed soon after
her husband's death with Jean Gigoux, the artist, who painted her
portrait in 1852, may be regarded either as a retaliation for Honore's
infidelities, which she was undoubtedly cognizant of, or else as the
rebound of a sensual nature after the years spent in the too
idealistic realm of sentiment. And, whichever of these explanations is
correct, the irony of the conclusion is the same.



The idea of joining his separate books together and forming them into
a coherent whole was one that matured slowly in Balzac's mind. Its
genesis is to be found in his first collection of short novels
published in 1830 under the titles: /Scenes of Private Life/, and
containing /The Vendetta/, /Gobseck/, /The Sceaux Ball/, /The House of
the Tennis-playing Cat/, /A Double Family/, and /Peace in the
Household/. Between these stories there was no real connexion except
that certain characters in one casually reappeared or were alluded to
in another. By 1832, the /Scenes of Private Life/ had been augmented,
and, in a second edition, filled four volumes. The additions comprised
/The Message/, /The Bourse/, /The Adieu/, /The Cure of Tours/, and
several chapters of /The Woman of Thirty Years Old/, some of which had
previously come out as serials in the /Revue de Paris/ or the /Mode/.

It has already been related how the novelist all at once realized what
a gain his literary production might have in adopting a plan and
building up a social history of his epoch. And, in fact, this
conception did stimulate his activity for some time, serving too, as
long as it was uncrystallized, to concentrate his visions upon
objective realities.

Needing, between 1834 and 1837, a more comprehensive title for the
rapidly increasing list of his works, he called them /Studies of
Manners and Morals in the Nineteenth Century/, subdividing them into
/Scenes of Private Life/, /Scenes of Parisian Life/, and /Scenes of
Provincial Life/. However, some things he had written were classible
conveniently neither under the specific names nor under the generic
one. These outsiders he called /Tales and Philosophic Novels/,
subsequently shortening the title, between 1835 and 1840, to
/Philosophic Studies/. The question was what wider description could
be chosen which might embrace also this last category. Writing to
Madame Hanska in 1837, he used the expression /Social Studies/,
telling her that there would be nearly fifty volumes of them. Either
she, or he himself, must, on reflection, have judged the title
unsatisfactory, for no edition of his works ever bore this name. Most
likely the thought occurred to him that such an appellation was more
suitable to a strictly scientific treatise than to fiction.

The expression /Comedie Humaine/, which he ultimately adopted, is said
to have been suggested to him by his whilom secretary, the Count
Auguste de Belloy, after the latter's visit to Italy, during which
Dante's /Divine Comedy/ had been read and appreciated. But already,
some years prior to this journey, the novelist would seem to have had
the Italian poet's masterpiece before his mind. In his /Girl with the
Golden Eyes/, he had spoken of Paris as a hell which, perhaps, one day
would have its Dante. De Belloy's share in the matter was probably an
extra persuasion added to Balzac's own leaning, or the Count may have
been the one to substitute the word /human/.[*]

[*] A communication has been made to me, while writing this book, by
Monsieur Hetzel, the publisher, tending to show that his father,
who was also known in the literary world, had a large share in the
choice of the /Comedie Humaine/ as a title.

Madame Hanska was at once informed of the choice. "The /Comedie
Humaine/, such is the title of my history of society depicted in
action," he told her in September 1841. And when, between 1841 and
1842, Hetzel, together with Dubochet and Turne, brought out sixteen
octavo volumes of his works illustrated, they each carried his name,
while a preface set forth the reasons which had led the author to
choose it. Thereafter, every succeeding edition was similarly styled,
including Houssiaux' series in 1855, and the series of Calmann-Levy,
known as the definitive one, between 1869 and 1876.

Against the appellation itself no objection can reasonably be made.
Balzac's fiction takes in a world--an underworld might appropriately
be said--of Dantesque proportions. As soon as it was fully fledged, it
started with a large ambition. "My work," he said to Zulma Carraud in
1834, "is to represent all social effects without anything being
omitted from it, whether situation of life, physiognomy, character of
man or woman, manner of living, profession, zone of social existence,
region of French idiosyncrasy, childhood, maturity, old age, politics,
jurisdiction, war." And in the Forties the same intention was stated
as clearly. "I have undertaken the history of the whole of society.
Often have I summed up my plan in this simple sentence: A generation
is a drama in which four or five thousand people are the chief actors.
This drama is my book."

When Hetzel decided to publish a so-far complete edition of the
/Comedie/, he induced the novelist to insert a preface composed for
the occasion. Balzac wished at first to use an old preface that he had
written in conjunction with Felix Davin, and placed, under the
latter's signature, at the beginning of the /Study of Manners and
Morals in the Nineteenth Century/. Hetzel objected to this, and urged
that so important an undertaking ought to be preceded by an author's
apology. His advice was accepted, and the preface was developed into a
veritable doctrine and defence. Here are some of its essential

"The /Comedie Humaine/," says Balzac, "first dawned on my brain like a
dream--one of those impossible projects, it seemed, that are caressed
and allowed to fly away; a chimera which smiles, shows its woman's
face, and forthwith unfolds its wings, mounting again into a fancied
heaven. But the chimera, as many chimeras do, changed into reality. It
had its commands and its tyranny to which I was obliged to yield.

"It was born from a comparison between humanity and animality. It
would be an error to believe that the great quarrel which in recent
times has arisen between Cuvier and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire is
concerned with a scientific innovation. The /unity of composition/
involved in it had already, under other terms, occupied the greatest
minds of the two preceding centuries. On reading over again the
extraordinary works of such mystic writers as Swedenborg, Saint-
Martin, etc., who have studied the relations of science with the
infinite, and the writings of the finest geniuses in natural history,
such as Leibnitz, Buffon, Charles Bonnet, etc., one finds in the
monads of Leibnitz, in the organic molecules of Buffon, in the
vegetative force of Needham, in the /jointing/ of similar parts of
Charles Bonnet--who was bold enough to write in 1760: 'The animal
vegetates like the plant;' one finds, I say, the rudiments of the
beautiful law of /self for self/ on which the unity of composition
reposes. There is only one animal. The Creator has made use only of
one and the same pattern for all organized beings. The animal is a
principle which acquires its exterior form, or, to speak more exactly,
the differences of its form, in the surroundings in which it is called
upon to develop. The various zoologic species result from these
differences. The proclamation and upholding of this system, in
harmony, moreover, with the ideas we have of the Divine power, will be
the eternal honour of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, who was the vanquisher
of Cuvier on this point of high science, and whose triumph was
acknowledged in the last article written by the great Goethe."

Continuing his exposition, the novelist says all men resemble each
other, but in the same manner as a horse resembles a bird. They are
also divided into species. These species differ according to social
surroundings. A peasant, a tradesman, an artist, a great lord are as
distinct from each other as a wolf is from a sheep. Besides, there is
another thing peculiar to man, viz. that male and female are not
alike, whereas among the rest of the animals, the female is similar to
the male. The wife of a shopkeeper is sometimes worthy to be the
spouse of a prince, and often a prince's wife is not worth an
artist's. Then, again, there is this difference. The lower animals are
strictly dependent on circumstances, each species feeding and housing
itself in a uniform manner. Man has not such uniformity. In Paris, he
is not the same as in a provincial town; in the provinces, not the
same as in rural surroundings. When studying him, there are many
things to be considered--habitat, furniture, food, clothes, language.
In fine, the subject taken up by a novelist who wishes to treat it
properly, comprises man as an integral portion of a social species,
woman as not peculiarly belonging to any, and /entourage/ from its
widest circumference of country down to the narrowest one of home.

"But," he goes on, "how is it possible to render the drama of life
interesting, with the three or four thousand varying characters
presented by a society? How please at the same time the philosopher,
and the masses who demand poetry and philosophy under striking images?
If I conceived the importance and poetry of this history of the human
heart, I saw no means of execution; for, down to our epoch, the most
celebrated narrators had spent their talent in creating one or two
typical characters, in depicting one phase of life. With this thought,
I read the works of Walter Scott. Walter Scott, the modern /trouvere/,
was then giving a gigantic vogue to a kind of composition unjustly
called secondary. Is it not really harder to compete with the registry
of births, marriages, and deaths by means of Daphnis and Chloe,
Roland, Amadis, Panurge, Don Quixote, Manon Lescaut, Clarissa,
Lovelace, Robinson Crusoe, Ossian, Julie d'Etanges, My Uncle Toby,
Werther, Rene, Corinne, Adolphe, Gil Blas, Paul and Virginia, Jeanie
Deans, Claverhouse, Ivanhoe, Manfred, Mignon, than to arrange facts
almost similar among all nations, to seek for the spirit of laws
fallen into decay, to draw up theories which lead people astray, or,
as certain metaphysicians, to explain what exists? First of all,
nearly all these characters, whose existence becomes longer, more
genuine than that of the generations amid which they are made to be
born, live only on condition of being a vast image of the present.
Conceived in the womb of the century, the whole human heart moves
beneath their outward covering; it often conceals a whole philosophy.
Walter Scott, therefore, raised to the philosophic value of history
the novel--that literature which from century to century adorns with
immortal diamonds the poetic crown of the countries where letters are
cultivated. He put into it the spirit of ancient times; he blended in
it at once drama, dialogue, portraiture, landscape, description; he
brought into it the marvellous and the true, those elements of the
epopee; he made poetry mingle in it with the humblest sorts of
language. But having less invented a system than found out his manner
in the ardour of work, or by the logic of this work, he had not
thought of linking his compositions to each other so as to co-ordinate
a complete history, each chapter of which would have been a novel and
each novel an epoch. Perceiving this want of connection, which, indeed
does not render the Scotchman less great, I saw both the system that
was favourable to the execution of my work, and the possibility of
carrying it out. Although, so to speak, dazzled by the surprising
fecundity of Walter Scott, always equal to himself and always
original, I did not despair, for I found the reason of such talent in
the variety of human nature. /Chance is the greatest novelist in the
world./ To be fertile, one has only to study it. French society was to
be the historian. I was to be only the secretary. By drawing up an
inventory of virtues and vices, by assembling the principal facts of
passions, by painting characters, by choosing the principal events of
society, by composing types through the union of several homogeneous
characters, perhaps I should succeed in writing the history forgotten
by so many historians, that of /manners and morals/. With much
patience and courage, I should realize, with regard to France in the
nineteenth century, the book we all regret which Rome, Athens, Tyre,
Memphis, Persia, India have not unfortunately left about their
civilizations, and which like the Abbe Barthelemy, the courageous and
patient Monteil had essayed for the Middle Ages, but in a form not
very attractive."

