Part 1 out of 4
Etext prepared by Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
and John Bickers, email@example.com
The Muse of the Department
by Honore de Balzac
Translated by James Waring
To Monsieur le Comte Ferdinand de Gramont.
MY DEAR FERDINAND,--If the chances of the world of literature--
/habent sua fata libelli/--should allow these lines to be an
enduring record, that will still be but a trifle in return for the
trouble you have taken--you, the Hozier, the Cherin, the King-at-
Arms of these Studies of Life; you, to whom the Navarreins,
Cadignans, Langeais, Blamont-Chauvrys, Chaulieus, Arthez,
Esgrignons, Mortsaufs, Valois--the hundred great names that form
the Aristocracy of the "Human Comedy" owe their lordly mottoes and
ingenious armorial bearings. Indeed, "the Armorial of the Etudes,
devised by Ferdinand de Gramont, gentleman," is a complete manual
of French Heraldry, in which nothing is forgotten, not even the
arms of the Empire, and I shall preserve it as a monument of
friendship and of Benedictine patience. What profound knowledge of
the old feudal spirit is to be seen in the motto of the
Beauseants, /Pulchre sedens, melius agens/; in that of the
Espards, /Des partem leonis/; in that of the Vandenesses, /Ne se
vend/. And what elegance in the thousand details of the learned
symbolism which will always show how far accuracy has been carried
in my work, to which you, the poet, have contributed.
Your old friend,
THE MUSE OF THE DEPARTMENT
On the skirts of Le Berry stands a town which, watered by the Loire,
infallibly attracts the traveler's eye. Sancerre crowns the topmost
height of a chain of hills, the last of the range that gives variety
to the Nivernais. The Loire floods the flats at the foot of these
slopes, leaving a yellow alluvium that is extremely fertile, excepting
in those places where it has deluged them with sand and destroyed them
forever, by one of those terrible risings which are also incidental to
the Vistula--the Loire of the northern coast.
The hill on which the houses of Sancerre are grouped is so far from
the river that the little river-port of Saint-Thibault thrives on the
life of Sancerre. There wine is shipped and oak staves are landed,
with all the produce brought from the upper and lower Loire. At the
period when this story begins the suspension bridges at Cosne and at
Saint-Thibault were already built. Travelers from Paris to Sancerre by
the southern road were no longer ferried across the river from Cosne
to Saint-Thibault; and this of itself is enough to show that the great
cross-shuffle of 1830 was a thing of the past, for the House of
Orleans has always had a care for substantial improvements, though
somewhat after the fashion of a husband who makes his wife presents
out of her marriage portion.
Excepting that part of Sancerre which occupies the little plateau, the
streets are more or less steep, and the town is surrounded by slopes
known as the Great Ramparts, a name which shows that they are the
highroads of the place.
Outside the ramparts lies a belt of vineyards. Wine forms the chief
industry and the most important trade of the country, which yields
several vintages of high-class wine full of aroma, and so nearly
resembling the wines of Burgundy, that the vulgar palate is deceived.
So Sancerre finds in the wineshops of Paris the quick market
indispensable for liquor that will not keep for more than seven or
eight years. Below the town lie a few villages, Fontenoy and Saint-
Satur, almost suburbs, reminding us by their situation of the smiling
vineyards about Neuchatel in Switzerland.
The town still bears much of its ancient aspect; the streets are
narrow and paved with pebbles carted up from the Loire. Some old
houses are to be seen there. The citadel, a relic of military power
and feudal times, stood one of the most terrible sieges of our
religious wars, when French Calvinists far outdid the ferocious
Cameronians of Walter Scott's tales.
The town of Sancerre, rich in its greater past, but widowed now of its
military importance, is doomed to an even less glorious future, for
the course of trade lies on the right bank of the Loire. The sketch
here given shows that Sancerre will be left more and more lonely in
spite of the two bridges connecting it with Cosne.
Sancerre, the pride of the left bank, numbers three thousand five
hundred inhabitants at most, while at Cosne there are now more than
six thousand. Within half a century the part played by these two towns
standing opposite each other has been reversed. The advantage of
situation, however, remains with the historic town, whence the view on
every side is perfectly enchanting, where the air is deliciously pure,
the vegetation splendid, and the residents, in harmony with nature,
are friendly souls, good fellows, and devoid of Puritanism, though
two-thirds of the population are Calvinists. Under such conditions,
though there are the usual disadvantages of life in a small town, and
each one lives under the officious eye which makes private life almost
a public concern, on the other hand, the spirit of township--a sort of
patriotism, which cannot indeed take the place of a love of home--
Thus the town of Sancerre is exceedingly proud of having given birth
to one of the glories of modern medicine, Horace Bianchon, and to an
author of secondary rank, Etienne Lousteau, one of our most successful
journalists. The district included under the municipality of Sancerre,
distressed at finding itself practically ruled by seven or eight large
landowners, the wire-pullers of the elections, tried to shake off the
electoral yoke of a creed which had reduced it to a rotten borough.
This little conspiracy, plotted by a handful of men whose vanity was
provoked, failed through the jealousy which the elevation of one of
them, as the inevitable result, roused in the breasts of the others.
This result showed the radical defect of the scheme, and the remedy
then suggested was to rally round a champion at the next election, in
the person of one of the two men who so gloriously represented
Sancerre in Paris circles.
This idea was extraordinarily advanced for the provinces, for since
1830 the nomination of parochial dignitaries has increased so greatly
that real statesmen are becoming rare indeed in the lower chamber.
In point of fact, this plan, of very doubtful outcome, was hatched in
the brain of the Superior Woman of the borough, /dux femina fasti/,
but with a view to personal interest. This idea was so widely rooted
in this lady's past life, and so entirely comprehended her future
prospects, that it can scarcely be understood without some sketch of
her antecedent career.
Sancerre at that time could boast of a Superior Woman, long misprized
indeed, but now, about 1836, enjoying a pretty extensive local
reputation. This, too, was the period at which two Sancerrois in Paris
were attaining, each in his own line, to the highest degree of glory
for one, and of fashion for the other. Etienne Lousteau, a writer in
reviews, signed his name to contributions to a paper that had eight
thousand subscribers; and Bianchon, already chief physician to a
hospital, Officer of the Legion of Honor, and member of the Academy of
Sciences, had just been made a professor.
If it were not that the word would to many readers seem to imply a
degree of blame, it might be said that George Sand created /Sandism/,
so true is it that, morally speaking, all good has a reverse of evil.
This leprosy of sentimentality would have been charming. Still,
/Sandism/ has its good side, in that the woman attacked by it bases
her assumption of superiority on feelings scorned; she is a blue-
stocking of sentiment; and she is rather less of a bore, love to some
extent neutralizing literature. The most conspicuous result of George
Sand's celebrity was to elicit the fact that France has a perfectly
enormous number of superior women, who have, however, till now been so
generous as to leave the field to the Marechal de Saxe's
The Superior Woman of Sancerre lived at La Baudraye, a town-house and
country-house in one, within ten minutes of the town, and in the
village, or, if you will, the suburb of Saint-Satur. The La Baudrayes
of the present day have, as is frequently the case, thrust themselves
in, and are but a substitute for those La Baudrayes whose name,
glorious in the Crusades, figured in the chief events of the history
of Le Berry.
The story must be told.
In the time of Louis XIV. a certain sheriff named Milaud, whose
forefathers had been furious Calvinists, was converted at the time of
the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. To encourage this movement in
one of the strong-holds of Calvinism, the King gave said Milaud a good
appointment in the "Waters and Forests," granted him arms and the
title of Sire (or Lord) de la Baudraye, with the fief of the old and
genuine La Baudrayes. The descendants of the famous Captain la
Baudraye fell, sad to say, into one of the snares laid for heretics by
the new decrees, and were hanged--an unworthy deed of the great
Under Louis XV. Milaud de la Baudraye, from being a mere squire, was
made Chevalier, and had influence enough to obtain for his son a
cornet's commission in the Musketeers. This officer perished at
Fontenoy, leaving a child, to whom King Louis XVI. subsequently
granted the privileges, by patent, of a farmer-general, in remembrance
of his father's death on the field of battle.
This financier, a fashionable wit, great at charades, capping verses,
and posies to Chlora, lived in society, was a hanger-on to the Duc de
Nivernais, and fancied himself obliged to follow the nobility into
exile; but he took care to carry his money with him. Thus the rich
/emigre/ was able to assist more than one family of high rank.
In 1800, tired of hoping, and perhaps tired of lending, he returned to
Sancerre, bought back La Baudraye out of a feeling of vanity and
imaginary pride, quite intelligible in a sheriff's grandson, though
under the consulate his prospects were but slender; all the more so,
indeed, because the ex-farmer-general had small hopes of his heir's
perpetuating the new race of La Baudraye.
Jean Athanase Polydore Milaud de la Baudraye, his only son, more than
delicate from his birth, was very evidently the child of a man whose
constitution had early been exhausted by the excesses in which rich
men indulge, who then marry at the first stage of premature old age,
and thus bring degeneracy into the highest circles of society. During
the years of the emigration Madame de la Baudraye, a girl of no
fortune, chosen for her noble birth, had patiently reared this sallow,
sickly boy, for whom she had the devoted love mothers feel for such
changeling creatures. Her death--she was a Casteran de la Tour--
contributed to bring about Monsieur de la Baudraye's return to France.
This Lucullus of the Milauds, when he died, left his son the fief,
stripped indeed of its fines and dues, but graced with weathercocks
bearing his coat-of-arms, a thousand louis-d'or--in 1802 a
considerable sum of money--and certain receipts for claims on very
distinguished /emigres/ enclosed in a pocketbook full of verses, with
this inscription on the wrapper, /Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas/.
Young La Baudraye did not die, but he owed his life to habits of
monastic strictness; to the economy of action which Fontenelle
preached as the religion of the invalid; and, above all, to the air of
Sancerre and the influence of its fine elevation, whence a panorama
over the valley of the Loire may be seen extending for forty leagues.
From 1802 to 1815 young La Baudraye added several plots to his
vineyards, and devoted himself to the culture of the vine. The
Restoration seemed to him at first so insecure that he dared not go to
Paris to claim his debts; but after Napoleon's death he tried to turn
his father's collection of autographs into money, though not
understanding the deep philosophy which had thus mixed up I O U's and
copies of verses. But the winegrower lost so much time in impressing
his identity on the Duke of Navarreins "and others," as he phrased it,
that he came back to Sancerre, to his beloved vintage, without having
obtained anything but offers of service.
The Restoration had raised the nobility to such a degree of lustre as
made La Baudraye wish to justify his ambitions by having an heir. This
happy result of matrimony he considered doubtful, or he would not so
long have postponed the step; however, finding himself still above
ground in 1823, at the age of forty-three, a length of years which no
doctor, astrologer, or midwife would have dared to promise him, he
hoped to earn the reward of his sober life. And yet his choice showed
such a lack of prudence in regard to his frail constitution, that the
malicious wit of a country town could not help thinking it must be the
result of some deep calculation.