One may well believe the novelist when he explains that "it was no
small task to depict the two or three thousand prominent figures of an
epoch," representing typical phases in all existences, which, says he,
"is one of the accuracies I have most sought for. I have tried to give
a notion also of the different parts of our beautiful land. My work
has its geography, as it has its genealogy and its families, its
places and things, its persons and its facts, as it has its blazonry,
its nobles and its commoners, its artisans and its peasants, its
politicians and its dandies, its army, in fine, its epitome of life--
all this in its settings and galleries."

The Human Comedy, as finally arranged and classified in 1845, had
three chief divisions: /Studies of Manners and Morals/, /Philosophic
Studies/, /Analytic Studies/; and the first of these was subdivided
into /Scenes of Private Life/, /Scenes of Provincial Life/, /Scenes of
Parisian Life/, /Scenes of Military Life/, /Scenes of Political Life/,
/Scenes of Country Life/.

Even if we include the unwritten books, the diminution from first to
second and from second to third is considerable. In the novelist's
mind, this difference was intentional. According to his conception,
the first large series represented the broad base of effects, upon
which was superposed the second plane of causes, less numerous and
more concentrated. In the latter, he strove to answer the why and
wherefore of sentiments; in the former, to exhibit their action in
varying modes. In the former, therefore, he represented individuals;
in the latter, his individuals became types. All this he detailed to
Madame Hanska, insisting on the statement that everywhere he gave life
to the type by individualizing it, and significance to the individuals
by rendering them typical. At the top of the cone he treated, in his
analytical studies, of the principles whence causes and effects
proceed. The manners and morals at the base, he said, were the
spectacle; the causes above were the side-scenes; and the principles
at the top were the author.

Coming to the subdivisions, he explains that his /Scenes of Private
Life/ deal with humanity's childhood and adolescence, and the errors
of these, in short, with the period of budding passions; the /Scenes
of Provincial Life/, with passions in full development--calculation,
interest, ambition, etc.; the /Scenes of Parisian Life/, with the
peculiar tastes, vices and temptations of capitals, that is to say,
with passion unbridled. The interpretation assigned to these
categories is a fanciful one. Passions are born and bred and produce
their full effect in every place and phase of life. They may assume
varying forms in divers surroundings, but such variation has no
analogy with change of age. Only by forcing the moral of his stories
was the author able to give them these secondary significations.
Indeed, he was often in straits to decide in which category he ought
to class one and another novel. /Pere Goriot/ was originally in the
/Scenes of Parisian Life/, where it has a certain /raison d'etre/.
Ultimately, it found its way into the /Scenes of Private Life/. And a
greater alteration was made by removing /Madame Firmiani/ and the
/Woman-Study/ from the /Philosophic Studies/, and placing them also in
the /Private Life/ series.

Be it granted that the plan of the /Comedy/ was grandiose in its
scope; it was none the less doomed in its execution to suffer for its
ambitiousness, since an attempt was made to subordinate imagination to
science in a domain where the rights of imagination were paramount.

That which Balzac has best rendered in it is the struggle for life on
the social plane; and that which forms its most legitimate claim to be
deemed in some measure a whole is the general reference to this in all
the so-called parts. Before the Revolution, the action of the law was
narrower, being chiefly limited to members of one class. With the fall
of ancient privilege the sphere of competition was opened to the
entire nation; and, instead of nobles contending with nobles,
churchmen with churchmen, tradesmen with tradesmen, there was an
interpenetration of combatants over all the field of battle, or
rather, the several smaller fields of battle became one large one.
Balzac's fiction reproduces the later phase in minute detail, and,
mostly, with a treatment suited to the subject.

Brunetiere, whose chapter on the /Comedy/ is written more gropingly
than the rest of his study of the novelist, makes use of an ingenious
comparison with intent to persuade that the stories had from the very
first a predestined organic union, with ramifications which the author
saw but obscurely and which were joined together more closely--as also
more consciously--during the lapse of years. "Thus," he says,
"brothers and sisters, in the time of their infancy or childhood, have
nothing in common except a certain family resemblance--and this not
always. But, as they advance in age, the features that individualized
them become attenuated, they return to the type of their progenitors,
and one perceives that they are children of the same father and
mother. Balzac's novels," he concludes, "have a connection of this
kind. In his head, they were, so to speak, contemporary."

The simile is not a happy one. It does not help to reconcile us to an
artificial approximation of books that are heterogeneous, unequal in
value, and, frequently, composed under influences far removed from the
after-thought that was given to them by a putative father. Balzac was
not well inspired in relating his novels to each other logically. Such
natural relationship as they possess is that of issuing from the same
brain, though acting under varying conditions and in different states
of development; and it is true that, if the story of this brain is
known, and its experiences understood, a certain classification might
be made--perhaps more than one--of its creations, on account of common
traits, resemblances of subject or treatment, which could serve to
link them together loosely. But, between this arrangement and the
artificial hierarchy of the /Comedy, it is impossible to find a bridge
to pass over.

One of the real links betwixt the novels is the reappearance of the
same people in many of them, which thing is not in itself displeasing.
It has the advantage of allowing the author to display his men and
women in changed circumstances, to cast side-lights upon them, and to
reveal them more completely. However, here and there, we pay for the
privilege in meeting with bores whose further acquaintance we would
fain have been spared. And then, also, we are likely enough to come
across a hero or heroine as a child, after learning all about his or
her maturer life; to accompany people to the grave and see them
buried, and yet, in a later book, to be introduced to them as alive as
ever they were. This is disconcerting. Usually, Balzac remembers his
characters well enough to be consistent in other respects when he
makes them speak and act, or lets us into his confidence about them.
Still, he is guilty of a few lapses of memory. In /The Woman of Thirty
Years Old/, Madame d'Aiglemont has two children in the early chapters;
subsequently, one is drowned, and, instead of one remaining, we learn
there are three--a new reading of Wordsworth's /We are seven/. Again,
in the /Lost Illusions/, Esther Gobseck has blond hair in one
description of her, and black in another. We are reduced to supposing
she had dyed it. Mistakes of the kind have been made by others writers
of fiction who have worked quickly. In the /Comedy/, the number of
/dramatis personae/ is exceedingly large. Balzac laughingly remarked
one day that they needed a biographical dictionary to render their
identity clear; and he added that perhaps somebody would be tempted to
do the work at a later date. He guessed rightly. In 1893, Messrs.
Cerfbeer and Cristophe undertook the task and carried it through in a
book that they call the /Repertory of the Comedie Humaine/.[*] All the
fictitious personages or petty folk that live in the novelist's pages
are duly docketed, and their births, marriages, deaths, and stage
appearances recorded in this /Who's Who/, a big volume of five hundred
and sixty-three pages, constituting a veritable curiosity of

Much has been said in the preceding chapters of the large use Balzac
made of his own life, his adventures, his experiences, in composing
the integral portions of his /Comedy/, so that its contents, for any
one who can interpret, becomes a valuable autobiography. And the
lesser as well as the greater novels supply facts. In the /Forsaken
Woman/, Madame de Beauseant, who has been jilted by the Marquis of
Ajuda-Pinto, permits herself to be wooed by Gaston de Nueil, a man far
younger than herself. After ten years, he, in turn, quits her to marry
the person his mother has chosen for him; but, unable to bear the
combined burden of his remorse and yearning regret, he commits
suicide. This tale, like the /Lily in the Valley/, is a adaptation of
Balzac's liaison with Madame de Berny. It was written in the very year
he severed the material ties that bound them. The only distinction
between his case and that of Gaston de Nueil was that he had no desire
to kill himself, and was content to be no more than a friend, since he
was the freer to flirt with Madame de Castries. And when the latter
lady kept him on tenter-hooks, tormenting him, tempting him, but never
yielding to him, he revenged himself by writing the /Duchess de
Langeais/, attributing to the foolish old general his own hopes,
fears, and disappointments at the hands of the coquettish, capricious
duchess. "I alone," he said in a letter, "know the horrible that is in
this narrative." And, if, in /Albert Savarus/, we have a confession of
his political ambitions and campaigns, we get in /Cesar Birotteau/ and
the /Petty Bourgeois/ his financial projects, which never brought him
anything; in /A Man of Business/--as well as elsewhere--his continual
money embarrassments. How deeply he felt them, he often lets us gather
from his fiction. "I have been to a capitalist," he wrote in one of
his epistles to Madame Hanska, "a capitalist to whom are due
indemnities agreed on between us for works promised and not executed;
and I offered him a certain number of copies of the /Studies of
Manners and Morals/. I proposed five thousand francs with deferred
payment, instead of three thousand francs cash. He refused everything,
even my signature and a bill, telling me my fortune was in my talent
and that I might die any time. This scene is one of the most infamous
I have known. Some day I will reproduce it."