Just at this time His Eminence, Monseigneur the Archbishop of Bourges,
had converted to the Catholic faith a young person, the daughter of
one of the citizen families, who were the first upholders of
Calvinism, and who, thanks to their obscurity or to some compromise
with Heaven, had escaped from the persecutions under Louis XIV. The
Piedefers--a name that was obviously one of the quaint nicknames
assumed by the champions of the Reformation--had set up as highly
respectable cloth merchants. But in the reign of Louis XVI., Abraham
Piedefer fell into difficulties, and at his death in 1786 left his two
children in extreme poverty. One of them, Tobie Piedefer, went out to
the Indies, leaving the pittance they had inherited to his elder
brother. During the Revolution Moise Piedefer bought up the
nationalized land, pulled down abbeys and churches with all the zeal
of his ancestors, oddly enough, and married a Catholic, the only
daughter of a member of the Convention who had perished on the
scaffold. This ambitious Piedefer died in 1819, leaving a little girl
of remarkable beauty. This child, brought up in the Calvinist faith,
was named Dinah, in accordance with the custom in use among the sect,
of taking their Christian names from the Bible, so as to have nothing
in common with the Saints of the Roman Church.
Mademoiselle Dinah Piedefer was placed by her mother in one of the
best schools in Bourges, that kept by the Demoiselles Chamarolles, and
was soon as highly distinguished for the qualities of her mind as for
her beauty; but she found herself snubbed by girls of birth and
fortune, destined by-and-by to play a greater part in the world than a
mere plebeian, the daughter of a mother who was dependent on the
settlement of Piedefer's estate. Dinah, having raised herself for the
moment above her companions, now aimed at remaining on a level with
them for the rest of her life. She determined, therefore, to renounce
Calvinism, in the hope that the Cardinal would extend his favor to his
proselyte and interest himself in her prospects. You may from this
judge of Mademoiselle Dinah's superiority, since at the age of
seventeen she was a convert solely from ambition.
The Archbishop, possessed with the idea that Dinah Piedefer would
adorn society, was anxious to see her married. But every family to
whom the prelate made advances took fright at a damsel gifted with the
looks of a princess, who was reputed to be the cleverest of
Mademoiselle Chamarolles' pupils and who, at the somewhat theatrical
ceremonial of prize-giving, always took a leading part. A thousand
crowns a year, which was as much as she could hope for from the estate
of La Hautoy when divided between the mother and daughter, would be a
mere trifle in comparison with the expenses into which a husband would
be led by the personal advantages of so brilliant a creature.
As soon as all these facts came to the ears of little Polydore de la
Baudraye--for they were the talk of every circle in the Department of
the Cher--he went to Bourges just when Madame Piedefer, a devotee at
high services, had almost made up her own mind and her daughter's to
take the first comer with well-lined pockets--the first /chien
coiffe/, as they say in Le Berry. And if the Cardinal was delighted to
receive Monsieur de la Baudraye, Monsieur de la Baudraye was even
better pleased to receive a wife from the hands of the Cardinal. The
little gentleman only demanded of His Eminence a formal promise to
support his claims with the President of the Council to enable him to
recover his debts from the Duc de Navarreins "and others" by a lien on
their indemnities. This method, however, seemed to the able Minister
then occupying the Pavillon Marsan rather too sharp practice, and he
gave the vine-owner to understand that his business should be attended
to all in good time.
It is easy to imagine the excitement produced in the Sancerre district
by the news of Monsieur de la Baudraye's imprudent marriage.
"It is quite intelligible," said President Boirouge; "the little man
was very much startled, as I am told, at hearing that handsome young
Milaud, the Attorney-General's deputy at Nevers, say to Monsieur de
Clagny as they were looking at the turrets of La Baudraye, 'That will
be mine some day.'--'But,' says Clagny, 'he may marry and have
children.'--'Impossible!'--So you may imagine how such a changeling as
little La Baudraye must hate that colossal Milaud."
There was at Nevers a plebeian branch of the Milauds, which had grown
so rich in the cutlery trade that the present representative of that
branch had been brought up to the civil service, in which he had
enjoyed the patronage of Marchangy, now dead.
It will be as well to eliminate from this story, in which moral
developments play the principal part, the baser material interests
which alone occupied Monsieur de la Baudraye, by briefly relating the
results of his negotiations in Paris. This will also throw light on
certain mysterious phenomena of contemporary history, and the
underground difficulties in matters of politics which hampered the
Ministry at the time of the Restoration.
The promises of Ministers were so illusory that Monsieur de la
Baudraye determined on going to Paris at the time when the Cardinal's
presence was required there by the sitting of the Chambers.
This is how the Duc de Navarreins, the principal debtor threatened by
Monsieur de la Baudraye, got out of the scrape.
The country gentleman, lodging at the Hotel de Mayence, Rue Saint-
Honore, near the Place Vendome, one morning received a visit from a
confidential agent of the Ministry, who was an expert in "winding up"
business. This elegant personage, who stepped out of an elegant cab,
and was dressed in the most elegant style, was requested to walk up to
No. 3--that is to say, to the third floor, to a small room where he
found his provincial concocting a cup of coffee over his bedroom fire.
"Is it to Monsieur Milaud de la Baudraye that I have the honor--"
"Yes," said the little man, draping himself in his dressing-gown.
After examining this garment, the illicit offspring of an old chine
wrapper of Madame Piedefer's and a gown of the late lamented Madame de
la Baudraye, the emissary considered the man, the dressing-gown, and
the little stove on which the milk was boiling in a tin saucepan, as
so homogeneous and characteristic, that he deemed it needless to beat
about the bush.
"I will lay a wager, monsieur," said he, audaciously, "that you dine
for forty sous at Hurbain's in the Palais Royal."
"Oh, I know you, having seen you there," replied the Parisian with
perfect gravity. "All the princes' creditors dine there. You know that
you recover scarcely ten per cent on debts from these fine gentlemen.
I would not give you five per cent on a debt to be recovered from the
estate of the late Duc d'Orleans--nor even," he added in a low voice--
"So you have come to buy up the bills?" said La Baudraye, thinking
himself very clever.
"Buy them!" said his visitor. "Why, what do you take me for? I am
Monsieur des Lupeaulx, Master of Appeals, Secretary-General to the
Ministry, and I have come to propose an arrangement."
"What is that?"
"Of course, monsieur, you know the position of your debtor--"
"Of my debtors--"
"Well, monsieur, you understand the position of your debtors; they
stand high in the King's good graces, but they have no money, and are
obliged to make a good show.--Again, you know the difficulties of the
political situation. The aristocracy has to be rehabilitated in the
face of a very strong force of the third estate. The King's idea--and
France does him scant justice--is to create a peerage as a national
institution analogous to the English peerage. To realize this grand
idea we need years--and millions.--/Noblesse oblige/. The Duc de
Navarreins, who is, as you know, first gentleman of the Bedchamber to
the King, does not repudiate his debt; but he cannot--Now, be
reasonable.--Consider the state of politics. We are emerging from the
pit of the Revolution.--and you yourself are noble--He simply cannot
"You are hasty," said des Lupeaulx. "Listen. He cannot pay in money.
Well, then; you, a clever man, can take payment in favors--Royal or
"What! When in 1793 my father put down one hundred thousand--"
"My dear sir, recrimination is useless. Listen to a simple statement
in political arithmetic: The collectorship at Sancerre is vacant; a
certain paymaster-general of the forces has a claim on it, but he has
no chance of getting it; you have the chance--and no claim. You will
get the place. You will hold it for three months, you will then
resign, and Monsieur Gravier will give twenty thousand francs for it.
In addition, the Order of the Legion of Honor will be conferred on
"Well, that is something," said the wine-grower, tempted by the money
rather than by the red ribbon.
"But then," said des Lupeaulx, "you must show your gratitude to His
Excellency by restoring to Monseigneur the Duc de Navarreins all your
claims on him."
La Baudraye returned to Sancerre as Collector of Taxes. Six months
later he was superseded by Monsieur Gravier, regarded as one of the
most agreeable financiers who had served under the Empire, and who was
of course presented by Monsieur de la Baudraye to his wife.
As soon as he was released from his functions, Monsieur de la Baudraye
returned to Paris to come to an understanding with some other debtors.
This time he was made a Referendary under the Great Seal, Baron, and
Officer of the Legion of Honor. He sold the appointment as
Referendary; and then the Baron de la Baudraye called on his last
remaining debtors, and reappeared at Sancerre as Master of Appeals,
with an appointment as Royal Commissioner to a commercial association
established in the Nivernais, at a salary of six thousand francs, an
absolute sinecure. So the worthy La Baudraye, who was supposed to have
committed a financial blunder, had, in fact, done very good business
in the choice of a wife.
Thanks to sordid economy and an indemnity paid him for the estate
belonging to his father, nationalized and sold in 1793, by the year
1827 the little man could realize the dream of his whole life. By
paying four hundred thousand francs down, and binding himself to
further instalments, which compelled him to live for six years on the
air as it came, to use his own expression, he was able to purchase the
estate of Anzy on the banks of the Loire, about two leagues above
Sancerre, and its magnificent castle built by Philibert de l'Orme, the
admiration of every connoisseur, and for five centuries the property
of the Uxelles family. At last he was one of the great landowners of
the province! It is not absolutely certain that the satisfaction of
knowing that an entail had been created, by letters patent dated back
to December 1820, including the estates of Anzy, of La Baudraye, and
of La Hautoy, was any compensation to Dinah on finding herself reduced
to unconfessed penuriousness till 1835.
This sketch of the financial policy of the first Baron de la Baudraye
explains the man completely. Those who are familiar with the manias of
country folks will recognize in him the /land-hunger/ which becomes
such a consuming passion to the exclusion of every other; a sort of
avarice displayed in the sight of the sun, which often leads to ruin
by a want of balance between the interest on mortgages and the
products of the soil. Those who, from 1802 till 1827, had merely
laughed at the little man as they saw him trotting to Saint-Thibault
and attending to his business, like a merchant living on his
vineyards, found the answer to the riddle when the ant-lion seized his
prey, after waiting for the day when the extravagance of the Duchesse
de Maufrigneuse culminated in the sale of that splendid property.
Madame Piedefer came to live with her daughter. The combined fortunes
of Monsieur de la Baudraye and his mother-in-law, who had been content
to accept an annuity of twelve hundred francs on the lands of La
Hautoy which she handed over to him, amounted to an acknowledged
income of about fifteen thousand francs.
During the early days of her married life, Dinah had effected some
alterations which had made the house at La Baudraye a very pleasant
residence. She turned a spacious forecourt into a formal garden,
pulling down wine-stores, presses, and shabby outhouses. Behind the
manor-house, which, though small, did not lack style with its turrets
and gables, she laid out a second garden with shrubs, flower-beds, and
lawns, and divided it from the vineyards by a wall hidden under
creepers. She also made everything within doors as comfortable as
their narrow circumstances allowed.
In order not to be ruined by a young lady so very superior as Dinah
seemed to be, Monsieur de la Baudraye was shrewd enough to say nothing
as to the recovery of debts in Paris. This dead secrecy as to his
money matters gave a touch of mystery to his character, and lent him
dignity in his wife's eyes during the first years of their married
life--so majestic is silence!
The alterations effected at La Baudraye made everybody eager to see
the young mistress, all the more so because Dinah would never show
herself, nor receive any company, before she felt quite settled in her
home and had thoroughly studied the inhabitants, and, above all, her
taciturn husband. When, one spring morning in 1825, pretty Madame de
la Baudraye was first seen walking on the Mall in a blue velvet dress,
with her mother in black velvet, there was quite an excitement in
Sancerre. This dress confirmed the young woman's reputation for
superiority, brought up, as she had been, in the capital of Le Berry.