And he did, with many things else that happened to him in his dealings
with his fellows. There is biography too, as well as autobiography in
the /Comedy/--this notwithstanding his disclaimers. Exact portraiture
he avoided for obvious reasons, but intentional portraiture he
indulged in largely; and life and character were sufficiently near the
truth for shrewd contemporaries to recognize the originals. To add one
or two examples to the number already given. Claire Brunne (Madame
Marbouty) seems to have suggested his /Muse of the County/, a
Berrichon blue-stocking; Madame d'Agoult and Liszt became Madame de
Rochfide and the musician Conti in /Beatrix/; a cousin of Madame
Hanska, Thaddeus Wylezinski, who worshipped her discreetly, is
depicted under the traits of Thaddeus Paz, a Polish exile in the
/False Mistress/, who assumes a feigned name to conceal his love;
Lamartine furnished the conception of the poet Canalis in /Modeste
Mignon/, the resemblance being at first so striking that the novelist
afterwards toned it away a little; and Monnier, the caricaturist,
certainly supplied the essential elements in Bixiou, who is so well
drawn in /Cousin Bette/ and the /Firm of Nucingen/. The Baron Nucingen
himself has some of the features of the James de Rothschild whom
Balzac knew; and Rastignac embodied the author's impression of Thiers
in the statesman's earlier years. One might go further and couple
Delacroix the painter's name with that of Joseph Bridau in /A
Bachelor's Household/, Frederick Lemaitre, the actor's, with Medal's
in /Cousin Pons/, Emile de Girardin's with du Tillet's in /Cesar
Birotteau/. At last, however, owing to the mingling of one personality
with another, identification is increasingly difficult, unless the
novelist comes to our assistance, as in the story /Cousin Bette/,
where he confesses Lisbeth the old maid, to be made up out of three
persons, Madame Valmore, Madame Hanska's aunt, and his own mother.

Summing up Balzac's entire literary production, which in Monsieur de
Lovenjoul's catalogue occupies no fewer than fourteen pages, we find
that it comprises, besides the ninety-six different works of the
/Comedie Humaine/ properly so called, ten volumes of his early novels;
six complete dramatic pieces--one, the /School for Husbands and Wives/
recently published;[*] thirty /Contes Drolatiques/; and three hundred
and fourteen articles and opuscles, some of them fairly long, since
the /Reminiscences of a Pariah/ has a hundred and eighty-four pages
octavo, the /Theory of Walking/ fifty, the /Code of Honest People/ a
hundred and twelve, the /Impartial History of the Jesuits/ eighty;
these exclusive of the /Revue Parisienne/ with its two hundred and
twenty pages, which, as we have seen, was written entirely by himself.
When we remember that the whole of this, with the exception of the
early novels and six of the opuscles, was produced in twenty years, we
can better appreciate the man's industry, which, as Monsieur Le Breton
calculates, yielded an average of some two thousand pages, or four to
five volumes a year.

[*] Played for the first time March 13, 1910, at the Odeon Theatre.

In the miscellanies one meets with much that is curious, amusing, and
instructive, quite worthy to figure in the /Comedy/--witty dialogues,
light stories containing deductions /a la/ Sherlock Holmes or Edgar
Allan Poe, plenty of satire, sometimes acidulated as in his /Troubles
and Trials of an English Cat/, and theories about everything,
indicative of extensive reading, large assimilation and quick
reasoning. The miscellanies really stand to the novels in the relation
of a sort of prolegomenon. They serve for its better understanding,
and are agreeable even for independent study.



The aim of an author whose writings are intended to please must be
ethical as well as aesthetic, if he respects himself and his readers.
He wishes the pleasure he can give to do good, not harm. The good he
feels capable of producing may be limited to the physical or may
extend beyond to the moral; but it will be found in his work in so far
as the latter is truly artistic.

Balzac's prefaces and correspondence are so many proofs that he
rejected the pretensions of literature or any other art to absolute
independence. The doctrine of art for art's sake alone would have had
no meaning to him. However much his striving to confer on his novels
organic unity, and however much the writing against time deteriorated
his practice, they did not prevent him from recognizing the ethical
claim. What he realized less was the necessity of submitting treatment
to the same government of law.

Even if we grant that the plan of the /Comedie Humaine/ existed in the
novelist's mind from the commencement, obscurely at first, more
clearly afterwards, the plan itself was not artistic in the sense that
an image in the architect's mind is artistic when he designs on paper
the edifice he purposes to construct, or in the painter's mind when he
chooses the subject and details of his picture, or in the sculptor's
mind when he arranges his group of statuary, or in the musician's mind
when he conjures up his opera or oratorio. Balzac's plan was one of
numbers or logic merely. The block of his /Comedy/ was composed on the
dictionary principle of leaving nothing out which could be put in; and
his genius, great as it was, wrestled achingly and in vain with a task
from which selection was practically banished and which was a piling
of Pelion on Ossa.

For this reason it is that, regarded as an aggregate, the /Comedie
Humaine/ can be admired only as one may admire a forceful mass of
things, when it is looked at from afar, through an atmosphere that
softens outlines, hides or transforms detail, adds irreality. In such
an ambience certain novels that by themselves would shock, gain a sort
of appropriateness, and others that are trivial or dull serve as
foils. But, at the same time, we know that the effect is partly

In a writer's entire production the constant factor is usually his
style, while subject and treatment vary. Balzac, however, is an
exception in this respect as in most others. He attains terse vigour
in not a few of his books, but in not a few also he disfigures page
after page with loose, sprawling ruggedness, not to say pretentious
obscurity. His opinion of himself as a stylist was high, higher no
doubt than that he held of George Sand, to whom he accorded eminence
mainly on this ground. Of the French language he said that he had
enriched it by his alms. Finding it poor but proud, he had made it a
millionaire. And the assertion was put forward with the same
seriousness that he displayed when declaring that there were three men
only of his time who really knew their mother-tongue--Victor Hugo,
Theophile Gautier, and himself. That his conversancy with French
extended from Froissart downwards, through Rabelais' succulent jargon
as well as Moliere's racy idiom, is patent in nearly all he wrote; and
that he was capable of using this vocabulary aptly is sufficiently
shown in the best and simplest of his works. But it is not so clear
that he added anything to the original stock. Such words as he coined
under the impetus of his exuberance are mostly found in his letters
and have not been taken into favour.

A demur must likewise be entered against his style's possessing the
qualities that constitute a charm apart from the matter expressed. Too
many tendencies wrought in him uncurbed for his ideas to clothe
themselves constantly in a suitable and harmonious dress. Generally
when his personality intruded itself in the narrative, it was quite
impossible for him to speak unless affectedly, with a mixture of odd
figures of speech and similes that hurtled in phrases of heavy
construction. Taine has collected a few of these. In the /Cure of
Tours/ we read:--

"No creature of the feminine gender was more capable than Mademoiselle
Sophie Gamard of formulating the elegiac nature of an old maid."

Elsewhere, he speaks of the "fluid projections of looks that serve to
touch the suave skin of a woman;" of the "atmosphere of Paris in which
seethes a simoon that swells the heart;" of the "coefficient reason of
events;" of "pecuniary mnemonics;" of "sentences flung out through the
capillary tubes of the great female confabulation;" of "devouring
ideas distilled through a bald forehead;" of a "lover's enwrapping his
mistress in the wadding of his attentions;" of "abortions in which the
spawn of genius cumbers an arid strand;" of the "philosophic moors of
incredulity;" of a "town troubled in its public and private

In one of the chapters of /Seraphita/, he says: "Wilfred arrived at
Seraphita's house to relate his life, to paint the grandeur of his
soul by the greatness of his faults; but, when he found himself in the
zone embraced by those eyes whose azure scintillations met with no
horizon in front, and offered none behind, he became calm again and
submissive as the lion who, bounding on his prey in an African plain,
receives, on the wing of the winds, a message of love, and stops. An
abyss opened into which fell the words of his delirium!"

And the same Wilfred "trusted to his perspicacity to discover the
parcels of truth rolled by the old servant in the torrent of his

During the years of Balzac's greatest literary activity, which were
also those of his bitterest polemics, his opponents made much capital
out of the caprices of his pen. In the lawsuit against the /Revue de
Paris/, Monsieur Chaix d'Est-Ange, the defendant's counsel, provoked
roars of laughter by quoting passages from the /Lily in the Valley/;
and Jules Janin, in his criticism of /A Provincial Great Man in
Paris/, grew equally merry over the verbal conceits abounding in the
portraits of persons. And yet the very volumes that furnish the
largest number of ill-begotten sentences contain many passages of
sustained dignity, sober strength, and proportioned beauty.

Normally, Balzac's style, in spite of its mannerisms, its use and
abuse of metaphor, its laboured evolution and expression of the idea,
and its length and heaviness of period, adapts itself to the matter,
and alters with kaleidoscopic celerity, according as there is
description, analysis, or dramatization. Thus blending with the
subject, it loses a good deal of its proper virtue, which explains why
it does not afford the pleasure of form enjoyed in such writers as
George Sand, Flaubert, Renan, and Anatole France. The pleasure his
word-conjuring can yield is chiefly of the sensuous order. The
following passage is, as Taine says, botany turned into imagination
and passion:--

"Have you felt in the meadows, in the month of May, the perfume which
communicates to every living being the thrill of fecundation, which,
when you are in a boat, makes you dip your hands in the rippling water
and let your hair fly in the wind, while your thoughts grow green like
the boughs of the forest? A tiny herb, the sweet-smelling anthoxanthum
is the principal of this veiled harmony. Thus, no one can stay in its
proximity unaffected by it. Put into a nosegay its glittering blades
streaked like a green-and-white netted dress; inexhaustible effluvia
will stir in the bottom of your heart the budding roses that modesty
crushes there. Within the depths of the scooped-out neck of porcelain,
suppose a wide margin composed of the white tufts peculiar to the
sedum of vines in Touraine; a vague image of desirable forms turned
like those of a submissive slave. From this setting issue spirals of
white-belled convolvulus, twigs of pink rest-harrow mingled with a few
ferns, and a few young oak-shoots having magnificently coloured
leaves; all advance bowing themselves, humble as weeping willows,
timid and suppliant as prayers. Above, see the slender-flowered
fibrils, unceasingly swayed, of the purply amourette, which sheds in
profusion its yellowy anthers; the snowy pyramids of the field and
water glyceria; the green locks of the barren bromus; the tapered
plumes of the agrosits, called wind-ears; violet-hued hopes with which
first dreams are crowned, and which stand out on the grey ground of
flax where the light radiates round these blossoming herbs. But
already, higher up, a few Bengal roses scattered among the airy lace
of the daucus, the feathers of the marsh-flax, the marabouts of the
meadow-sweet, the umbellae of the white chervil, the blond hair of the
seeding clematis, the neat saltiers of the milk-white cross-wort, the
corymbs of the yarrow, the spreading stems of the pink-and-black
flowered fumitory, the tendrils of the vine, the sinuous sprays of
honeysuckle; in fine, all that is most dishevelled and ragged in these
nave creatures; flames and triple darts, lanceolated, denticulated
leaves, stems tormented like vague desires twisted at the bottom of
the soul; from the womb of this prolix torrent of love that overflows,
shoots up a magnificent red double-poppy with its glands ready to
open, displaying the spikes of its fire above the starred jasmine and
dominating the incessant rain of pollen, a fair cloud that sparkles in
the air, reflecting the light in its myriad glistening atoms. What
woman, thrilled by the love-scent lurking in the anthoxanthum, will
not understand this wealth of submissive ideas, this white tenderness
troubled by untamed stirrings and this red desire of love demanding a
happiness refused in those struggles a hundred times recommenced, of
restrained, eternal passion. Was not all that is offered to God
offered to love in this poesy of luminous flowers incessantly humming
its melodies to the heart, caressing hidden pleasures there, unavowed
hopes, illusions that blaze and vanish like gossamer threads on a
sultry night?"

This last quotation was probably in Sainte-Beuve's mind when he spoke
of the efflorescence by which Balzac gave to everything the sentiment
of life and made the page itself thrill. Elsewhere he found the
efflorescence degenerate into something exciting and dissolvent,
enervating, rose-tinted, and veined with every hue, deliciously
corruptive, Byzantine, suggestive of debauch, abandoning itself to the
fluidity of each movement. Sainte-Beuve was not an altogether
unprejudiced critic of the novelist; but his impeachment can hardly be
refuted, although Brunetiere would fain persuade us that the only
thing which may be reasonably inveighed against in Balzac's style is
its indelicacy or rather native non-delicacy. If the /Contes
Drolatiques/ alone had been in question, this lesser accusation might
suffice. But there are the /Lost Illusions/, the /Bachelor's
Household/, and /Cousin Bette/, not to mention other novels, in which
the scenes of vice are dwelt upon with visible complacency and a
glamour is created and thrown over them by the writer's imagination,
in such a way that the effect is nauseous in proportion as it is
pleasurable. The artistic representation of vice and crime is
justifiable only in so far as the mind contemplating it is carried out
and beyond into the sphere of sane emotion. True, by considerable
portions of the /Comedie Humaine/ only sane emotions are roused; but
these portions are, more often than not, those wherefrom the author's
peculiar genius is absent. It is in less conspicuous works, or those
like the /Cure of Tours/, the /Country Doctor/, /Cesar Birotteau/,
/Cousin Pons/, the /Reverse Side of Contemporary History/ that the
eternal conflict of good and evil is so exhibited as to evoke healthy
pity, sympathy, admiration, and their equally healthy contraries, and
also a wider comprehension of life.

It is difficult to separate the subject-matter of a novel from its
treatment. Yet a word should be said of Balzac's widening the limits
of admission. His widening was two-fold. It boldly took the naked
reality of latest date, the men and women of his time in the full
glare of passion and action, unsoftened by the veil that hides and in
some measure transforms when they have passed into history; and it
included in this reality the little, the commonplace, the trivial.
This innovator in fiction aimed, as Crabbe and Wordsworth had aimed in
poetry, at interesting the reader in themes which were ordinarily
deemed to be void of interest. The thing deserved trying. His
predecessors, and even his contemporaries, had neglected it. An
experimenter in this direction, he now and then forgot that the proper
subject-matter of the novel is man--man either individual or
collective--and spent himself in fruitless endeavours to endow the
abstract with reality.

When he opined, somewhat rashly, that George Sand had no force of
conception, no power of constructing a plot, no faculty of attaining
the true, no art of the pathetic, he doubtless wished the influence to
be drawn that he was not lacking in them himself.

As regards the first, his claim can be admitted without reserve. Force
of conception is dominant throughout his fiction. It is that which
gained his novels their earliest acceptance. Whether they were
approved or disapproved in other respects, their strong originality
imposed itself on the attention of friends and enemies alike. One felt
then, and one feels now, though more than half a century has elapsed
since they were produced, that, whatever factitious accretions clung
to them, they came into the world with substance and form new-
fashioned; no mere servile perpetuation of an effete type, but a fresh
departure in the annals of art.

Especially is this seen in his characterization. His men and women are
most of them put on foot with the energy of movement in them and an
idiosyncrasy of speech and action that has not been surpassed. As
already stated, they generally are not portraits, although his memory
was of that peculiar concave visuality which allowed him to cast its
images forth solidly into space. What he did was to remodel these
images with proportions differing from those of the reality,
magnifying or diminishing them pretty much as Swift with his
Brobdingnagians and Lilliputians; and, having got the body of his
personage recomposed, with mental and moral qualities and defects
corresponding to every one of its details--for Balzac was a firm
believer in the corporal being an exact reflection of the spiritual--
he set his mechanisms in motion.[*]

[*] "A round waist," he says, "is a sign of force; but women so built
are imperious, self-willed, more voluptuous than tender. On the
contrary, flat-waisted women are devoted, full of finesse,
inclined to melancholy." Elsewhere, he informs us that "most women
who ride horseback well are not tender." "Hands like those of a
Greek statue announce a mind of illogical domination; eyebrows
that meet indicate a jealous tendency. In all great men the neck
is short, and it is rare that a tall man possesses eminent

To call his men and women mechanisms, while yet acknowledging their
intense vitality, may seem a contradiction; but nothing less than this
antinomy is adequate to indicate the fatality of Balzac's creatures.
None of them ever appear to be free agents. Planet-like they revolve
in an orbit, or meteor-like they rush headlong, and their course in
the one or the other case is guessable from the beginning. Not that
change or development is precluded. The conjuror provides for large
transformation; but the law of such transformation is one of iron
necessity, and, when he brings in at the end his interferences of
Providence, they shock us as an inconsequence. However, though bound
by their weird, his people are extraordinarily various in their aspect
and doings. It is rare that he repeats his characters, albeit many of
them touch each other at certain points. The exceptions are caused by
his sometimes altering his manner of characterization and proceeding
from the inside first. This variation goes to the extent of
distinguishing influences of the soil as well as of social grade and
temperament. His northerners speak and act otherwise than those of the
south or west, and, in the main, are true to life, despite the
author's perceptible satire when depicting provincials.

Parallel to his vigorous creation of character is the force with which
he builds up their environment. Here his realism is intense. Indeed,
occasionally one is tempted to credit Balzac with a greater love of
things than of men, yet not the things of nature as much as things
made by men. His portrayal of landscape may be fine prose, but
contains no pure feeling of poetry in it, while, in the town, in the
house, in the street, wherever the human mind and hand have left their
imprints, his language grows warm, his fancy swoops and grasps the
significance of detail; these dumb survivals of the past become
eloquent to his ears; his eyes discover in them a reflecting retina
which, obedient to his command, resuscitates former contacts, a world
buried and now found again. When attempting the historical novel, in
which his persons are typical rather than individual, he still
preserves this exactitude of local colouring. His descriptions of
places, in fact, in all his books are almost photographs, and, where
change has been slow, still serve to guide the curious traveller.