Every one was afraid lest in entertaining this phoenix of the
Department, the conversation should not be clever enough; and, of
course, everybody was constrained in the presence of Madame de la
Baudraye, who produced a sort of terror among the woman-folk. As they
admired a carpet of Indian shawl-pattern in the La Baudraye drawing-
room, a Pompadour writing-table carved and gilt, brocade window
curtains, and a Japanese bowl full of flowers on the round table among
a selection of the newest books; when they heard the fair Dinah
playing at sight, without making the smallest demur before seating
herself at the piano, the idea they conceived of her superiority
assumed vast proportions. That she might never allow herself to become
careless or the victim of bad taste, Dinah had determined to keep
herself up to the mark as to the fashions and latest developments of
luxury by an active correspondence with Anna Grossetete, her bosom
friend at Mademoiselle Chamarolles' school.
Anna, thanks to a fine fortune, had married the Comte de Fontaine's
third son. Thus those ladies who visited at La Baudraye were
perpetually piqued by Dinah's success in leading the fashion; do what
they would, they were always behind, or, as they say on the turf,
While all these trifles gave rise to malignant envy in the ladies of
Sancerre, Dinah's conversation and wit engendered absolute aversion.
In her ambition to keep her mind on the level of Parisian brilliancy,
Madame de la Baudraye allowed no vacuous small talk in her presence,
no old-fashioned compliments, no pointless remarks; she would never
endure the yelping of tittle-tattle, the backstairs slander which
forms the staple of talk in the country. She liked to hear of
discoveries in science or art, or the latest pieces at the theatres,
the newest poems, and by airing the cant words of the day she made a
show of uttering thoughts.
The Abbe Duret, Cure of Sancerre, an old man of a lost type of clergy
in France, a man of the world with a liking for cards, had not dared
to indulge this taste in so liberal a district as Sancerre; he,
therefore, was delighted at Madame de la Baudraye's coming, and they
got on together to admiration. The /sous-prefet/, one Vicomte de
Chargeboeuf, was delighted to find in Madame de la Baudraye's drawing-
room a sort of oasis where there was a truce to provincial life. As to
Monsieur de Clagny, the Public Prosecutor, his admiration for the fair
Dinah kept him bound to Sancerre. The enthusiastic lawyer refused all
promotion, and became a quite pious adorer of this angel of grace and
beauty. He was a tall, lean man, with a minatory countenance set off
by terrible eyes in deep black circles, under enormous eyebrows; and
his eloquence, very unlike his love-making, could be incisive.
Monsieur Gravier was a little, round man, who in the days of the
Empire had been a charming ballad-singer; it was this accomplishment
that had won him the high position of Paymaster-General of the forces.
Having mixed himself up in certain important matters in Spain with
generals at that time in opposition, he had made the most of these
connections to the Minister, who, in consideration of the place he had
lost, promised him the Receivership at Sancerre, and then allowed him
to pay for the appointment. The frivolous spirit and light tone of the
Empire had become ponderous in Monsieur Gravier; he did not, or would
not, understand the wide difference between manners under the
Restoration and under the Empire. Still, he conceived of himself as
far superior to Monsieur de Clagny; his style was in better taste; he
followed the fashion, was to be seen in a buff waistcoat, gray
trousers, and neat, tightly-fitting coats; he wore a fashionable silk
tie slipped through a diamond ring, while the lawyer never dressed in
anything but black--coat, trousers, and waistcoat alike, and those
These four men were the first to go into ecstasies over Dinah's
cultivation, good taste, and refinement, and pronounced her a woman of
most superior mind. Then the women said to each other, "Madame de la
Baudraye must laugh at us behind our back."
This view, which was more or less correct, kept them from visiting at
La Baudraye. Dinah, attainted and convicted of pedantry, because she
spoke grammatically, was nicknamed the Sappho of Saint-Satur. At last
everybody made insolent game of the great qualities of the woman who
had thus roused the enmity of the ladies of Sancerre. And they ended
by denying a superiority--after all, merely comparative!--which
emphasized their ignorance, and did not forgive it. Where the whole
population is hunch-backed, a straight shape is the monstrosity; Dinah
was regarded as monstrous and dangerous, and she found herself in a
Astonished at seeing the women of the neighborhood only at long
intervals, and for visits of a few minutes, Dinah asked Monsieur de
Clagny the reason of this state of things.
"You are too superior a woman to be liked by other women," said the
Monsieur Gravier, when questioned by the forlorn fair, only, after
much entreaty, replied:
"Well, lady fair, you are not satisfied to be merely charming. You are
clever and well educated, you know every book that comes out, you love
poetry, you are a musician, and you talk delightfully. Women cannot
forgive so much superiority."
Men said to Monsieur de la Baudraye:
"You who have such a Superior Woman for a wife are very fortunate----"
And at last he himself would say:
"I who have a Superior Woman for a wife, am very fortunate," etc.
Madame Piedefer, flattered through her daughter, also allowed herself
to say such things--"My daughter, who is a very Superior Woman, was
writing yesterday to Madame de Fontaine such and such a thing."
Those who know the world--France, Paris--know how true it is that many
celebrities are thus created.
Two years later, by the end of the year 1825, Dinah de la Baudraye was
accused of not choosing to have any visitors but men; then it was said
that she did not care for women--and that was a crime. Not a thing
could she do, not her most trifling action, could escape criticism and
misrepresentation. After making every sacrifice that a well-bred woman
can make, and placing herself entirely in the right, Madame de la
Baudraye was so rash as to say to a false friend who condoled with her
on her isolation:
"I would rather have my bowl empty than with anything in it!"
This speech produced a terrible effect on Sancerre, and was cruelly
retorted on the Sappho of Saint-Satur when, seeing her childless after
five years of married life, /little/ de la Baudraye became a byword
for laughter. To understand this provincial witticism, readers may be
reminded of the Bailli de Ferrette--some, no doubt, having known him--
of whom it was said that he was the bravest man in Europe for daring
to walk on his legs, and who was accused of putting lead in his shoes
to save himself from being blown away. Monsieur de la Baudraye, a
sallow and almost diaphanous creature, would have been engaged by the
Bailli de Ferrette as first gentleman-in-waiting if that diplomatist
had been the Grand Duke of Baden instead of being merely his envoy.
Monsieur de la Baudraye, whose legs were so thin that, for mere
decency, he wore false calves, whose thighs were like the arms of an
average man, whose body was not unlike that of a cockchafer, would
have been an advantageous foil to the Bailli de Ferrette. As he
walked, the little vine-owner's leg-pads often twisted round on to his
shins, so little did he make a secret of them, and he would thank any
one who warned him of this little mishap. He wore knee-breeches, black
silk stockings, and a white waistcoat till 1824. After his marriage he
adopted blue trousers and boots with heels, which made Sancerre
declare that he had added two inches to his stature that he might come
up to his wife's chin. For ten years he was always seen in the same
little bottle-green coat with large white-metal buttons, and a black
stock that accentuated his cold stingy face, lighted up by gray-blue
eyes as keen and passionless as a cat's. Being very gentle, as men are
who act on a fixed plan of conduct, he seemed to make his wife happy
by never contradicting her; he allowed her to do the talking, and was
satisfied to move with the deliberate tenacity of an insect.
Dinah, adored for her beauty, in which she had no rival, and admired
for her cleverness by the most gentlemanly men of the place,
encouraged their admiration by conversations, for which it was
subsequently asserted, she prepared herself beforehand. Finding
herself listened to with rapture, she soon began to listen to herself,
enjoyed haranguing her audience, and at last regarded her friends as
the chorus in a tragedy, there only to give her her cues. In fact, she
had a very fine collection of phrases and ideas, derived either from
books or by assimilating the opinions of her companions, and thus
became a sort of mechanical instrument, going off on a round of
phrases as soon as some chance remark released the spring. To do her
justice, Dinah was choke full of knowledge, and read everything, even
medical books, statistics, science, and jurisprudence; for she did not
know how to spend her days when she had reviewed her flower-beds and
given her orders to the gardener. Gifted with an excellent memory, and
the talent which some women have for hitting on the right word, she
could talk on any subject with the lucidity of a studied style. And so
men came from Cosne, from la Charite, and from Nevers, on the right
bank; from Lere, Vailly, Argent, Blancafort, and Aubigny, on the left
bank, to be introduced to Madame de la Baudraye, as they used in
Switzerland, to be introduced to Madame de Stael. Those who only once
heard the round of tunes emitted by this musical snuff-box went away
amazed, and told such wonders of Dinah as made all the women jealous
for ten leagues round.
There is an indescribable mental headiness in the admiration we
inspire, or in the effect of playing a part, which fends off criticism
from reaching the idol. An atmosphere, produced perhaps by unceasing
nervous tension, forms a sort of halo, through which the world below
is seen. How otherwise can we account for the perennial good faith
which leads to so many repeated presentments of the same effects, and
the constant ignoring of warnings given by children, such a terror to
their parents, or by husbands, so familiar as they are with the
peacock airs of their wives? Monsieur de la Baudraye had the frankness
of a man who opens an umbrella at the first drop of rain. When his
wife was started on the subject of Negro emancipation or the
improvement of convict prisons, he would take up his little blue cap
and vanish without a sound, in the certainty of being able to get to
Saint-Thibault to see off a cargo of puncheons, and return an hour
later to find the discussion approaching a close. Or, if he had no
business to attend to, he would go for a walk on the Mall, whence he
commanded the lovely panorama of the Loire valley, and take a draught
of fresh air while his wife was performing a sonata in words, or a
Once fairly established as a Superior Woman, Dinah was eager to prove
her devotion to the most remarkable creations of art. She threw
herself into the propaganda of the romantic school, including, under
Art, poetry and painting, literature and sculpture, furniture and the
opera. Thus she became a mediaevalist. She was also interested in any
treasures that dated from the Renaissance, and employed her allies as
so many devoted commission agents. Soon after she was married, she had
become possessed of the Rougets' furniture, sold at Issoudun early in
1824. She purchased some very good things at Nivernais and the Haute-
Loire. At the New Year and on her birthday her friends never failed to
give her some curiosities. These fancies found favor in the eyes of
Monsieur de la Baudraye; they gave him an appearance of sacrificing a
few crowns to his wife's taste. In point of fact, his land mania
allowed him to think of nothing but the estate of Anzy.
These "antiquities" at that time cost much less than modern furniture.
By the end of five or six years the ante-room, the dining-room, the
two drawing-rooms, and the boudoir which Dinah had arranged on the
ground floor of La Baudraye, every spot even to the staircase, were
crammed with masterpieces collected in the four adjacent departments.
These surroundings, which were called /queer/ by the neighbors, were
quite in harmony with Dinah. All these Marvels, so soon to be the
rage, struck the imagination of the strangers introduced to her; they
came expecting something unusual; and they found their expectations
surpassed when, behind a bower of flowers, they saw these catacombs
full of old things, piled up as Sommerard used to pile them--that "Old
Mortality" of furniture. And then these finds served as so many
springs which, turned on by a question, played off an essay on Jean
Goujon, Michel Columb, Germain Pilon, Boulle, Van Huysum, and Boucher,
the great native painter of Le Berry; on Clodion, the carver of wood,
on Venetian mirrors, on Brustolone, an Italian tenor who was the
Michael-Angelo of boxwood and holm oak; on the thirteenth, fourteenth,
fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, on the glazes of
Bernard de Palissy, the enamels of Petitot, the engravings of Albrecht
Durer--whom she called Dur; on illuminations on vellum, on Gothic
architecture, early decorated, flamboyant and pure--enough to turn an
old man's brain and fire a young man with enthusiasm.