In his preface to the /Cabinet of Antiques/, he explains how he dealt
with his raw material. A young man has been prosecuted before the
Assize Court, and had been condemned and branded. This case he
connected with the story of an ancient family fallen from its high
estate and dwelling in provincial surroundings. The story had dramatic
elements in it, but less intensely dramatic than those of the young
man's case. "This way of proceeding," he says, "should be that of an
historian of manners and morals. His task consists in blending
analogous facts in a single picture. Is he not rather bound to give
the spirit than the letter of the happenings? He synthesizes them.
Often it is necessary to pick out several similar characters in order
to succeed in making up one, just as odd people are met with who are
so ridiculous that two distinct persons may be created out of them. .
.. . Literature uses a means employed in painting, which, to obtain a
fine figure, adapts the hands of one model, the foot of another, the
chest of a third, the shoulders of a fourth."

The foregoing quotation raises the question of the significance of the
term truth as applied to fiction. Evidently, it cannot have the same
meaning as when applied to history or biography. In the latter, the
writer invents neither circumstances nor actions, nor the persons
engaged in them, but seeks to know the whole of the first two exactly
as they occurred, and to interpret, as nearly to life as may be, the
third. However, if he be a philosopher, he will perhaps try to show
the intimate relations existing between these same persons and the
events in which they were concerned; and, in doing so, he will step
out of his proper role and assume one which is less easy for him than
for the novelist to play, since the writer of fiction composes both
his /dramatis personae/ and their story; and the concordance between
them is more a matter of art than of science.

Still it is possible that neither a novelist's characters nor their
environment shall be in entire agreement with all observable facts.
There may be arrangements, eliminations, additions, which, though
pleasing to the reader, may remove the mimic world to a plane above
that of the so-called real one. Thus removed, Balzac judged George
Sand's production to be. And we must confess that, even in /Little
Fadette/, /The Devil's Pool/, and /Francois le Champi/, it deals with
human experience in a mode differing widely from that which the author
of /Eugenie Grandet/ considered conform to truth.

As regards the methods of these two rivals, the claim to superior
truth cannot be settled in Balzac's favour by merely pointing to his
realism. Realism tried by the norm of truth is relative. What it
represents of the accidental in life may be much less than what it
omits of the essential or potential, for these two words are often
interchangeable. In the same object, different people usually see
different aspects, qualities, attributes. Is one spectacle necessarily
true and another false? It is certain that George Sand, in her stories
of peasant life, largely uses the artist's liberty of leaving out a
great deal that Balzac would have put in when treating a like subject.
It is certain that from some themes and details that Balzac delighted
in describing she deliberately turned away, and it is certain also
that she introduced into her fiction not a little of the Utopian world
that has haunted man in his later development without there being
actuality or the least chance of realization to lend it substance. But
Balzac's fiction has, too, its pocket Utopias, less attractive and
less invigorating than Madame Dudevant's, and in his most realistic
portrayals there are not infrequently dream-scapes of the fancy. The
truth that we can most readily perceive in his work is one which,
after all, embraces the ideally potential in man as well as his most
material manifestations. It is small compared with the mass of what he
wrote; but, where found, it is supreme.

In constructing plot Balzac is unequal and often inferior. Here it is
that his romanticist origins reappear rankly like weeds, giving us
factitious melodrama that accords ill with his sober harvest of
actuality. And his melodrama has not the merit of being various. It
nearly always contains the same band of rogues, disguised under
different names, conspiring to ruin innocent victims by the old tricks
of their trade.

Then, again, many of his novels have no understandable progression
from the commencement, through the middle, to the conclusion. This is
not because he was incapable of involving his characters in the
consequences of their actions, but because things that he esteemed of
greater importance interfered with the story's logical development. We
have episodes encroaching on the main design, or what was originally
intended to be the main design, which is disaggregated before the end
is arrived at. As a matter of fact, quite a number of his plots are
swamped by what he forces into them with the zeal of an
encyclopaedist. Philosophy, history, geography, law, medicine, trade,
industry, agriculture enter by their own right. The novelist yields up
his wand, and the pedagogue or /vulgarisateur/ comes forward with his
chalk and blackboard. Canalization is explained at length in the
/Village Cure/; will-making is discoursed upon in /Ursule Mirouet/;
promissory notes, bills of exchange, and protests, not to speak of
business accounts, cover pages in the /Lost Illusions/; therapeutics
takes the place of narrative in the /Reverse Side of Contemporary
History/; physiology is lectured upon in the /Lily in the Valley/;
/Louis Lambert/ aims at becoming a second and better edition of the
/Thoughts of Pascal/; and in /Seraphita/ we have sermons as long and
tedious as those of an Elizabethan divine. The result is that even
novels containing the presentment of love in its most passional phases
lose their right to the name. At best they can be called only
disparate chapters of fiction; at worst, they are merely raw material.

As for his achievement in the pathetic, it is almost nil. At least, if
by pathos we mean that which touches the heart's tenderest strings.
Harrow us, he can; play upon many of our emotions, he is able to at
will. But, at bottom, he had too little sympathy with his fellows to
find in their mistakes, or sins, or sufferings, the wherewithal to
bring out of us our most generous tears. Those he wept once or twice
himself when writing were drawn from him by a reflex self-pity that is
easily evoked. In genuine pathos, Hugo is vastly his superior.

Women occupy so preponderant a position in the /Comedy/ that one is
forced to ask one's self whether these numerous heroines are
reproduced with the same fidelity to nature as are his men. At any
rate, they are not all treated in the same manner. In his descriptions
of grand ladies the satiric intention is rarely absent. Why, it is
difficult to say, unless it was that he was unable to avoid the error
of introducing the pique of the plebeian suitor, and that the satire
was an effort to establish the balance in his favour. "When I used to
go into high society," he told Madame Hanska, "I suffered in every
part of me through which suffering could enter. It is only
misunderstood souls and those that are poor who know how to observe,
because everything jars on them, and observation results from
suffering." In his inmost thought he had no high opinion of women.
Notwithstanding his flattery of Madame Hanska, he was a firm upholder
of the old doctrine of male supremacy; and, at certain moments, he
slipped his opinion out, content afterwards to let Eve or another
suppose that his hard words were not spoken in earnest. One of his
would-be witticisms at the expense of the fair sex was: "The most
Jesuitical Jesuit among the Jesuits is a thousand times less
Jesuitical than the least Jesuitical woman." The form only of the
accusation was new. How often before and since the misogynist has
asserted that women have no conscience. Be it granted that Balzac's
grand dames often have very little, and some of his other women also.
They are creatures of instinct and passion susceptible only of being
influenced through their feelings. Yet, as regards the former, Sainte-
Beuve assures us that their portraits in the /Comedy/ resemble the
originals. He says: "Who especially has more delightfully hit off the
duchesses and viscountesses of the Restoration period!" Brunetiere
accepts this testimony of a contemporary who himself frequented the
/salons/ of the great. Some later critics, on the contrary, hold that
the novelist has given us stage-dames with heavy graces and a bizarre
free-and-easiness as being the nearest equivalent to aristocratic
nonchalance. One thing is certain, namely, that Balzac was personally
acquainted rather with that side of aristocratic society which was not
the better. It was the side bordering on licentiousness, where manners
as well as morals are easily tainted and vulgarity can creep in.
Again, he creates his women with a theory, and, in art, theories are
apt to become prejudices. According to his appreciation Walter Scott's
heroines are monotonous; they lack relief, he said, and they lack it
because they are Protestants. The Catholic woman has repentance, the
Protestant woman, virtue only. Many of Balzac's women repent, and many
of those that repent either backslide or come very near to it. His
altogether virtuous women are childish without being children, and
some are bold into the bargain. In fine, his gamut of feminine
psychology seems to be limited, very limited. Women of the finest mind
he neither comprehended nor cared to understand. They were outside his

But what he missed in the whole representation of the fair sex he made
up for by what he invented, as indeed, too, in his representation of
the sterner sex; and Jules Janin's account of the matter is not far
from the truth:--

"He is at once the inventor, the architect, the upholsterer, the
milliner, the professor of languages, the chambermaid, the perfumer,
the barber, the music-teacher, and the usurer. He renders his society
all that it is. He it is who lulls it to sleep on a bed expressly
arranged for sleep and adultery; he, who bows all women beneath the
same misfortune; he, who buys on credit the horses, jewels, and
clothes of all these handsome sons without stomach, without money,
without heart. He is the first who has found the livid veneer, the
pale complexion of distinguished company which causes all his heroes
to be recognized. He has arranged in his fertile brain all the
adorable crimes, the masked treasons, the ingenious rapes mental and
physical which are the ordinary warp of his plots. The jargon spoken
by this peculiar world, and which he alone can interpret, is none the
less a mother-tongue rediscovered by Monsieur de Balzac, which partly
explains the ephemeral success of this novelist, who still reigns in
London and Saint Petersburg as the most faithful reproduction of the
manners and actions of our century."