Madame de la Baudraye, possessed with the idea of waking up Sancerre,
tried to form a so-called literary circle. The Presiding Judge,
Monsieur Boirouge, who happened to have a house and garden on his
hands, part of the Popinot-Chandier property, favored the notion of
this /coterie/. The wily Judge talked over the rules of the society
with Madame de la Baudraye; he proposed to figure as one of the
founders, and to let the house for fifteen years to the literary club.
By the time it had existed a year the members were playing dominoes,
billiards, and bouillotte, and drinking mulled wine, punch, and
liqueurs. A few elegant little suppers were then given, and some
masked balls during the Carnival. As to literature--there were the
newspapers. Politics and business were discussed. Monsieur de la
Baudraye was constantly there--on his wife's account, as she said
This result deeply grieved the Superior Woman, who despaired of
Sancerre, and collected the wit of the neighborhood in her own
drawing-room. Nevertheless, and in spite of the efforts of Messieurs
de Chargeboeuf, Gravier, and de Clagny, of the Abbe Duret and the two
chief magistrates, of a young doctor, and a young Assistant Judge--all
blind admirers of Dinah's--there were occasions when, weary of
discussion, they allowed themselves an excursion into the domain of
agreeable frivolity which constitutes the common basis of worldly
conversation. Monsieur Gravier called this "from grave to gay." The
Abbe Duret's rubber made another pleasing variety on the monologues of
the oracle. The three rivals, tired of keeping their minds up to the
level of the "high range of discussion"--as they called their
conversation--but not daring to confess it, would sometimes turn with
ingratiating hints to the old priest.
"Monsieur le Cure is dying for his game," they would say.
The wily priest lent himself very readily to the little trick. He
"We should lose too much by ceasing to listen to our inspired
hostess!" and so he would incite Dinah's magnanimity to take pity at
last on her dear Abbe.
This bold manoeuvre, a device of the Sous-prefet's, was repeated with
so much skill that Dinah never suspected her slaves of escaping to the
prison yard, so to speak, of the cardtable; and they would leave her
one of the younger functionaries to harry.
One young landowner, and the dandy of Sancerre, fell away from Dinah's
good graces in consequence of some rash demonstrations. After
soliciting the honor of admission to this little circle, where he
flattered himself he could snatch the blossom from the constituted
authorities who guarded it, he was so unfortunate as to yawn in the
middle of an explanation Dinah was favoring him with--for the fourth
time, it is true--of the philosophy of Kant. Monsieur de la
Thaumassiere, the grandson of the historian of Le Berry, was
thenceforth regarded as a man entirely bereft of soul and brains.
The three devotees /en titre/ each submitted to these exorbitant
demands on their mind and attention, in hope of a crowning triumph,
when at last Dinah should become human; for neither of them was so
bold as to imagine that Dinah would give up her innocence as a wife
till she should have lost all her illusions. In 1826, when she was
surrounded by adorers, Dinah completed her twentieth year, and the
Abbe Duret kept her in a sort of fervid Catholicism; so her worshipers
had to be content to overwhelm her with little attentions and small
services, only too happy to be taken for the carpet-knights of this
sovereign lady, by strangers admitted to spend an evening or two at La
"Madame de la Baudraye is a fruit that must be left to ripen." This
was the opinion of Monsieur Gravier, who was waiting.
As to the lawyer, he wrote letters four pages long, to which Dinah
replied in soothing speech as she walked, leaning on his arm, round
and round the lawn after dinner.
Madame de la Baudraye, thus guarded by three passions, and always
under the eye of her pious mother, escaped the malignity of slander.
It was so evident to all Sancerre that no two of these three men would
ever leave the third alone with Madame de la Baudraye, that their
jealousy was a comedy to the lookers-on.
To reach Saint-Thibault from Caesar's Gate there is a way much shorter
than that by the ramparts, down what is known in mountainous districts
as a /coursiere/, called at Sancerre /le Casse-cou/, or Break-neck
Alley. The name is significant as applied to a path down the steepest
part of the hillside, thickly strewn with stones, and shut in by the
high banks of the vineyards on each side. By way of the Break-neck the
distance from Sancerre to La Baudraye is much abridged. The ladies of
the place, jealous of the Sappho of Saint-Satur, were wont to walk on
the Mall, looking down this Longchamp of the bigwigs, whom they would
stop and engage in conversation--sometimes the Sous-prefet and
sometimes the Public Prosecutor--and who would listen with every sign
of impatience or uncivil absence of mind. As the turrets of La
Baudraye are visible from the Mall, many a younger man came to
contemplate the abode of Dinah while envying the ten or twelve
privileged persons who might spend their afternoons with the Queen of
Monsieur de la Baudraye was not slow to discover the advantage he, as
Dinah's husband, held over his wife's adorers, and he made use of
them without any disguise, obtaining a remission of taxes, and gaining
two lawsuits. In every litigation he used the Public Prosecutor's name
with such good effect that the matter was carried no further, and,
like all undersized men, he was contentious and litigious in business,
though in the gentlest manner.
At the same time, the more certainly guiltless she was, the less
conceivable did Madame de la Baudraye's position seem to the prying
eyes of these women. Frequently, at the house of the Presidente de
Boirouge, the ladies of a certain age would spend a whole evening
discussing the La Baudraye household, among themselves of course. They
all had suspicions of a mystery, a secret such as always interests
women who have had some experience of life. And, in fact, at La
Baudraye one of those slow and monotonous conjugal tragedies was being
played out which would have remained for ever unknown if the merciless
scalpel of the nineteenth century, guided by the insistent demand for
novelty, had not dissected the darkest corners of the heart, or at any
rate those which the decency of past centuries left unopened. And that
domestic drama sufficiently accounts for Dinah's immaculate virtue
during her early married life.
A young lady, whose triumphs at school had been the outcome of her
pride, and whose first scheme in life had been rewarded by a victory,
was not likely to pause in such a brilliant career. Frail as Monsieur
de la Baudraye might seem, he was really an unhoped-for good match for
Mademoiselle Dinah Piedefer. But what was the hidden motive of this
country landowner when, at forty-four, he married a girl of seventeen;
and what could his wife make out of the bargain? This was the text of
Dinah's first meditations.
The little man never behaved quite as his wife expected. To begin
with, he allowed her to take the five precious acres now wasted in
pleasure grounds round La Baudraye, and paid, almost with generosity,
the seven or eight thousand francs required by Dinah for improvements
in the house, enabling her to buy the furniture at the Rougets' sale
at Issoudun, and to redecorate her rooms in various styles--Mediaeval,
Louis XIV., and Pompadour. The young wife found it difficult to
believe that Monsieur de la Baudraye was so miserly as he was reputed,
or else she must have great influence with him. The illusion lasted a
year and a half.
After Monsieur de la Baudraye's second journey to Paris, Dinah
discovered in him the Artic coldness of a provincial miser whenever
money was in question. The first time she asked for supplies she
played the sweetest of the comedies of which Eve invented the secret;
but the little man put it plainly to his wife that he gave her two
hundred francs a month for her personal expenses, and paid Madame
Piedefer twelve hundred francs a year as a charge on the lands of La
Hautoy, and that this was two hundred francs a year more than was
agreed to under the marriage settlement.
"I say nothing of the cost of housekeeping," he said in conclusion.
"You may give your friends cake and tea in the evening, for you must
have some amusement. But I, who spent but fifteen hundred francs a
year as a bachelor, now spend six thousand, including rates and
repairs, and this is rather too much in relation to the nature of our
property. A winegrower is never sure of what his expenses may be--the
making, the duty, the casks--while the returns depend on a scorching
day or a sudden frost. Small owners, like us, whose income is far from
being fixed, must base their estimates on their minimum, for they have
no means of making up a deficit or a loss. What would become of us if
a wine merchant became bankrupt? In my opinion, promissory notes are
so many cabbage-leaves. To live as we are living, we ought always to
have a year's income in hand and count on no more than two-thirds of
Any form of resistance is enough to make a woman vow to subdue it;
Dinah flung herself against a will of iron padded round with
gentleness. She tried to fill the little man's soul with jealousy and
alarms, but it was stockaded with insolent confidence. He left Dinah,
when he went to Paris, with all the conviction of Medor in Angelique's
fidelity. When she affected cold disdain, to nettle this changeling by
the scorn a courtesan sometimes shows to her "protector," and which
acts on him with the certainty of the screw of a winepress, Monsieur
de la Baudraye gazed at his wife with fixed eyes, like those of a cat
which, in the midst of domestic broils, waits till a blow is
threatened before stirring from its place. The strange, speechless
uneasiness that was perceptible under his mute indifference almost
terrified the young wife of twenty; she could not at first understand
the selfish quiescence of this man, who might be compared to a cracked
pot, and who, in order to live, regulated his existence with the
unchangeable regularity which a clockmaker requires of a clock. So the
little man always evaded his wife, while she always hit out, as it
were, ten feet above his head.
Dinah's fits of fury when she saw herself condemned never to escape
from La Baudraye and Sancerre are more easily imagined than described
--she who had dreamed of handling a fortune and managing the dwarf
whom she, the giant, had at first humored in order to command. In the
hope of some day making her appearance on the greater stage of Paris,
she accepted the vulgar incense of her attendant knights with a view
to seeing Monsieur de la Baudraye's name drawn from the electoral urn;
for she supposed him to be ambitious, after seeing him return thrice
from Paris, each time a step higher on the social ladder. But when she
struck on the man's heart, it was as though she had tapped on marble!
The man who had been Receiver-General and Referendary, who was now
Master of Appeals, Officer of the Legion of Honor, and Royal
Commissioner, was but a mole throwing up its little hills round and
round a vineyard! Then some lamentations were poured into the heart of
the Public Prosecutor, of the Sous-prefet, even of Monsieur Gravier,
and they all increased in their devotion to this sublime victim; for,
like all women, she never mentioned her speculative schemes, and--
again like all women--finding such speculation vain, she ceased to
Dinah, tossed by mental storms, was still undecided when, in the
autumn of 1827, the news was told of the purchase by the Baron de la
Baudraye of the estate of Anzy. Then the little old man showed an
impulsion of pride and glee which for a few months changed the current
of his wife's ideas; she fancied there was a hidden vein of greatness
in the man when she found him applying for a patent of entail. In his
triumph the Baron exclaimed:
"Dinah, you shall be a countess yet!"
There was then a patched-up reunion between the husband and wife, such
as can never endure, and which only humiliated and fatigued a woman
whose apparent superiority was unreal, while her unseen superiority
was genuine. This whimsical medley is commoner than people think.
Dinah, who was ridiculous from the perversity of her cleverness, had
really great qualities of soul, but circumstances did not bring these
rarer powers to light, while a provincial life debased the small
change of her wit from day to day. Monsieur de la Baudraye, on the
contrary, devoid of soul, of strength, and of wit, was fated to figure
as a man of character, simply by pursuing a plan of conduct which he
was too feeble to change.
There was in their lives a first phase, lasting six years, during
which Dinah, alas! became utterly provincial. In Paris there are
several kinds of women: the duchess and the financier's wife, the
ambassadress and the consul's wife, the wife of the minister who is a
minister, and of him who is no longer a minister; then there is the
lady--quite the lady--of the right bank of the Seine and of the left.
But in the country there is but one kind of woman, and she, poor
thing, is the provincial woman.