Janin's animus blinded him to the rest, and it is just the rest of the
qualities which converted the ephemeral success into the permanent.
Taine's estimate is more discursive. He is further removed from
polemics. He says:--

"Monsieur de Balzac has of private life a very deep and fine sentiment
which goes even to minuteness of detail and of superstition. He knows
how to move you and make you palpitate from the first, simply in
depicting a garden-walk, a dining-room, a piece of furniture. He
divines the mysteries of provincial life; sometimes he makes them.
Most often he does not recognize and therefore isolates the pudic and
hidden side of life, together with the poetry it contains. He has a
multitude of rapid remarks about old maids and old women, ugly girls,
sickly women, sacrificed and devoted mistresses, old bachelors,
misers. One wonders where, with his petulant imagination, he can have
picked it all up. It is true that Monsieur de Balzac does not proceed
with sureness, and that in his numerous productions, some of which
appear to us almost admirable, at any rate touching and delicious or
piquant and finely comic in observation, there is a dreadful pell-
mell. What a throng of volumes, what a flight of tales, novels of all
sorts, droll, philosophic, and theosophic. There is something to be
enjoyed in each, no doubt, but what prolixity! In the elaboration of a
subject, as in the detail of style, Monsieur de Balzac has a facile,
unequal, risky pen. He starts off quickly, sets himself in a gallop,
and then, all at once, he stumbles to the ground, rising only to fall
again. Most of his openings are delightful; but his conclusions
degenerate or become excessive. At a certain moment, he loses self-
control. His observing coolness escapes; something in his brain
explodes, and carries everything far, far away. Hazard and accident
have a good share in Monsieur de Balzac's best production. He has his
own manner, but vacillating, fidgety, often seeking to regain self-

How much one could wish that, instead of producing more, Balzac should
have produced less. With a man of his native power and perseverance,
what greater perfection there might have been! Certainly, no defect is
more patent in the /Comedie Humaine/ than the trail of hasty
workmanship, the mark of being at so much a line. Strangely, the speed
with which he wrote furnished him with a cause for boasting. More
properly, it ought to have filled him with humiliation. Many
/litterateurs/ are compelled to drive and overdrive their pens. But,
if they have the love of letters innate in them, it will go against
the grain to send into the world their sentences without having had
leisure to polish each and all. Examples have already been given of
the short time spent over several books of the /Comedy/. There is no
need to repeat these or to add to their names. Occasionally, the
result was not bad, when, as with /Cesar Birotteau/, the subject had
been long in the novelist's head. This, however, was the exception.
The fifty-five sheets once composed in a single week, and the six
thousand lines once reeled off in ten days, were probably invented as
well as set on paper within the periods stated. No doubt, much was
altered in the galley proofs; but the alterations would be made with
the same celerity, so that they risked being no improvement either in
style or matter. Balzac, indeed, was aware of the imperfections
arising from such a method; and he not infrequently strove to correct
them in subsequent editions. The task might perhaps have been carried
out fully, if the bulk of his new novels had not been continually
growing faster than he could follow it with his revision.

The commercial compromises that he consented to were still more
injurious to the artistic finish of some of his later pieces of
fiction. For instance, when the /Employees/ was about to come out in a
volume, after its publication as a serial the length was judged to be
insufficient by the man of business. He wanted more for his money.
What did Balzac do? He searched through his drawers, pitched upon a
manuscript entitled /Physiology of the Employee/, and drilled it into
the other story. Of these patchwork novels /The Woman of Thirty Years
Old/ is the worst. Originally, it was six distinct short tales which
had appeared at divers dates. The first was entitled /Early Mistakes/;
the second, /Hidden Sufferings/; the third, /At Thirty Years Old/; the
fourth, /God's Finger/; the fifth, /Two Meetings/; and the sixth and
last, /The Old Age of a Guilty Mother/. In 1835, the author took it
into his head to join them together under one title, /The Same Story/,
although the names of the characters differed in each chapter, so that
the chief heroine had no fewer than six appellations. Not till 1842
did he remedy this primary incoherence, yet without the removal of the
/aliases/ doing anything towards bestowing consistency on the several
personages thus connected in Siamese-twin fashion. To-day, any one who
endeavors to read the novel through will proceed from astonishment to
bewilderment, and thence to amazement. Nowhere else does Balzac come
nearer to that peculiar vanity which fancies that every licence is
permissible to talent.

In his chapter on the social importance of the /Comedie Humaine/,
Brunetiere tries to persuade us that, before Balzac's time, novelists
in general gave a false presentation of the heroes by making love the
unique preoccupation of life. And he seems to include dramatists in
his accusation, declaring that love as a passion, the love which
Shakespeare and Racine speak of, is a thing exceeding rare, and that
humanity is more usually preoccupied with everything and anything
besides love; love, he says, has never been the great affair of life
except with a few idle people. Monsieur Brunetiere's erudition was
immense, and the nights as well as the days he spent in acquiring his
formidable knowledge may in his case have prevented more than a
passing thought being given to the solicitation of love. If the
eminent critic had been as skilled in psychology as he was in
literature, he would have been more disposed to recognize that, amidst
all the toils and cares of life, love, in some phase, is after all the
mainspring, and that, if it were eliminated from man's nature, the
most puissant factor of his activity would disappear. Love is part of
the huge sub-conscious in man; and the novelist, in making the events
of his fiction turn upon it, does no more than follow nature.

However, it is not exact that all novelists and dramatists, or even
the majority of them, before Balzac's time made love the sole
preoccupation of their heroes. What they did rather--in so far as
their writing was true--was to give a visible relief to it which in
real life is impossible, since it belongs to the invisible, inner
experience. Nor is it exact that Balzac consistently assigns a
secondary place in his novels to love. He does so in his best novels,
but not in some that he thought his best--/The Lily in the Valley/ and
/Seraphita/ for example. The relegation of love to the background in
these novels which happen to be his masterpieces was caused by
something mentioned in a preceding chapter, to wit, that Balzac never
thoroughly felt or understood love as a great and noble passion. And
love, with him, being so oddly mixed up with calculation, it was to be
expected he should succeed best in books in which the dominant
interest was some other passion--an exceptional one. If money plays,
on the contrary, such an intrusive role in his novels, its
introduction was less from voluntary, reasoned choice than from
obsession. He deals with this subject sometimes splendidly, but, at
other times, he wearies. Had money filled a smaller part of his work,
the work would not have been lost.

In fine, with its beauties and its ugliness, its perfections and its
shortcomings, the /Comedy/ is the illumination cast by a master-mind
upon the goings-out and comings-in of his contemporaries, the creation
of a more universal and representative history of social life than had
been previously written. Having considerable ethical value, it is
worth still more on account of the ways it opens towards the fiction
of the future.



Balzac's influence during his lifetime was, with but few exceptions,
exercised outside his own, novelist's profession. The sphere in which
it made itself chiefly felt was that of the cultured reading public,
and the public was, first and foremost, a foreign one. History
repeated itself. To Honore d'Urfe, the author of the /Astree/, in the
sixteenth century, while living in Piedmont, a letter came announcing
that twenty-nine princesses and nineteen lords of Germany had adopted
the names and characters of his heroes and heroines in the /Astree/,
and had founded an academy of true lovers. Almost the same thing
occurred to the nineteenth-century Honore de Balzac. For a while,
certain people in Venetian society assumed the titles and roles of his
chief personages, playing the parts, in some instances, out to their
utmost conclusion.

Sainte-Beuve, who, in 1850, drew attention to this curious historical
analogy, went on to mention that, in Hungary, Poland, and Russia,
Balzac's novels created a fashion. The strange, rich furniture that
was assembled and arranged, according to the novelist's fancy, out of
the artistic productions of many countries and epochs, became an
after-reality. Numerous wealthy persons prided themselves on
possessing what the author had merely imagined. The interior of their
houses was adorned /a la Balzac/.

One evening at Vienna, says his sister, he entered a concert-room,
where, as soon as his presence was perceived and bruited about, all
the audience rose in his honour; and, at the end of the entertainment,
a student seized his hand and kissed it, exclaiming: "I bless the hand
that wrote /Seraphita/." Balzac himself relates that, once travelling
in Russia, he and his friends, as night was coming on, went and asked
for hospitality at a castle. On their entrance, the lady of the house
and some other members of the fair sex vied with each other in
eagerness to serve the guests. One of the younger ladies hurried to
the kitchen for refreshment. In the meantime, the novelist's identity
was revealed to the /chatelaine/. A lively conversation was
immediately engaged in, and, when the impromptu Abigail returned with
the refreshment, the first words she heard were: "Well, Monsieur
Balzac, so you think--" Full of surprise and joy she started, dropped
the tray she had in her hands, and everything was broken. "Glory I
have known and seen," adds the narrator; "wasn't that glory?"

It was more. It was power wielded for good or evil, like that of every
other great man, be he statesman, or priest, or artist. The conviction
of possessing this power caused Balzac to complain with sincere
indignation of those who charged him with being an immoral writer.
"The reproach of immorality," he said in his preface to the second
edition of /Pere Goriot/, "which has ever been launched at the
courageous author, is the last that remains to be made, when nothing
else can be urged against a poet. If you are true in your portrayal,
if, by dint of working night and day you succeed in writing the most
difficult language in the world, the epithet immoral is cast in your
face. Socrates was immoral, Jesus Christ was immoral. Both were
persecuted in the name of the societies they overthrew or reformed.
When the world wishes to destroy any one, it taxes him with

This argument is beside the question. It does not settle whether the
apologist's influence upon the men and women of his generation and
beyond--an influence which, in his lifetime, was incontestable, and
may be deemed potent still, to judge by the extent to which his books
are read--was and is good or bad. Balzac's personality is here only
indirectly involved. His individual character might have been better
or worse without the conclusion to be drawn being affected. Good men's
influence is not always good, nor bad men's influence always bad.
Intention may be inoperative, and effect may be involuntary.

Balzac claimed the right to speak of all conduct, to represent all
conduct in his fiction; and we shall see, farther on, that he imposed
his claim upon those who followed him in literature. But, if he
anticipated reality--and this is acknowledged--if he led society to
imitate his fiction, if his exceptional representations tended, with
him and after him, to become general or more frequent in one or
another class of society, he must be considered morally responsible
for the result. It has already been remarked, in the preceding
chapter, that there are two ways of reproducing reality in literature
and art, one of them favouring, not through didacticism but through
emotion, the creation in the mind of a state of healthy feeling,
thought, and effort; the other, that sort of fascination with which
the serpent attracts its victims. It is certain that Balzac did not
adequately take this into account, certain also that in parts of his
/Comedy/, the secret, unconscious sympathy of the author with some of
his sicklier heroes and heroines could not and did not have that
dynamic moral action which he vainly desired.

Of the chief French novelists or /litterateurs/ who were his
contemporaries, critics are inclined to esteem his influence most
evident on George Sand and Victor Hugo. Brunetiere, indeed, begins
with Sainte-Beuve. But the similarities discoverable between the
author of /Volupte/ and the author of the /Comedie Humaine/ were
present in Sainte-Beuve's work at a period when Balzac was only just
issuing from obscurity, and appear, moreover, to be due to
temperament. In the case of George Sand, the inference is based partly
on the praise she meted out to Balzac in her reminiscences. Brunetiere
specifies the /Marquis de Villemer/ as the one proved example of
imitation. But this novel was written in 1861, eleven years after
Balzac's death; and, in so far as it differs from /Mauprat/ and the
earlier books, whether /La Petite Fadette/ or /Consuelo/, can be shown
to be the result of a natural and independent evolution.

As regards Victor Hugo, on the contrary, there is plenty of /prima
facie/ evidence that he largely utilized Balzac's material and method;
and there is evidence also that Balzac utilized, though in a less
degree, the subjects developed by Hugo. The reciprocal borrowing is
easy to explain, both men, in spite of their fundamental
peculiarities, having much in them that was common--imagination
difficult to control, fondness for exaggeration, language prone to be
verbose and turgid, research of devices to astonish the reader. Hugo's
/Miserables/ is a monument of his fiction that owes much to Balzacian
architecture. The realism of the latter author is converted without
difficulty into the former's romanticism, or, rather, the alloy of
romanticism is so considerable in Balzac's work that there is little
conversion to make. Ferragus and Vautrin are prototypes of Valjean,
just as Valjean's Cosette exploited by Madame Thenardier is an
adaptation of Ferragus' daughter or Doctor Minoret's Ursula. The
prison manners and slang of the /Miserables/ inevitably recall those
of /Vautrin's Last Incarnation/, while, on the other hand, Hugo's
salon /ultra/ reappears in the /Cabinet of Antiques/. And the
analogies present themselves continually. One might almost say that
the whole of the /Comedie Humaine/ suggested things to its future
panegyrist, who wrote his greatest novel in the years consecutive to
Balzac's death. Of course, Hugo's borrowings, being those of a man of
genius, were not made use of servilely. Like Shakespeare and Moliere,
the author of the /Miserables/ metamorphosed and enhanced what he

Balzac's major influence on literature began as soon as he was dead.
And the men he reacted on soonest were the dramatists; not through his
own plays, which figured so small in his achievement, or, if through
them at all, then only as they applied the same principles as his
novels. The stage, being ever /en vedette/, is best situated to
interpret the signs of the times, and is likewise more open to the
solicitations of novelty, more ready to try new methods. A noticeable
defect of the French drama, in the first half of the nineteenth
century, was the pronounced artificiality of its characters and plots.
Whatever the kind of play exhibited, the same stereotyped noble
fathers, ingenuous maidens, coquettes, and Lotharios strutted on the
boards. Whatever else changed, these did not. Only their costumes
differed. Moreover, the adventures in which the /dramatis personae/
displayed themselves contained always the same sort of tricks for
bringing about the denouement. Even the language had its own style,
outside which nothing was appropriate. All this was classicism in its
most degenerate form, an art from which original inspiration was
banished to the profit of a much inferior species of skill. Be it
granted that the drama, more than any other kind of literature, is
liable to the encroachment and dominance of such artificiality on
account of its foreshortening in perspective. Be it granted, also,
that sometimes a new movement will intensify an old habit. The
Romanticists, though reformers in other respects, did little or
nothing to render the stage more real. Their lyricism, in front of the
footlights, needed buskins and frippery, or, at any rate, fostered
them, as the pieces of Hugo and de Vigny proved.

The younger Dumas, Emile Augier, Halevy and Becque--with a crescendo
that in the last of the four is somewhat harsh--diverged from the
traditional path, and in their plays put men and women whose motives
and conduct were nearer to the humanity of their audience. The
departure from old lines in these dramatists is patent; and, after
discounting the part that may have been temperamental or contingent on
some other cause, there remains the larger share to attribute to
Balzac's influence. Dumas' /Dame aux Camelias/ originally staged in
1852, was a timid start in the new direction. The theme, that of the
courtezan in love, was a favourite one with the classical school, and
much of the ancient style and tone pervades it; yet its atmosphere is
a modern one, the expression of its sentiment is modern too, and the
accessories are supplied with an eye to material and moral exactitude.
The same author's /Question d'Argent/, composed a few years later, was
a more direct tribute to the modifying power of the /Comedie Humaine/.
It was Balzac's /Mercadet the Jobber/ remodelled with a larger stage
science. Hypnotized subsequently by the /piece a these/ (and not to
his advantage) Dumas went off at a tangent whereas Augier, once
engaged in the newer manner with his /Gendre de Monsieur Poirier/,
persisted in it with each of his succeeding pieces, flattering his
model by resurrection after resurrection of the /Comedy's/ principal
actors, Bixiou and Lousteau in Giboyer and Vernouillet, Balthazar
Claes in the Desronceretz of /Maitre Guerin/. Ludovic Halevy
apparently wished every one to perceive what he owed to the father of
French realism. Finding in the /Petty Bourgeois/ a Madame Cardinal
whose comic personality and peculiar moral squint suited one of his
plays, he adopted her entirely, name and all, altering only what her
more recent surroundings required. Henri Becque digested Balzac rather
than imitated him. One feels in reading his /Corbeaux/ that it is a
disciple's own work. The master's virtues and some of the disciple's
faults are everywhere present, both in the subject and in the
treatment. We have the same world of money and business that shows so
big throughout the /Comedy/, an unfaithful partner and lawyer
introducing ruin into the house of the widow and orphan. The practice
of legal ruse and robbery--in these things Balzac had rung the changes
again and again. What Becque added were sharpness of contrast,
dramatic concentration, bitterer satire, and likewise greater art.

If one may hazard a guess at the reasons that convinced the older
school of playwrights of their error, there are two by which they must
have been struck--the artistic possibilities of the real suggested by
the /Comedie Humaine/, and the prescience--one might say the intuition
--it exhibited of things that were destined to reveal themselves more
prominently in the latter half of the nineteenth century. And in this
respect Balzac in no wise contributed to what he foresaw and, so to
speak, prophesied--the growing stress of the struggle for life in
domains political, social, financial, industrial, the coming of
uncrowned kings greater in puissance than monarchs of yore, the reign
of not one despot but many, the generalization of intrigue, the
replacement of ancient disorders by others of equal or increased
virulence and harder to remedy, hundred-headed hydras to combat, most
difficult of herculean tasks. The reflection of all this in the
/Comedy/ was calculated to impress at its hour, and the hour arrived.
Men looked at the counterfeit presentment and wondered why no one had
recognized these things sooner. From that moment, the reputation of
the /Comedie Humaine/ was made. Perhaps, after all, in such
connection, the one or two of Balzac's plays that went so resolutely
off the old lines--the /Resources of Quinola/ and /Mercadet/,--may
have served, in remembrance, despite their insignificance beside the
novels, which were the true drama, to awaken the attention of
professional dramatists, especially as one after another story of the
/Comedy/ was dramatized. But it was the fund of observation and the
leaven of satire which startled, aroused, and ultimately set the stage
agog. Not even the lighter forms of composition were left unaffected.
Labiche, in the vaudeville style, with his /Voyage de Monsieur
Perrichon/ and /La Cagnotte/, gave his audience, behind his puppets,
the touch of present reality, the sensation of existent follies.