This remark points to one of the sores of modern society. It must be
clearly understood: France in the nineteenth century is divided into
two broad zones--Paris, and the provinces. The provinces jealous of
Paris; Paris never thinking of the provinces but to demand money. Of
old, Paris was the Capital of the provinces, and the court ruled the
Capital; now, all Paris is the Court, and all the country is the town.
However lofty, beautiful, and clever a girl born in any department of
France may be on entering life, if, like Dinah Piedefer, she marries
in the country and remains there, she inevitably becomes the
provincial woman. In spite of every determination, the commonplace of
second-rate ideas, indifference to dress, the culture of vulgar
people, swamp the sublimer essence hidden in the youthful plant; all
is over, it falls into decay. How should it be otherwise? From their
earliest years girls bred in the country see none but provincials;
they cannot imagine anything superior, their choice lies among
mediocrities; provincial fathers marry their daughters to provincial
sons; crossing the races is never thought of, and the brain inevitably
degenerates, so that in many country towns intellect is as rare as the
breed is hideous. Mankind becomes dwarfed in mind and body, for the
fatal principle of conformity of fortune governs every matrimonial
alliance. Men of talent, artists, superior brains--every bird of
brilliant plumage flies to Paris. The provincial woman, inferior in
herself, is also inferior through her husband. How is she to live
happy under this crushing twofold consciousness?
But there is a third and terrible element besides her congenital and
conjugal inferiority which contributes to make the figure arid and
gloomy; to reduce it, narrow it, distort it fatally. Is not one of the
most flattering unctions a woman can lay to her soul the assurance of
being something in the existence of a superior man, chosen by herself,
wittingly, as if to have some revenge on marriage, wherein her tastes
were so little consulted? But if in the country the husbands are
inferior beings, the bachelors are no less so. When a provincial wife
commits her "little sin," she falls in love with some so-called
handsome native, some indigenous dandy, a youth who wears gloves and
is supposed to ride well; but she knows at the bottom of her soul that
her fancy is in pursuit of the commonplace, more or less well dressed.
Dinah was preserved from this danger by the idea impressed upon her of
her own superiority. Even if she had not been as carefully guarded in
her early married life as she was by her mother, whose presence never
weighed upon her till the day when she wanted to be rid of it, her
pride, and her high sense of her own destinies, would have protected
her. Flattered as she was to find herself surrounded by admirers, she
saw no lover among them. No man here realized the poetical ideal which
she and Anna Grossetete had been wont to sketch. When, stirred by the
involuntary temptations suggested by the homage she received, she
asked herself, "If I had to make a choice, who should it be?" she
owned to a preference for Monsieur de Chargeboeuf, a gentleman of good
family, whose appearance and manners she liked, but whose cold nature,
selfishness, and narrow ambition, never rising above a prefecture and
a good marriage, repelled her. At a word from his family, who were
alarmed lest he should be killed for an intrigue, the Vicomte had
already deserted a woman he had loved in the town where he previously
had been Sous-prefet.
Monsieur de Clagny, on the other hand, the only man whose mind
appealed to hers, whose ambition was founded on love, and who knew
what love means, Dinah thought perfectly odious. When Dinah saw
herself condemned to six years' residence at Sancerre she was on the
point of accepting the devotion of Monsieur le Vicomte de Chargeboeuf;
but he was appointed to a prefecture and left the district. To
Monsieur de Clagny's great satisfaction, the new Sous-prefet was a
married man whose wife made friends with Dinah. The lawyer had now no
rival to fear but Monsieur Gravier. Now Monsieur Gravier was the
typical man of forty of whom women make use while they laugh at him,
whose hopes they intentionally and remorselessly encourage, as we are
kind to a beast of burden. In six years, among all the men who were
introduced to her from twenty leagues round, there was not one in
whose presence Dinah was conscious of the excitement caused by
personal beauty, by a belief in promised happiness, by the impact of a
superior soul, or the anticipation of a love affair, even an unhappy
Thus none of Dinah's choicest faculties had a chance of developing;
she swallowed many insults to her pride, which was constantly
suffering under the husband who so calmly walked the stage as
supernumerary in the drama of her life. Compelled to bury her wealth
of love, she showed only the surface to the world. Now and then she
would try to rouse herself, try to form some manly resolution; but she
was kept in leading strings by the need for money. And so, slowly and
in spite of the ambitious protests and grievous recriminations of her
own mind, she underwent the provincial metamorphosis here described.
Each day took with it a fragment of her spirited determination. She
had laid down a rule for the care of her person, which she gradually
departed from. Though at first she kept up with the fashions and the
little novelties of elegant life, she was obliged to limit her
purchases by the amount of her allowance. Instead of six hats, caps,
or gowns, she resigned herself to one gown each season. She was so
much admired in a certain bonnet that she made it do duty for two
seasons. So it was in everything.
Not unfrequently her artistic sense led her to sacrifice the
requirements of her person to secure some bit of Gothic furniture. By
the seventh year she had come so low as to think it convenient to have
her morning dresses made at home by the best needlewoman in the
neighborhood; and her mother, her husband, and her friends pronounced
her charming in these inexpensive costumes which did credit to her
taste. Her ideas were imitated! As she had no standard of comparison,
Dinah fell into the snares that surround the provincial woman. If a
Parisian woman's hips are too narrow or too full, her inventive wit
and the desire to please help to find some heroic remedy; if she has
some defect, some ugly spot, or small disfigurement, she is capable of
making it an adornment; this is often seen; but the provincial woman--
never! If her waist is too short and her figure ill balanced, well,
she makes up her mind to the worst, and her adorers--or they do not
adore her--must take her as she is, while the Parisian always insists
on being taken for what she is not. Hence the preposterous bustles,
the audacious flatness, the ridiculous fulness, the hideous outlines
ingeniously displayed, to which a whole town will become accustomed,
but which are so astounding when a provincial woman makes her
appearance in Paris or among Parisians. Dinah, who was extremely slim,
showed it off to excess, and never knew a dull moment when it became
ridiculous; when, reduced by the dull weariness of her life, she
looked like a skeleton in clothes; and her friends, seeing her every
day, did not observe the gradual change in her appearance.
This is one of the natural results of a provincial life. In spite of
marriage, a young woman preserves her beauty for some time, and the
town is proud of her; but everybody sees her every day, and when
people meet every day their perception is dulled. If, like Madame de
la Baudraye, she loses her color, it is scarcely noticed; or, again,
if she flushes a little, that is intelligible and interesting. A
little neglect is thought charming, and her face is so carefully
studied, so well known, that slight changes are scarcely noticed, and
regarded at last as "beauty spots." When Dinah ceased to have a new
dress with a new season, she seemed to have made a concession to the
philosophy of the place.
It is the same with matters of speech, choice of words and ideas, as
it is with matters of feeling. The mind can rust as well as the body
if it is not rubbed up in Paris; but the thing on which provincialism
most sets its stamp is gesture, gait, and movement; these soon lose
the briskness which Paris constantly keeps alive. The provincial is
used to walk and move in a world devoid of accident or change, there
is nothing to be avoided; so in Paris she walks on as raw recruits do,
never remembering that there may be hindrances, for there are none in
her way in her native place, where she is known, where she is always
in her place, and every one makes way for her. Thus she loses all the
charm of the unforeseen.
And have you ever noticed the effect on human beings of a life in
common? By the ineffaceable instinct of simian mimicry they all tend
to copy each other. Each one, without knowing it, acquires the
gestures, the tone of voice, the manner, the attitudes, the very
countenance of others. In six years Dinah had sunk to the pitch of the
society she lived in. As she acquired Monsieur de Clagny's ideas she
assumed his tone of voice; she unconsciously fell into masculine
manners from seeing none but men; she fancied that by laughing at what
was ridiculous in them she was safe from catching it; but, as often
happens, some hue of what she laughed at remained in the grain.
A Parisian woman sees so many examples of good taste that a contrary
result ensues. In Paris women learn to seize the hour and moment when
they may appear to advantage; while Madame de la Baudraye, accustomed
to take the stage, acquired an indefinable theatrical and domineering
manner, the air of a /prima donna/ coming forward on the boards, of
which ironical smiles would soon have cured her in the capital.
But after she had acquired this stock of absurdities, and, deceived by
her worshipers, imagined them to be added graces, a moment of terrible
awakening came upon her like the fall of an avalanche from a mountain.
In one day she was crushed by a frightful comparison.
In 1829, after the departure of Monsieur de Chargeboeuf, she was
excited by the anticipation of a little pleasure; she was expecting
the Baronne de Fontaine. Anna's husband, who was now Director-General
under the Minister of Finance, took advantage of leave of absence on
the occasion of his father's death to take his wife to Italy. Anna
wished to spend the day at Sancerre with her school-friend. This
meeting was strangely disastrous. Anna, who at school had been far
less handsome than Dinah, now, as Baronne de Fontaine, was a thousand
times handsomer than the Baronne de la Baudraye, in spite of her
fatigue and her traveling dress. Anna stepped out of an elegant
traveling chaise loaded with Paris milliners' boxes, and she had with
her a lady's maid, whose airs quite frightened Dinah. All the
difference between a woman of Paris and a provincial was at once
evident to Dinah's intelligent eye; she saw herself as her friend saw
her--and Anna found her altered beyond recognition. Anna spent six
thousand francs a year on herself alone, as much as kept the whole
household at La Baudraye.
In twenty-four hours the friends had exchanged many confidences; and
the Parisian, seeing herself so far superior to the phoenix of
Mademoiselle Chamarolles' school, showed her provincial friend such
kindness, such attentions, while giving her certain explanations, as
were so many stabs to Dinah, though she perfectly understood that
Anna's advantages all lay on the surface, while her own were for ever
When Anna had left, Madame de la Baudraye, by this time two-and-
twenty, fell into the depths of despair.
"What is it that ails you?" asked Monsieur de Clagny, seeing her so
"Anna," said she, "has learned to live, while I have been learning to
A tragi-comedy was, in fact, being enacted in Madame de la Baudraye's
house, in harmony with her struggles over money matters and her
successive transformations--a drama to which no one but Monsieur de
Clagny and the Abbe Duret ever knew the clue, when Dinah in sheer
idleness, or perhaps sheer vanity, revealed the secret of her
Though a mixture of verse and prose is a monstrous anomaly in French
literature, there must be exceptions to the rule. This tale will be
one of the two instances in these Studies of violation of the laws of
narrative; for to give a just idea of the unconfessed struggle which
may excuse, though it cannot absolve Dinah, it is necessary to give an
analysis of a poem which was the outcome of her deep despair.
Her patience and her resignation alike broken by the departure of the
Vicomte de Chargeboeuf, Dinah took the worthy Abbe's advice to exhale
her evil thoughts in verse--a proceeding which perhaps accounts for
"You will find such relief as those who write epitaphs or elegies over
those whom they have lost. Pain is soothed in the heart as lines surge
up in the brain."
This strange production caused a great ferment in the departments of
the Allier, the Nievre, and the Cher, proud to possess a poet capable
of rivalry with the glories of Paris. /Paquita la Sevillane/, by /Jan
Diaz/, was published in the /Echo du Morvan/, a review which for
eighteen months maintained its existence in spite of provincial
indifference. Some knowing persons at Nevers declared that Jan Diaz
was making fun of the new school, just then bringing out its eccentric
verse, full of vitality and imagery, and of brilliant effects produced
by defying the Muse under pretext of adapting German, English, and
The poem began with this ballad:
Ah! if you knew the fragrant plain,
The air, the sky, of golden Spain,
Its fervid noons, its balmy spring,
Sad daughters of the northern gloom,
Of love, of heav'n, of native home,
You never would presume to sing!
For men are there of other mould
Than those who live in this dull cold.
And there to music low and sweet
Sevillian maids, from eve till dawn,
Dance lightly on the moonlit lawn
In satin shoes, on dainty feet.
Ah, you would be the first to blush
Over your dancers' romp and rush,
And your too hideous carnival,
That turns your cheeks all chill and blue,
And skips the mud in hob-nail'd shoe--
A truly dismal festival.
To pale-faced girls, and in a squalid room,
Paquita sang; the murky town beneath
Was Rouen whence the slender spires rise
To chew the storm with teeth.
Rouen so hideous, noisy, full of rage--
And here followed a magnificent description of Rouen--where Dinah had
never been--written with the affected brutality which, a little later,
inspired so many imitations of Juvenal; a contrast drawn between the
life of a manufacturing town and the careless life of Spain, between
the love of Heaven and of human beauty, and the worship of machinery,
in short, between poetry and sordid money-making.
Then Jan Diaz accounted for Paquita's horror of Normandy by saying:
Seville, you see, had been her native home,
Seville, where skies are blue and evening sweet.
She, at thirteen, the sovereign of the town,
Had lovers at her feet.
For her three Toreadors had gone to death
Or victory, the prize to be a kiss--
One kiss from those red lips of sweetest breath--
A longed-for touch of bliss!
The features of the Spanish girl's portrait have served so often as
those of the courtesan in so many self-styled /poems/, that it would
be tiresome to quote here the hundred lines of description. To judge
of the lengths to which audacity had carried Dinah, it will be enough
to give the conclusion. According to Madame de la Baudraye's ardent
pen, Paquita was so entirely created for love that she can hardly have
met with a knight worthy of her; for
. . . . In her passionate fire
Every man would have swooned from the heat,
When she at love's feast, in her fervid desire,
As yet had but taken her seat.
"And yet she could quit the joys of Seville, its woods and fields of
orange-trees, for a Norman soldier who won her love and carried her
away to his hearth and home. She did not weep for her Andalusia, the
Soldier was her whole joy. . . . But the day came when he was
compelled to start for Russia in the footsteps of the great Emperor."
Nothing could be more dainty than the description of the parting
between the Spanish girl and the Normandy Captain of Artillery, who,
in the delirium of passion expressed with feeling worthy of Byron,
exacted from Paquita a vow of absolute fidelity, in the Cathedral at
Rouen in front of the alter of the Blessed Virgin, who
Though a Maid is a woman, and never forgives
When lovers are false to their vows.
A large part of the poem was devoted to describing Paquita's
sufferings when alone in Rouen waiting till the campaign was over; she
stood writhing at the window bars as she watched happy couples go by;
she suppressed her passion in her heart with a determination that
consumed her; she lived on narcotics, and exhausted herself in dreams.
Almost she died, but still her heart was true;
And when at last her soldier came again,
He found her beauty ever fresh and new--
He had not loved in vain!
"But he, pale and frozen by the cold of Russia, chilled to the very
marrow, met his yearning fair one with a melancholy smile."
The whole poem was written up to this situation, which was worked out
with such vigor and boldness as too entirely justified the Abbe Duret.
Paquita, on reaching the limits set to real love, did not, like Julie
and Heloise, throw herself into the ideal; no, she rushed into the
paths of vice, which is, no doubt, shockingly natural; but she did it
without any touch of magnificence, for lack of means, as it would be
difficult to find in Rouen men impassioned enough to place Paquita in
a suitable setting of luxury and splendor. This horrible realism,
emphasized by gloomy poetic feeling, had inspired some passages such
as modern poetry is too free with, rather too like the flayed
anatomical figures known to artists as /ecorches/. Then, by a highly
philosophical revulsion, after describing the house of ill-fame where
the Andalusian ended her days, the writer came back to the ballad at
Paquita now is faded, shrunk, and old,
But she it was who sang:
"If you but knew the fragrant plain,
The air, the sky, of golden Spain," etc.
The gloomy vigor of this poem, running to about six hundred lines, and
serving as a powerful foil, to use a painter's word, to the two
/seguidillas/ at the beginning and end, the masculine utterance of
inexpressible grief, alarmed the woman who found herself admired by
three departments, under the black cloak of the anonymous. While she
fully enjoyed the intoxicating delights of success, Dinah dreaded the
malignity of provincial society, where more than one woman, if the
secret should slip out, would certainly find points of resemblance
between the writer and Paquita. Reflection came too late; Dinah
shuddered with shame at having made "copy" of some of her woes.
"Write no more," said the Abbe Duret. "You will cease to be a woman;
you will be a poet."
Moulins, Nevers, Bourges were searched to find Jan Diaz; but Dinah was
impenetrable. To remove any evil impression, in case any unforeseen
chance should betray her name, she wrote a charming poem in two cantos
on /The Mass-Oak/, a legend of the Nivernais:
"Once upon a time the folks of Nevers and the folks of Saint-Saulge,
at war with each other, came at daybreak to fight a battle, in which
one or other should perish, and met in the forest of Faye. And then
there stood between them, under an oak, a priest whose aspect in the
morning sun was so commanding that the foes at his bidding heard Mass
as he performed it under the oak, and at the words of the Gospel they
made friends."--The oak is still shown in the forest of Faye.
This poem, immeasurably superior to /Paquita la Sevillane/, was far
After these two attempts Madame de la Baudraye, feeling herself a
poet, had a light on her brow and a flash in her eyes that made her
handsomer than ever. She cast longing looks at Paris, aspiring to fame
--and fell back into her den of La Baudraye, her daily squabbles with
her husband, and her little circle, where everybody's character,
intentions, and remarks were too well known not to have become a bore.
Though she found relief from her dreary life in literary work, and
poetry echoed loudly in her empty life, though she thus found an
outlet for her energies, literature increased her hatred of the gray
and ponderous provincial atmosphere.
When, after the Revolution of 1830, the glory of George Sand was
reflected on Le Berry, many a town envied La Chatre the privilege of
having given birth to this rival of Madame de Stael and Camille
Maupin, and were ready to do homage to minor feminine talent. Thus
there arose in France a vast number of tenth Muses, young girls or
young wives tempted from a silent life by the bait of glory. Very
strange doctrines were proclaimed as to the part women should play in
society. Though the sound common sense which lies at the root of the
French nature was not perverted, women were suffered to express ideas
and profess opinions which they would not have owned to a few years
Monsieur de Clagny took advantage of this outbreak of freedom to
collect the works of Jan Diaz in a small volume printed by Desroziers
at Moulins. He wrote a little notice of the author, too early snatched
from the world of letters, which was amusing to those who were in the
secret, but which even then had not the merit of novelty. Such
practical jokes, capital so long as the author remains unknown, fall
rather flat if subsequently the poet stands confessed.
From this point of view, however, the memoir of Jan Diaz, born at
Bourges in 1807, the son of a Spanish prisoner, may very likely some
day deceive the compiler of some /Universal Biography/. Nothing is
overlooked; neither the names of the professors at the Bourges
College, nor those of his deceased schoolfellows, such as Lousteau,
Bianchon, and other famous natives of the province, who, it is said,
knew the dreamy, melancholy boy, and his precocious bent towards
poetry. An elegy called /Tristesse/ (Melancholy), written at school;
the two poems /Paquita la Sevillane/ and /Le Chene de la Messe/; three
sonnets, a description of the Cathedral and the House of Jacques Coeur
at Bourges, with a tale called /Carola/, published as the work he was
engaged on at the time of his death, constituted the whole of these
literary remains; and the poet's last hours, full of misery and
despair, could not fail to wring the hearts of the feeling public of
the Nievre, the Bourbonnais, the Cher, and the Morvan, where he died
near Chateau-Chinon, unknown to all, even to the woman he had loved!
Of this little yellow paper volume two hundred copies were printed;
one hundred and fifty were sold--about fifty in each department. This
average of tender and poetic souls in three departments of France is
enough to revive the enthusiasm of writers as to the /Furia Francese/,
which nowadays is more apt to expend itself in business than in books.
When Monsieur de Clagny had given away a certain number of copies,
Dinah still had seven or eight, wrapped up in the newspapers which had
published notices of the work. Twenty copies forwarded to the Paris
papers were swamped in the editors' offices. Nathan was taken in as
well as several of his fellow-countrymen of Le Berry, and wrote an
article on the great man, in which he credited him with all the fine
qualities we discover in those who are dead and buried.
Lousteau, warned by his fellow-schoolfellows, who could not remember
Jan Diaz, waited for information from Sancerre, and learned that Jan
Diaz was a pseudonym assumed by a woman.
Then, in and around Sancerre, Madame de la Baudraye became the rage;
she was the future rival of George Sand. From Sancerre to Bourges a
poem was praised which, at any other time, would certainly have been
hooted. The provincial public--like every French public, perhaps--does
not share the love of the King of the French for the happy medium: it
lifts you to the skies or drags you in the mud.
By this time the good Abbe, Madame de la Baudraye's counselor, was
dead; he would certainly have prevented her rushing into public life.
But three years of work without recognition weighed on Dinah's soul,
and she accepted the clatter of fame as a substitute for her
disappointed ambitions. Poetry and dreams of celebrity, which had
lulled her grief since her meeting with Anna Grossetete, no longer
sufficed to exhaust the activity of her morbid heart. The Abbe Duret,
who had talked of the world when the voice of religion was impotent,
who understood Dinah, and promised her a happy future by assuring her
that God would compensate her for her sufferings bravely endured,--
this good old man could no longer stand between the opening to sin and
the handsome young woman he had called his daughter.
The wise old priest had more than once endeavored to enlighten Dinah
as to her husband's character, telling her that the man could hate;
but women are not ready to believe in such force in weak natures, and
hatred is too constantly in action not to be a vital force. Dinah,
finding her husband incapable of love, denied him the power to hate.
"Do not confound hatred and vengeance," said the Abbe. "They are two
different sentiments. One is the instinct of small minds; the other is
the outcome of law which great souls obey. God is avenged, but He does
not hate. Hatred is a vice of narrow souls; they feed it with all
their meanness, and make it a pretext for sordid tyranny. So beware of
offending Monsieur de la Baudraye; he would forgive an infidelity,
because he could make capital of it, but he would be doubly implacable
if you should touch him on the spot so cruelly wounded by Monsieur
Milaud of Nevers, and would make your life unendurable."
Now, at the time when the whole countryside--Nevers and Sancerre, Le
Morvan and Le Berry--was priding itself on Madame de la Baudraye, and
lauding her under the name of Jan Diaz, "little La Baudraye" felt her
glory a mortal blow. He alone knew the secret source of /Paquita la
Sevillane/. When this terrible work was spoken of, everybody said of
Dinah--"Poor woman! Poor soul!"
The women rejoiced in being able to pity her who had so long oppressed
them; never had Dinah seemed to stand higher in the eyes of the
The shriveled old man, more wrinkled, yellower, feebler than ever,
gave no sign; but Dinah sometimes detected in his eyes, as he looked
at her, a sort of icy venom which gave the lie to his increased
politeness and gentleness. She understood at last that this was not,
as she had supposed, a mere domestic squabble; but when she forced an
explanation with her "insect," as Monsieur Gravier called him, she
found the cold, hard impassibility of steel. She flew into a passion;
she reproached him for her life these eleven years past; she made--
intentionally--what women call a scene. But "little La Baudraye" sat
in an armchair with his eyes shut, and listened phlegmatically to the
storm. And, as usual, the dwarf got the better of his wife. Dinah saw
that she had done wrong in writing; she vowed never to write another
line, and she kept her vow.
Then was there desolation in the Sancerrois.
"Why did not Madame de la Baudraye compose any more verses?" was the
At this time Madame de la Baudraye had no enemies; every one rushed to
see her, not a week passed without fresh introductions. The wife of
the presiding judge, an august /bourgeoise/, /nee/ Popinot-Chandier,
desired her son, a youth of two-and-twenty, to pay his humble respects
to La Baudraye, and flattered herself that she might see her Gatien in
the good graces of this Superior Woman.--The words Superior Woman had
superseded the absurd nickname of /The Sappho of Saint-Satur/.--This
lady, who for nine years had led the opposition, was so delighted at
the good reception accorded to her son, that she became loud in her
praises of the Muse of Sancerre.
"After all," she exclaimed, in reply to a tirade from Madame de
Clagny, who hated her husband's supposed mistress, "she is the
handsomest and cleverest woman in the whole province!"
After scrambling through so many brambles and setting off on so many
different roads, after dreaming of love in splendor and scenting the
darkest dramas, thinking such terrible joys would be cheaply purchased
so weary was she of her dreary existence, one day Dinah fell into the
pit she had sworn to avoid. Seeing Monsieur de Clagny always
sacrificing himself, and at last refusing a high appointment in Paris,
where his family wanted to see him, she said to herself, "He loves
me!" She vanquished her repulsion, and seemed willing to reward so
It was to this impulse of generosity on her part that a coalition was
due, formed in Sancerre to secure the return of Monsieur de Clagny at
the next elections. Madame de la Baudraye had dreamed of going to
Paris in the wake of the new deputy.
But, in spite of the most solemn promises, the hundred and fifty votes
to be recorded in favor of this adorer of the lovely Dinah--who hoped
to see this defender of the widow and the orphan wearing the gown of
the Keeper of the Seals--figured as an imposing minority of fifty
votes. The jealousy of the President de Boirouge, and Monsieur
Gravier's hatred, for he believed in the candidate's supremacy in
Dinah's heart, had been worked upon by a young Sous-prefet; and for
this worthy deed the allies got the young man made a prefet elsewhere.
"I shall never cease to regret," said he, as he quitted Sancerre,
"that I did not succeed in pleasing Madame de la Baudraye; that would
have made my triumph complete!"
The household that was thus racked by domestic troubles was calm on
the surface; here were two ill-assorted but resigned beings, and the
indescribable propriety, the lie that society insists on, and which to
Dinah was an unendurable yoke. Why did she long to throw off the mask
she had worn for twelve years? Whence this weariness which, every day,
increased her hope of finding herself a widow?
The reader who has noted all the phases of her existence will have
understood the various illusions by which Dinah, like many another
woman, had been deceived. After an attempt to master Monsieur de la
Baudraye, she had indulged the hope of becoming a mother. Between
those miserable disputes over household matters and the melancholy
conviction as to her fate, quite a long time had elapsed. Then, when
she had looked for consolation, the consoler, Monsieur de Chargeboeuf
had left her. Thus, the overwhelming temptation which commonly causes
women to sin had hitherto been absent. For if there are, after all,
some women who make straight for unfaithfulness, are there not many
more who cling to hope, and do not fall till they have wandered long
in a labyrinth of secret woes?
Such was Dinah. She had so little impulse to fail in her duty, that
she did not care enough for Monsieur de Clagny to forgive him his
Then the move to the Chateau d'Anzy, the rearrangement of her
collected treasures and curiosities, which derived added value from
the splendid setting which Philibert de Lorme seemed to have planned
on purpose for this museum, occupied her for several months, giving
her leisure to meditate one of those decisive steps that startle the
public, ignorant of the motives which, however, it sometimes discovers
by dint of gossip and suppositions.
Madame de la Baudraye had been greatly struck by the reputation of
Lousteau, who was regarded as a lady's man of the first water in
consequence of his intimacies among actresses; she was anxious to know
him; she read his books, and was fired with enthusiasm, less perhaps
for his talents than for his successes with women; and to attract him
to the country, she started the notion that it was obligatory on
Sancerre to return one of its great men at the elections. She made
Gatien Boirouge write to the great physician Bianchon, whom he claimed
as a cousin through the Popinots. Then she persuaded an old friend of
the departed Madame Lousteau to stir up the journalist's ambitions by
letting him know that certain persons in Sancerre were firmly bent on
electing a deputy from among the distinguished men in Paris.
Tired of her commonplace neighbors, Madame de la Baudraye would thus
at last meet really illustrious men, and might give her fall the
lustre of fame.
Neither Lousteau nor Bianchon replied; they were waiting perhaps till
the holidays. Bianchon, who had won his professor's chair the year
before after a brilliant contest, could not leave his lectures.
In the month of September, when the vintage was at its height, the two
Parisians arrived in their native province, and found it absorbed in
the unremitting toil of the wine-crop of 1836; there could therefore
be no public demonstration in their favor. "We have fallen flat," said
Lousteau to his companion, in the slang of the stage.
In 1836, Lousteau, worn by sixteen years of struggle in the Capital,
and aged quite as much by pleasure as by penury, hard work, and
disappointments, looked eight-and-forty, though he was no more than
thirty-seven. He was already bald, and had assumed a Byronic air in
harmony with his early decay and the lines furrowed in his face by
over-indulgence in champagne. He ascribed these signs-manual of
dissipation to the severities of a literary life, declaring that the
Press was murderous; and he gave it to be understood that it consumed
superior talents, so as to lend a grace to his exhaustion. In his
native town he thought proper to exaggerate his affected contempt of
life and his spurious misanthropy. Still, his eyes could flash with
fire like a volcano supposed to be extinct, and he endeavored, by
dressing fashionably, to make up for the lack of youth that might
strike a woman's eye.
Horace Bianchon, who wore the ribbon of the Legion of Honor, was fat
and burly, as beseems a fashionable physician, with a patriarchal air,
his hair thick and long, a prominent brow, the frame of a hard worker,
and the calm expression of a philosopher. This somewhat prosaic
personality set off his more frivolous companion to advantage.
The two great men remained unrecognized during a whole morning at the
inn where they had put up, and it was only by chance that Monsieur de
Clagny heard of their arrival. Madame de la Baudraye, in despair at
this, despatched Gatien Boirouge, who had no vineyards, to beg the two
gentlemen to spend a few days at the Chateau d'Anzy. For the last year
Dinah had played the chatelaine, and spent the winter only at La
Baudraye. Monsieur Gravier, the Public Prosecutor, the Presiding
Judge, and Gatien Boirouge combined to give a banquet to the great
men, to meet the literary personages of the town.
On hearing that the beautiful Madame de la Baudraye was Jan Diaz, the
Parisians went to spend three days at Anzy, fetched in a sort of
wagonette driven by Gatien himself. The young man, under a genuine
illusion, spoke of Madame de la Baudraye not only as the handsomest
woman in those parts, a woman so superior that she might give George
Sand a qualm, but as a woman who would produce a great sensation in
Paris. Hence the extreme though suppressed astonishment of Doctor
Bianchon and the waggish journalist when they beheld, on the garden
steps of Anzy, a lady dressed in thin black cashmere with a deep
tucker, in effect like a riding-habit cut short, for they quite
understood the pretentiousness of such extreme simplicity. Dinah also
wore a black velvet cap, like that in the portrait of Raphael, and
below it her hair fell in thick curls. This attire showed off a rather
pretty figure, fine eyes, and handsome eyelids somewhat faded by the
weariful life that has been described. In Le Berry the singularity of
this /artistic/ costume was a cloak for the romantic affectations of
the Superior Woman.
On seeing the affectations of their too amiable hostess--which were,
indeed, affectations of soul and mind--the friends glanced at each
other, and put on a deeply serious expression to listen to Madame de
la Baudraye, who made them a set speech of thanks for coming to cheer
the monotony of her days. Dinah walked her guests round and round the
lawn, ornamented with large vases of flowers, which lay in front of
the Chateau d'Anzy.
"How is it," said Lousteau, the practical joker, "that so handsome a
woman as you, and apparently so superior, should have remained buried
in the country? What do you do to make life endurable?"
"Ah! that is the crux," said the lady. "It is unendurable. Utter
despair or dull resignation--there is no third alternative; that is
the arid soil in which our existence is rooted, and on which a
thousand stagnant ideas fall; they cannot fertilize the ground, but
they supply food for the etiolated flowers of our desert souls. Never
believe in indifference! Indifference is either despair or
resignation. Then each woman takes up the pursuit which, according to
her character, seems to promise some amusement. Some rush into jam-
making and washing, household management, the rural joys of the
vintage or the harvest, bottling fruit, embroidering handkerchiefs,
the cares of motherhood, the intrigues of a country town. Others
torment a much-enduring piano, which, at the end of seven years,
sounds like an old kettle, and ends its asthmatic life at the Chateau
d'Anzy. Some pious dames talk over the different brands of the Word of
God--the Abbe Fritaud as compared with the Abbe Guinard. They play
cards in the evening, dance with the same partners for twelve years
running, in the same rooms, at the same dates. This delightful life is
varied by solemn walks on the Mall, visits of politeness among the
women, who ask each other where they bought their gowns.
"Conversation is bounded on the south by remarks on the intrigues
lying hidden under the stagnant water of provincial life, on the north
by proposed marriages, on the west by jealousies, and on the east by
"And so," she went on, striking an attitude, "you see a woman wrinkled
at nine-and-twenty, ten years before the time fixed by the rules of
Doctor Bianchon, a woman whose skin is ruined at an early age, who
turns as yellow as a quince when she is yellow at all--we have seen
some turn green. When we have reached that point, we try to justify
our normal condition; then we turn and rend the terrible passion of
Paris with teeth as sharp as rat's teeth. We have Puritan women here,
sour enough to tear the laces of Parisian finery, and eat out all the
poetry of your Parisian beauties, who undermine the happiness of
others while they cry up their walnuts and rancid bacon, glorify this
squalid mouse-hole, and the dingy color and conventual small of our
delightful life at Sancerre."
"I admire such courage, madame," said Bianchon. "When we have to
endure such misfortunes, it is well to have the wit to make a virtue
Amazed at the brilliant move by which Dinah thus placed provincial
life at the mercy of her guests, in anticipation of their sarcasms,
Gatien Boirouge nudged Lousteau's elbow, with a glance and a smile,
"Well! did I say too much?"
"But, madame," said Lousteau, "you are proving that we are still in
Paris. I shall steal this gem of description; it will be worth ten
thousand francs to me in an article."
"Oh, monsieur," she retorted, "never trust provincial women."
"And why not?" said Lousteau.
Madame de la Baudraye was wily enough--an innocent form of cunning, to
be sure--to show the two Parisians, one of whom she would choose to be
her conquerer, the snare into which he would fall, reflecting that she
would have the upper hand at the moment when he should cease to see
"When you first come," said she, "you laugh at us. Then when you have
forgotten the impression of Paris brilliancy, and see us in our own
sphere, you pay court to us, if only as a pastime. And you, who are
famous for your past passions, will be the object of attentions which
will flatter you. Then take care!" cried Dinah, with a coquettish
gesture, raising herself above provincial absurdities and Lousteau's
irony by her own sarcastic speech. "When a poor little country-bred
woman has an eccentric passion for some superior man, some Parisian
who has wandered into the provinces, it is to her something more than
a sentiment; she makes it her occupation and part of all her life.
There is nothing more dangerous than the attachment of such a woman;
she compares, she studies, she reflects, she dreams; and she will not
give up her dream, she thinks still of the man she loves when he has
ceased to think of her.
"Now one of the catastrophes that weigh most heavily on a woman in the
provinces is that abrupt termination of her passion which is so often
seen in England. In the country, a life under minute observation as
keen as an Indian's compels a woman either to keep on the rails or to
start aside like a steam engine wrecked by an obstacle. The strategies
of love, the coquetting which form half the composition of a Parisian
woman, are utterly unknown here."
"That is true," said Lousteau. "There is in a country-bred woman's
heart a store of surprises, as in some toys."
"Dear me!" Dinah went on, "a woman will have spoken to you three times
in the course of a winter, and without your knowing it, you will be
lodged in her heart. Then comes a picnic, an excursion, what not, and
all is said--or, if you prefer it, all is done! This conduct, which
seems odd to unobserving persons, is really very natural. A poet, such
as you are, or a philosopher, an observer, like Doctor Bianchon,
instead of vilifying the provincial woman and believing her depraved,
would be able to guess the wonderful unrevealed poetry, every chapter,
in short, of the sweet romance of which the last phrase falls to the
benefit of some happy sub-lieutenant or some provincial bigwig."
"The provincial women I have met in Paris," said Lousteau, "were, in
fact, rapid in their proceedings--"
"My word, they are strange," said the lady, giving a significant shrug
of her shoulders.
"They are like the playgoers who book for the second performance,
feeling sure that the piece will not fail," replied the journalist.
"And what is the cause of all these woes?" asked Bianchon.
"Paris is the monster that brings us grief," replied the Superior
Woman. "The evil is seven leagues round, and devastates the whole
land. Provincial life is not self-existent. It is only when a nation
is divided into fifty minor states that each can have a physiognomy of
its own, and then a woman reflects the glory of the sphere where she
reigns. This social phenomenon, I am told, may be seen in Italy,
Switzerland, and Germany; but in France, as in every country where
there is but one capital, a dead level of manners must necessarily
result from centralization."
"Then you would say that manners could only recover their
individuality and native distinction by the formation of a federation
of French states into one empire?" said Lousteau.
"That is hardly to be wished, for France would have to conquer too
many countries," said Bianchon.
"This misfortune is unknown in England," exclaimed Dinah. "London does
not exert such tyranny as that by which Paris oppresses France--for
which, indeed, French ingenuity will at last find a remedy; however,
it has a worse disease in its vile hypocrisy, which is a far greater
"The English aristocracy," said Lousteau, hastening to put a word in,
for he foresaw a Byronic paragraph, "has the advantage over ours of
assimilating every form of superiority; it lives in the midst of
magnificent parks; it is in London for no more than two months. It
lives in the country, flourishing there, and making it flourish."
"Yes," said Madame de la Baudraye, "London is the capital of trade and
speculation and the centre of government. The aristocracy hold a
'mote' there for sixty days only; it gives and takes the passwords of
the day, looks in on the legislative cookery, reviews the girls to
marry, the carriages to be sold, exchanges greetings, and is away
again; and is so far from amusing, that it cannot bear itself for more
than the few days known as 'the season.' "
"Hence," said Lousteau, hoping to stop this nimble tongue by an
epigram, "in Perfidious Albion, as the /Constitutionnel/ has it, you
may happen to meet a charming woman in any part of the kingdom."
"But charming /English/ women!" replied Madame de la Baudraye with a
smile. "Here is my mother, I will introduce you," said she, seeing
Madame Piedefer coming towards them.
Having introduced the two Paris lions to the ambitious skeleton that
called itself woman under the name of Madame Piedefer--a tall, lean
personage, with a red face, teeth that were doubtfully genuine, and
hair that was undoubtedly dyed, Dinah left her visitors to themselves
for a few minutes.
"Well," said Gatien to Lousteau, "what do you think of her?"
"I think that the clever woman of Sancerre is simply the greatest
chatterbox," replied the journalist.
"A woman who wants to see you deputy!" cried Gatien. "An angel!"
"Forgive me, I forgot you were in love with her," said Lousteau.
"Forgive the cynicism of an old scamp.--Ask Bianchon; I have no
illusions left. I see things as they are. The woman has evidently
dried up her mother like a partridge left to roast at too fierce a
Gatien de Boirouge contrived to let Madame de la Baudraye know what
the journalist had said of her in the course of the dinner, which was
copious, not to say splendid, and the lady took care not to talk too
much while it was proceeding. This lack of conversation betrayed
Gatien's indiscretion. Etienne tried to regain his footing, but all
Dinah's advances were directed to Bianchon.
However, half-way through the evening, the Baroness was gracious to
Lousteau again. Have you never observed what great meanness may be
committed for small ends? Thus the haughty Dinah, who would not
sacrifice herself for a fool, who in the depths of the country led
such a wretched life of struggles, of suppressed rebellion, of
unuttered poetry, who to get away from Lousteau had climbed the
highest and steepest peak of her scorn, and who would not have come
down if she had seen the sham Byron at her feet, suddenly stepped off
it as she recollected her album.
Madame de la Baudraye had caught the mania for autographs; she
possessed an oblong volume which deserved the name of album better
than most, as two-thirds of the pages were still blank. The Baronne de
Fontaine, who had kept it for three months, had with great difficulty
obtained a line from Rossini, six bars written by Meyerbeer, the four
lines that Victor Hugo writes in every album, a verse from Lamartine,
a few words from Beranger, /Calypso ne pouvait se consoler du depart
d'Ulysse/ (the first words of /Telemaque/) written by George Sand,
Scribe's famous lines on the Umbrella, a sentence from Charles Nodier,
an outline of distance by Jules Dupre, the signature of David
d'Angers, and three notes written by Hector Berlioz. Monsieur de
Clagny, during a visit to Paris, added a song by Lacenaire--a much
coveted autograph, two lines from Fieschi, and an extremely short note
from Napoleon, which were pasted on to pages of the album. Then
Monsieur Gravier, in the course of a tour, had persuaded Mademoiselle
Mars to write her name on this album, with Mademoiselles Georges,
Taglioni, and Grisi, and some distinguished actors, such as Frederick
Lemaitre, Monrose, Bouffe, Rubini, Lablache, Nourrit, and Arnal; for
he knew a set of old fellows brought up in the seraglio, as they
phrased it, who did him this favor.
This beginning of a collection was all the more precious to Dinah
because she was the only person for ten leagues round who owned an
album. Within the last two years, however, several young ladies had
acquired such books, in which they made their friends and
acquaintances write more or less absurd quotations or sentiments. You
who spend your lives in collecting autographs, simple and happy souls,
like Dutch tulip fanciers, you will excuse Dinah when, in her fear of
not keeping her guests more than two days, she begged Bianchon to
enrich the volume she handed to him with a few lines of his writing.
The doctor made Lousteau smile by showing him this sentence on the
"What makes the populace dangerous is that it has in its pocket an
absolution for every crime.
J. B. DE CLAGNY."
"We will second the man who is brave enough to plead in favor of the
Monarchy," Desplein's great pupil whispered to Lousteau, and he wrote
"The distinction between Napoleon and a water-carrier is evident
only to Society; Nature takes no account of it. Thus Democracy,
which resists inequality, constantly appeals to Nature.
"Ah!" cried Dinah, amazed, "you rich men take a gold piece out of your
purse as poor men bring out a farthing. . . . I do not know," she went
on, turning to Lousteau, "whether it is taking an unfair advantage of
a guest to hope for a few lines--"
"Nay, madame, you flatter me. Bianchon is a great man, but I am too
insignificant!--Twenty years hence my name will be more difficult to
identify than that of the Public Prosecutor whose axiom, written in
your album, will designate him as an obscurer Montesquieu. And I
should want at least twenty-four hours to improvise some sufficiently
bitter reflections, for I could only describe what I feel."
"I wish you needed a fortnight," said Madame de la Baudraye
graciously, as she handed him the book. "I should keep you here all
At five next morning all the party in the Chateau d'Anzy were astir,
little La Baudraye having arranged a day's sport for the Parisians--
less for their pleasure than to gratify his own conceit. He was
delighted to make them walk over the twelve hundred acres of waste
land that he was intending to reclaim, an undertaking that would cost
some hundred thousand francs, but which might yield an increase of
thirty to sixty thousand francs a year in the returns of the estate of
"Do you know why the Public Prosecutor has not come out with us?"
asked Gatien Boirouge of Monsieur Gravier.
"Why he told us that he was obliged to sit to-day; the minor cases are
before the Court," replied the other.
"And did you believe that?" cried Gatien. "Well, my papa said to me,
'Monsieur Lebas will not join you early, for Monsieur de Clagny has
begged him as his deputy to sit for him!' "
"Indeed!" said Gravier, changing countenance. "And Monsieur de la
Baudraye is gone to La Charite!"
"But why do you meddle in such matters?" said Bianchon to Gatien.
"Horace is right, said Lousteau. "I cannot imagine why you trouble
your heads so much about each other; you waste your time in
Horace Bianchon looked at Etienne Lousteau, as much as to say that
newspaper epigrams and the satire of the "funny column" were
incomprehensible at Sancerre.
On reaching a copse, Monsieur Gravier left the two great men and
Gatien, under the guidance of a keeper, to make their way through a
"Well, we must wait for Monsieur Gravier," said Bianchon, when they
had reached a clearing.
"You may be a great physician," said Gatien, "but you are ignorant of
provincial life. You mean to wait for Monsieur Gravier?--By this time
he is running like a hare, in spite of his little round stomach; he is
within twenty minutes of Anzy by now----" Gatien looked at his watch.
"Good! he will be just in time."
"At the chateau for breakfast," replied Gatien. "Do you suppose I
could rest easy if Madame de la Baudraye were alone with Monsieur de
Clagny? There are two of them now; they will keep an eye on each
other. Dinah will be well guarded."
"Ah, ha! Then Madame de la Baudraye has not yet made up her mind?"
"So mamma thinks. For my part, I am afraid that Monsieur de Clagny has
at last succeeded in bewitching Madame de la Baudraye. If he has been
able to show her that he had any chance of putting on the robes of the
Keeper of the Seals, he may have hidden his moleskin complexion, his
terrible eyes, his touzled mane, his voice like a hoarse crier's, his
bony figure, like that of a starveling poet, and have assumed all the
charms of Adonis. If Dinah sees Monsieur de Clagny as Attorney-
General, she may see him as a handsome youth. Eloquence has great
privileges.--Besides, Madame de la Baudraye is full of ambition. She
does not like Sancerre, and dreams of the glories of Paris."
"But what interest have you in all this?" said Lousteau. "If she is in
love with the Public Prosecutor!--Ah! you think she will not love him
for long, and you hope to succeed him."
"You who live in Paris," said Gatien, "meet as many different women as
there are days in the year. But at Sancerre, where there are not half
a dozen, and where, of those six, five set up for the most extravagant
virtue, when the handsomest of them all keeps you at an infinite
distance by looks as scornful as though she were of the blood royal, a
young man of two-and-twenty may surely be allowed to make a guess at
her secrets, since she must then treat him with some consideration."