The relative slowness with which the novels of Balzac's younger
contemporaries and his successors were penetrated with realism was
partly due to the lasting effect of George Sand's idealistic fiction.
As we have seen, Balzac himself was reacted upon by it to some extent;
but he yielded against his will, and the result in his case was a
bastard one. She whom he called his brother George survived him for
more than twenty years, and continued to the last to add to her
reputation, so that naturally the impetus she lent to the idealistic
movement was long before it was spent, if indeed one may say that the
impetus has altogether been lost. Adepts like Octave Feuillet, with
his /Roman d'un Jeune Homme Pauvre/, and Victor Cherbuliez, with his
/Comte Kostia/, endeavoured to perpetuate idealism or at least to
recreate it in other forms. And then there were independents, like
Flaubert who, with /Madame Bovary/, passed realism by on his way to
naturalism. Yet it is worth remarking that Flaubert made a sort of
/volte face/ in 1869, and wrote his /Education Sentimentale/, in
which, under the pressure of simple circumstance, the hero descends
gradually from the soaring of youth's hopes and ambitions to the dull,
dun monotony of mature life, with nothing left him save the iron
circle of his environment. Here the disillusionment is that of all
Balzac's chief /dramatis personae/. Moreover, the minor characters of
/Madame Bovary/ may well owe something to the /Comedy/. These doctors,
chemists, cures, prefectoral councillors and country squires would
possibly never have been depicted but for their having already existed
for twenty years in the predecessor's gallery of portraits.

There is no need to call the de Goncourts and Guy de Maupassant
imitators because they bear a strong stamp of Balzac's influence. They
have greater art, a finer style, and, above all, more pathos than the
earlier master was capable of. But they are true disciples, as
likewise Feuillet in his later manner with /Monsieur de Camors/. De
Maupassant's short stories, exemplifying his severely objective
treatment at his best, are Balzac's purified of their lingering
romanticism, and his /Bel Ami/ is a modernized Lucien de Rubempre.
And, if the resemblances are closer between works of the de Goncourts
less known, such as /Charles Demailly/, or /Manette Salomon/ and the
/Lost Illusions/, /Peter Grassou/, the /Muse of the County/, yet the
means employed by the two brothers to endow with life and form /Renee
Mauperin/ and /Germinie Lacerteux/, fixing a background, stamping the
outlines, filling in details, adding particularities, all this was
Balzacian method, insufficient forsooth, in the domain of psychology,
but furnishing idiosyncrasy in plentiful variations.

When we come to Alphonse Daudet, time enough has elapsed for realism
to evolve into naturalism so-called. Naturalism is realism stark-naked
--the dissecting-room, and a good deal besides, which Monsieur Zola
illustrated well but not wisely. Daudet, fortunately for his
reputation, was a naturalist /sui generis/, with a delicate artistic
perception altogether lacking to the author of the Rougon-Macquart
series. He was also an independent, but willing to take lessons in his
trade. And how much he learnt from /Cousin Bette/ may be judged by his
/Numa Roumestan/ and /Froment Jeune et Rissler aine/. There are close
analogies also between the best of Balzac's fiction and the sombre
realism of the /Evangeliste/, based on tragic facts that had come
under Daudet's personal notice. Of the two realisms Daudet's is
certainly the more genuine, with its lambent humour that glints on
even the saddest of his pictures.

In neither the naturalistic school of fiction, nor the psychological,
in so far as the latter is represented by Bourget, has Balzac's
influence been a gain. Bourget has borrowed Balzac's furniture, his
pompous didacticism, his occasional indecency--in fine, all that is
least essential in the elder's assets, without learning how to breathe
objective life into one of his characters. Zola borrowed more, but
mainly the unwholesome parts, truncating these further to suit his
theory of the novel as a slice of life seen through a temperament, and
travestying in the Rougon-Macquart scheme, with its burden of heredity
and physiological blemish, Balzac's cumbrous and plausible doctrine of
the /Comedy/. Both novelists made a mistake in arrogating to
themselves the role of the /savant/. Neither of them seemed to
understand that there are limits imposed on each profession by the
mode of its operation. For Zola the novel was not only an observation
working upon the voluntary acts of life, it was an experiment--like
that of the astrologers whom Moses met in Egypt--producing phenomena
artificially, and allowing a law of necessity to be deduced from the
result. And for Balzac the novel was something of the same kind--a
synthesis of every human activity framed by one who, as he proudly
claimed, had observed and analysed society in all its phases from top
to bottom, legislations, religions, histories, and present time. What
Balzac did in fiction and what he thought he did are separated by a
gulf which could only have been bridged over by the long and painful
study of a man surviving for centuries. His scientific knowledge was
superficial in nearly every branch. It was his divination which was
great. And divination is not omniscience.

An offshoot from the naturalistic school apparently, but derived more
truly from the /Comedie Humaine/, is that decadent, pornographic art,
of which Balzac would have been ashamed, had he lived to see the
vegetation that grew up from the seeds he had sown without knowing
what they would bring forth. In Zola's novels the plant was already
full grown; its earlier appearance as the slender blade was
Champfleury's vulgar satire, the /Bourgeois de Molinchart/. More
recently the blossom has revealed its pestilential rankness so plainly
that no one can be deceived as to its noxious effect.

Where Balzac's influence is likeliest to remain potent for good is in
the domain of history. He was not altogether an initiator here, having
learnt from Walter Scott in the one as in the other capacity; but he
developed and focussed what he had received; he added to it, and made
it a factor in the historical science. After him historians began to
assign a more important place in their narrations and chronicles to
the manners and interests of the people, patiently seeking to assemble
and situate everything that could relate them exactly to the great
political and other public events which would be nothing but names
without them. The de Goncourts, in their /History of French Society
during the Revolution and under the Directoire/, applied this method
with all the zeal of fresh disciples, and with hardly enough
discretion. Taine's /Origins of Contemporary France/ abdicates none of
the older historian's role, but its background is Balzacian. Among the
later writers who have taken up the historian's pen, Masson, Lenotre,
and Anatole France, illustrate the newer principles, each with a
difference, but all excellently, the first in his /Napoleon/, the
second in his /Old Houses, Old Papers/, the third in his /Joan of

It can scarcely be disputed that an entrance of realism into French
literature would have occurred in the second half of the nineteenth
century, had there been no Balzac. Some other novelists or writers,
themselves reacted upon by the scientific spirit, would have set the
example in their own way, if not with the achievement of the author of
the /Comedy/. On the other hand, it is certain that Balzac, had he put
his hand to another treatment of fiction, would nevertheless have
created a school. His tremendous force would have channelled into the
future, whatever the nature of its current. As Sainte-Beuve well says,
he wrote what he wrote with his blood and muscles, not merely with his
thought, and such work backed by genius was sure to tell,
notwithstanding its defects, the latter even to some extent aiding.

* * * * *

Having partly a bibliographic value, and partly confirming the
statements above as to Balzac's influence, the following details
concerning theatrical adaptations of some of his novels may serve as a
supplement to this chapter.

The first made was produced at the Vaudeville in 1832, and was based
on the story of /Colonel Chabert/, which under another title, /The
Compromise/, had finished as a serial in the March /Artiste/ of the
same year. In Balzac's tale--the one of the novels that contains most
real pathos--the Colonel, who is a Count of the Empire, is left for
dead on the battlefield of Eylau, with wounds that disfigure him
dreadfully. Rescued, and sojourning for a long while in German
hospitals, he ultimately returns to France, but only to find his wife,
who believes him dead, married to another nobleman. Treated as an
imposter by everybody save a former non-commissioned officer of his
regiment, he falls into poverty and wretchedness, and dies in a
hospice, whilst his wife continues to live rich and honoured. Jacques
Arago and Louis Lurine, who composed the play, altered the denouement.
The husband is pensioned off by his wife, who, however, suffers for
her hard-heartedness, being afterwards deserted by her second husband.
A second version of the same subject was produced twenty years later
at the Beaumarchais Theatre by Faulquemont, and, in 1888, a third at

/Eugenie Grandet/ was staged as a comedy, at the Gymnase in 1835, by
Bayard and Paulin, who dealt with the plot very freely. Eugenie,
happening to lay hold of the letter telling of her uncle's intention
to commit suicide, begs her father to send money enough to Paris to
prevent the catastrophe. On her father's refusing, she steals one of
the old man's strong-boxes and gives it to the son of a local notary,
who hurries to the capital with it and reaches there in time to save
Charles' father from ruin and death. As Charles has also fled with his
uncle's mare on the same errand, the miser thinks he is the thief, and
obtains a warrant for his arrest. But Eugenie avows everything except
the name of her accomplice. Explanations occur, now that Guillaume
Grandet is saved; Charles comes out of prison and marries Eugenie,
whose dowry is the money that has served so good a purpose. With
Bouffe in the chief role, the /Miser's Daughter/, as the piece was
called, had a great popularity, and was several times revived.

In 1835 also, was produced /Pere Goriot/ at the Varietes, there being
three collaborators in the dramatizing, Theaulon, de Comberousse, and
Jaime. Their adaptation possessed the same characters as the novel,
but the roles are considerably modified. Victorine Taillefer becomes
Goriot's illegitimate daughter, who is provided for by her father, yet
brought up without ever seeing him and without the least inkling of
her relationship to him. But Vautrin has discovered that a sum of five
hundred thousand francs is deposited on her behalf with a notary; and
he goes to Grenoble, where she is living, brings her back with him to
Paris, and presents her to Goriot as a poor girl, his intention being
to ask her in marriage at the proper moment. The retired tradesman
takes her in, and she remains with him when his other daughters marry,
and during the time they pass in ungratefully stripping him of his
fortune. At last his sons-in-law, to salve their consciences, offer to
place him in an almshouse. Goriot indignantly refuses, and tells them
he has another daughter whom he has made rich, and that he will go and
live with her. Now is Vautrin's opportunity. He informs Goriot who

Book of the day: