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Women in the Life of Balzac by Juanita Helm Floyd

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Etext prepared by Dagny, dagnyj@hotmail.com
and John Bickers, jbickers@ihug.co.nz


By Juanita Helm Floyd



" . . . for no one knows the secret of my life,
and I do not wish to disclose it to any one."
/Lettres a l'Etrangere/, V. I, p. 418, July 19, 1837.


This text was originally published in 1921 by Henry Holt and


In presenting this study of Balzac's intimate relations with various
women, the author regrets her inability, owing to war conditions, to
consult a few books which are out of print and certain documents which
have not appeared at all in print, notably the collection of the late
Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul.

The author gladly takes this opportunity of acknowledging her deep
gratitude to various scholars, and wishes to express, even if
inadequately, her appreciation of their inspiring contact; especially
to Professor Chester Murray and Professor J. Warshaw for first
interesting her in the great possibilities of a study of Balzac. To
Professor Henry Alfred Todd she is grateful for his sympathetic
scholarship, valuable suggestions as to matter and style, and for his
careful revision of the manuscript; to Professor Gustave Lanson, for
his erudition and versatile mind, which have had a great influence; to
Professor F. M. Warren, for reading a part of the text and for many
general ideas; to Professor Fernand Baldensperger, for reading the
text and for encouragement; to Professor Gilbert Chinard, Professor
Earle B. Babcock and Professor LeBraz for re-reading the text and for
valuable suggestions; and to Professor John L. Gerig for his
sympathetic interest, broad information, and inspiring encouragement.

To still another would she express her thanks. The Princess Radziwill
has taken a great interest in this work, which deals so minutely with
the life history of her aunt, and she has been most gracious in giving
the author much information not to be found in books. She has made
many valuable suggestions, read the entire manuscript, and approved of
its presentation of the facts involved.

Evansville, Indiana.


A quantity of books have been written about Balzac, some of which are
very instructive, while others are nothing but compilations of gossip
which give a totally wrong impression of the life, works and
personality of the great French novelist. Having the honor of being
the niece of his wife, the wonderful /Etrangere/, whom he married
after seventeen years of an affection which contained episodes far
more romantic than any of those which he has described in his many
books, and having been brought up in the little house of the rue
Fortunee, afterwards the rue Balzac, where they lived during their
short married life, I can perhaps better appreciate than most people
the value of these different books, none of which gives us an exact
appreciation of the man or of the difficulties through which he had to
struggle before he won at last the fame he deserved. And the
conclusion to which I came, after having read them most attentively
and conscientiously, was that it is often a great misfortune to
possess that divine spark of genius which now and then touches the
brow of a few human creatures and marks them for eternity with its
fiery seal. Had Balzac been one of those everyday writers whose names,
after having been for a brief space of time on everyone's lips, are
later on almost immediately forgotten, he would not have been
subjected to the calumnies which embittered so much of his declining
days, and which even after he was no longer in this world continued
their subterranean and disgusting work, trying to sully not only
Balzac's own colossal personality, but also that of the devoted wife,
whom he had cherished for such a long number of years, who had all
through their course shared his joys and his sorrows, and who, after
he died, had spent the rest of her own life absorbed in the
remembrance of her love for him, a love which was stronger than death

Having spent all my childhood and youth under the protection and the
roof of Madame de Balzac, it was quite natural that every time I saw
another inaccuracy or falsehood concerning her or her great husband
find its way into the press, I should be deeply affected. At last I
began to look with suspicion at all the books dealing with Balzac or
with his works, and when Miss Floyd asked me to look over her
manuscript, it was with a certain amount of distrust and prejudice
that I set myself to the task. It seemed to me impossible that a
foreigner could write anything worth reading about Balzac, or
understand his psychology. What was therefore my surprise when I
discovered in this most remarkable volume the best description that
has ever been given to us of this particular phase of Balzac's life
which hitherto has hardly been touched upon by his numerous
biographers, his friendships with the many distinguished women who at
one time or another played a part in his busy existence, a description
which not only confirmed down to the smallest details all that my aunt
had related to me about her distinguished husband, but which also gave
an appreciation of the latter's character that entirely agreed with
what I had heard about its peculiarities from the few people who had
known him well, Theophile Gautier among others, who were still alive
when I became old enough to be intensely interested in their different
judgments about my uncle. After such a length of years it seemed
almost uncanny to find a person who through sheer intuition and hard
study could have reconstituted with this unerring accuracy the figure
of one who had remained a riddle in certain things even to his best
friends, and who in the pages of this extraordinary book suddenly
appeared before my astonished eyes with all the splendor of that
genius of his which as years go by, becomes more and more admired and

One must be a scholar to understand Balzac; his style and manner of
writing is often so heavy and so difficult to follow, reminding one
more of that of a professor than of a novelist. And indeed he would
have been very angry to be considered only as a novelist, he who
aspired and believed himself to be, as he expressed it one day in the
course of a conversation with Madame Hanska, before she became his
wife, "a great painter of humanity," in which appreciation of his work
he was not mistaken, because some of the characters he evoked out of
his wonderful brain remind one of those pictures of Rembrandt where
every stroke of the master's brush reveals and brings into evidence
some particular trait or feature, which until he had discovered it,
and brought it to notice, no one had seen or remarked on the human
faces which he reproduced upon the canvas. Michelet, who once called
St. Simon the "Rembrandt of literature," could very well have applied
the same remark to Balzac, whose heroes will live as long as men and
women exist, for whom these other men and women whom he described,
will relive because he did not conjure their different characters out
of his imagination only, but condensed all his observations into the
creation of types which are so entirely human and real that we shall
continually meet with them so long as the world lasts.

One of Balzac's peculiarities consisted in perpetually studying
humanity, which study explains the almost unerring accuracy of his
judgments and of the descriptions which he gives us of things and
facts as well as of human beings. In his impulsiveness, he frequented
all kinds of places, saw all kinds of people, and tried to apply the
dissecting knife of his spirit of observation to every heart and every
conscience. He set himself especially to discover and fathom the
mystery of the "eternal feminine" about which he always thought, and
it was partly due to this eager quest for knowledge of women's souls
that he allowed himself to become entangled in love affairs and love
intrigues which sometimes came to a sad end, and that he spent his
time in perpetual search of feminine friendships, which were later on
to brighten, or to mar his life.

Miss Floyd in the curious volume which she has written has caught in a
surprising manner this particular feature in Balzac's complex
character. She has applied herself to study not only the man such as
he was, with all his qualities, genius and undoubted mistakes, but
such as he appeared to be in the eyes of the different women whom he
had loved or admired, and at whose hands he had sought encouragement
and sympathy amid the cruel disappointments and difficulties of an
existence from which black care was never banished and never absent.
With quite wonderful tact, and a lightness of touch one can not
sufficiently admire, she has made the necessary distinctions which
separated friendship from love in the many romantic attachments which
played such an important part in Balzac's life, and she has in
consequence presented to us simultaneously the writer, whose name will
remain an immortal one, and the man whose memory was treasured, long
after he had himself disappeared, by so many who, though they had
perhaps never understood him entirely, yet had realized that in the
marks of affection and attachment which he had given to them, he had
laid at their feet something which was infinitely precious, infinitely
real, something which could never be forgotten.

Her book will remain a most valuable, I was going to say the most
valuable, contribution to the history of Balzac, and those for whom he
was something more than a great writer and scholar, can never feel
sufficiently grateful to her for having given it to the world, and
helped to dissipate, thanks to its wonderful arguments, so many false
legends and wild stories which were believed until now, and indeed are
still believed by an ignorant crowd of so-called admirers of his, who,
nine times out of ten, are only detractors of his colossal genius, and
remarkable, though perhaps sometimes too exuberant, individuality.

At the same time, Miss Floyd, in the lines which she devotes to my
aunt and to the long attachment that had united the latter and Balzac,
has in many points re-established the truth in regard to the character
of a woman who in many instances has been cruelly calumniated and
slandered, in others absolutely misunderstood, to whom Balzac once
wrote that she was "one of those great minds, which solitude had
preserved from the petty meannesses of the world," words which
describe her better than volumes could have done. She had truly led a
silent, solitary, lonely life that had known but one love, the man
whom she was to marry after so many vicissitudes, and in spite of so
many impediments, and but one tenderness, her daughter, a daughter who
unfortunately was entirely her inferior, and in whom she could never
find consolation or comfort, who could neither share her joys, nor
soothe her sorrows.

In her convictions, Madame de Balzac was a curious mixture of atheism
and profound faith in a Divinity before whom mankind was accountable
for all its good or bad deeds. All through her long life she had been
under the influence of her father, one of the remarkable men of his
generation, who had enjoyed the friendship of most of the great French
writers of the period immediately preceding the Revolution, including
Voltaire; he had brought her up in an atmosphere of the eighteenth
century with its touch of skepticism, and the Encyclopedia had always
remained for her a kind of gospel, in spite of the fact that she had
been reared in one of the most haughty, aristocratic circles in
Europe, in a country where the very mention of the words /liberty/ and
/freedom of opinion/ was tabooed, and that her mother had been one of
those devout Roman Catholics who think it necessary to consult their
confessor, even in regard to the most trivial details of their daily
existence. Placed as she had been between her parents' incredulity and
bigotry, my aunt had formed opinions of her own, of which a profound
tolerance and a deep respect for the beliefs and convictions of others
was the principal feature. She never condemned even when she did not
approve, and she hated hypocrisy, no matter in what shape or aspect it
presented itself before her eyes. This explains the courage she
displayed when against the advice and the wishes of her family, she
persisted in marrying Balzac, though it hardly helps us to understand
from what we know of the latter's character, how he came to fall so
deeply in love with a woman who in almost everything thought so
differently from what he thought, especially in regard to those two
subjects which absorbed and engrossed him until the last days of his
life, religion and politics.

That he loved her, and that she loved him, in spite of these
differences in their points of view, is to their mutual honor, but it
adds to the mystery and to the enigmatical side of a romance that has
hardly been equalled in modern times; and it accounts for the fact
that some friction occurred between them later on, when my aunt found
herself trying to restrain certain exuberances on the part of her
husband regarding her own high lineage, about which she never thought
much herself, though she had always tried to live up to the duties
which it imposed upon her. I am mentioning this circumstance to
explain certain exaggerations which we constantly find in Balzac's
letters in regard to his marriage. His imagination was extremely
vivid, and its fertility sometimes carried him far away into regions
where it was nearly impossible to follow him, and where he really came
to believe quite sincerely in things which had never existed. For
instance in his correspondence with his mother and friends, he is
always speaking of the necessity for Madame Hanska to obtain the
permission of the Czar to marry him. This is absolutely untrue. My
aunt did not require in the very least the consent of the Emperor to
become Madame de Balzac. The difficulties connected with her marriage
consisted in the fact that having been left sole heiress of her first
husband's immense wealth, she did not think herself justified in
keeping it after she had contracted another union, and with a
foreigner. She therefore transferred her whole fortune to her
daughter, reserving for herself only an annuity which was by no means
considerable, and it was this arrangement that had to be sanctioned,
not by the sovereign who had nothing to do with it, but by the Supreme
Court of Russia, which at that time was located in St. Petersburg.
Balzac, however, wishing to impress his French relatives with the
grandeur of the marriage he was about to make, imagined this tale of
the Czar's opposition, in order to add to his own importance and to
that of his future wife, an invention which revolted my aunt so much
that in that part of her husband's correspondence which was published
by her a year or two before her death, she carefully suppressed all
the passages which contained this assertion which had so thoroughly
annoyed as well as angered her. I have sometimes wondered what she
would have said had she seen appear in print the curious letter which
Balzac wrote immediately after their wedding to Dr. Nacquart in which
he described with such pomp the different high qualities, merits, and
last but not least, brilliant positions occupied by his wife's
relatives, beginning with Queen Marie Leszczinska, the consort of
Louis XV, and ending with the husband of my father's stepdaughter,
Count Orloff, whom the widest stretch of imagination could not have
connected with my aunt.

I cannot refrain from mentioning here an anecdote which is very
typical of Balzac. He was about to return to Paris from Russia after
his marriage. My aunt coming into his room one morning found him
absorbed in writing a letter. Asking him for whom it was intended she
was petrified with astonishment when he replied that it was for the
Duke de Bordeaux, as the Comte de Chambord was still called at the
time, to present his respects to him upon his entrance into his
family! My aunt at first could not understand what it was he meant,
and when at last she had grasped the fact that it was in virtue of her
distant, very distant, relationship with Queen Marie Leszczinska that
he claimed the privilege of cousinship with the then Head of the Royal
House of France, it was with the greatest difficulty and with any
amount of trouble that she prevailed upon him at last to give up this
remarkable idea, and to be content with the knowledge that some
Rzewuski blood flowed in the veins of the last remaining member of the
elder line of the Bourbons, without intruding upon the privacy of the
Comte de Chambord, who probably would have been somewhat surprised to
receive this extraordinary communication from the great, but also
snobbish Balzac.

It was on account of this snobbishness, which had something childish
about it, that he sometimes became involved in discussions, not only
with my aunt, but also with several of his friends, Victor Hugo among
others, who could not bring themselves to forgive him for thinking
more of the great and illustrious families with which his marriage had
connected him than of his own genius and marvelous talents. Hugo most
unjustly accused my aunt of encouraging this "aberration," as he
called it, of Balzac's mind; in which judgment of her he was vastly
mistaken, because she was the person who suffered the most through it,
and by it. But this unwarranted suspicion made him antagonistic to
her, and probably inspired the famous description he left us of
Balzac's last hours in the little volume called /Choses vues/. This
was partly the cause why people afterwards said that my aunt's married
life with the great writer had been far from happy, and had resolved
itself into a great disappointment for both of them. The reality was
very different, because during the few months they lived together,
they had known and enjoyed complete and absolute happiness, and Madame
de Balzac's heart was forever broken when she closed with pious hands
the eyes of the man who had occupied such an immense place in her
heart as well as in her life. Many years later, talking with me about
those last sad hours when she watched with such tender devotion by his
bedside, she told me with accents that are still ringing in my ears
with their wail of agony: I lived through a hell of suffering on that

Nevertheless she bore up bravely under the load of the unmerited
misfortunes which had fallen upon her. Her first care, after she had
become for the second time a widow, was to pay Balzac's debts, which
she proceeded to do with the thoroughness she always brought to bear
in everything she undertook. She remained upon the most affectionate
terms with his family, and it was due to her that Balzac's mother was
able to spend her last years in comfort. These facts speak for
themselves, and, to my mind at least, dispose better than volumes on
the subject could do of the conscious or unconscious calumny cast by
Victor Hugo on my aunt's memory. It must here be explained that the
real reason why he did not see her, when he called for the last time
on his dying friend, and concluded so hastily that she preferred
remaining in her own apartments than at her husband's side, consisted
in the fact that she did not like the poet, who she instinctively
felt, also did not care for her, so she preferred not to encounter a
man whom she knew as antagonistic to herself at an hour when she was
about to undergo the greatest trial of her life, and she retired to
her room when he was announced. But Hugo, who had often reproached
Balzac for being vain, had in his own character a dose of vanity
sufficient to make him refuse to admit that there could exist in the
whole of the wide world a human being who would not have jumped at the
chance of seeing him, even under the most distressing of

I have said already that my aunt's opinions consisted of a curious
mixture of atheism and a profound belief in the Divinity. Her mind was
far too vigorous and too deep to accept without discussion the dogmas
of the Roman Catholic Church to which she belonged officially, and she
formed her own ideas as to religion and the part it ought to play in
human existence. She held the firm conviction that we must always try,
at least, to do what is right, regardless of the sorrow this might
entail upon us. In one of her letters to my mother, she says:

"You will know one day, my dear little sister, that what one cares
the most to read over again in the book of life are those
difficult pages of the past when, after a hard struggle, duty has
remained the master of the battle field. It has buried its dead,
and brushed aside all the reminders that were left of them, and
God in his infinite mercy allows flowers and grasses to grow again
on this bloody ground. Don't think that by these flowers, I mean
to say that one forgets. No, on the contrary, I am thinking of
remembrance, the remembrance of the victory that has been won
after so many sacrifices; I am thinking of all those voices of the
conscience which come to soothe us, and to tell us that our Father
in Heaven is satisfied with what we have done."

A person who had intimately known both Balzac and my aunt said one day
that they completed each other by the wide difference which existed in
their opinions in regard to the two important subjects of religion and
politics. The remark was profoundly true, because it was this very
difference which allowed them to bring into their judgments an
impartiality which we seldom meet with in our modern society. They
mutually respected and admired each other, and even when they were not
in perfect accord, or just because they were not in perfect accord as
to this or that thing, they nevertheless tried, thanks to the respect
which they entertained for each other, to look upon mankind, its
actions, follies and mistakes, with kindness and indulgence. The
curious thing in regard to their situation was that my aunt who had
been born and reared in one of the most select and prejudiced of
aristocratic circles, never knew what prejudice was, and remained
until the last day of her life a staunch liberal, who could never
bring herself to ostracize her neighbor, because he happened to think
or to believe otherwise than she did herself. She was perfectly
indifferent to advantages of birth, fortune or high rank, and she was
rather inclined to criticize than to admire the particular society and
world amidst which she moved. Balzac on the contrary, though a
/bourgeois/ by origin, cared only for those high spheres for which he
had always longed since his early youth, and of which a sudden freak
of fortune so unexpectedly had opened him the doors. In that sense he
was the /parvenu/ his enemies have accused him of being, and he often
showed himself narrow minded, until at last his wife's influence made
him consider, without the disdain he had affected for them before,
people who were not of noble birth or of exalted rank. On the other
hand, Madame de Balzac, thanks to her husband's Catholic and
Legitimistic tendencies and sympathies, became less sarcastic than had
been the case when she had, perhaps more than she ought, noticed the
smallnesses and meannesses of the particular set of people who at that
period constituted the cream of European society. They both came to
acquire a wider view of the world in general, thanks to their
different ways of looking at it, and this of course turned to their
great mutual advantage.

I will not extend myself here on the help my aunt was to Balzac all
through the years which preceded their marriage, when there seemed no
possibility of the marriage ever taking place. She encouraged him in
his work, interested herself in all his actions, praised him for all
his efforts, tried to be for him the guide and the star to which he
could look in his moments of dark discouragement, as well as in his
hours of triumph. Without her affection to console him, he would most
probably have broken down under the load of immense difficulties which
constantly burdened him, and he never would have been able to leave
behind him as a legacy to a world that had never property appreciated
or understood him, those volumes of the /Comedie humaine/ which have
made his name immortal. Madame Hanska was his good genius all through
those long and dreadful years during which he struggled with such
indomitable courage against an adverse fate, and her devotion to him
certainly deserved the words which he wrote to her one day, "I love
you as I love God, as I love happiness!"

All this has taken me very far from Miss Floyd's book, though what I
have just written about my uncle and aunt completes in a certain sense
the details she has given us concerning the wonderful romance which
after seventeen years of arduous waiting, made Madame Hanska the wife
of one of the greatest literary glories of France. Her work is
magnificent and she has handled it superbly, and reconstituted two
remarkable figures who were beginning to be, not forgotten, which is
impossible, but not so much talked about by the general public, who a
few years ago, had shown itself so interested in their life history as
it was first disclosed to us in the famous /Lettres a l'Etrangere/,
published by the Vicomte Spoelberch de Lovenjoul. She has also cleared
some of the clouds which had been darkening the horizon in regard to
both Balzac and his wife, and restored to these two their proper
places in the history of French literature in the nineteenth century.
She has moreover shown us a hitherto unknown Balzac, and a still more
unknown /Etrangere/, and this labor of love, because it was that all
through, can only be viewed with feelings of the deepest gratitude by
the few members still left alive of Madame de Balzac's family, my
three brothers and myself. I feel very happy to be given this
opportunity of thanking Miss Floyd, in my brothers' name as well as in
my own, for the splendid work which she has done, and which I am quite
certain will ensure for her a foremost place among the historians of



The steady rise of Balzac's reputation during the last few decades has
been such that almost each year new studies have appeared about him.
While the women portrayed in the /Comedie humaine/ are often commented
upon, no recent work dealing in detail with the novelist's intimate
association with women and which might lead to identifying the
possible sources of his feminine characters in real life has been

The present study does not undertake to establish the origin of all
the characters found in the /Comedie humaine/, but is an attempt to
trace the life of the novelist on the side of his relations with
various women,--a story which is even more thrilling than those
presented in many of his novels,--in the hope that it will help
explain some of the interesting enigmas presented by his work. So far
as the writer could find the necessary evidence, many of the women in
Balzac's novels have been here identified with women he knew in the
course of his life; and while giving due weight to the suggestions of
various writers, and indicating some of the most striking
resemblances, she has tried to avoid a mere promiscuous identification
of characters.

In the case of many novelists such an investigation would not be worth
while, but Balzac's place in literature is so transcendent and his
life and writings are so closely and fascinatingly interblended, that
it is hoped that the following study, in which the writer has striven
to maintain correctness of detail, may not be unwelcome, and that it
will throw light on Balzac's complex character, and help his readers
better to understand and appreciate some of his most noted women
characters. It is believed that this study will show that the
influence of women on Balzac was much wider and his acquaintance with
them much broader than has previously been supposed.

Apropos of remarks made by Sainte-Beuve and Brunetiere regarding
Balzac's admission to the higher circles of society, Emile Faguet has
this to say:

"I would point out that the duchesses and viscountesses at the end
of the Restoration were known neither to Sainte-Beuve nor to
Balzac, the former only having begun to frequent aristocratic
drawing-rooms in 1840, and Balzac, in spite of his very short
/liaison/ with Madame de Castries, having become a regular
attendant only a few months before that date. Sainte-Beuve himself
has told us that the Faubourg Saint-Germain /was closed to men of
letters before 1830/, and since it had to spend a few years
becoming accustomed to their admittance, Sainte-Beuve's testimony
is not at all valid as regards the great ladies of the
Restoration, even at the end."

Perhaps it is due partly to the above statement and partly to the fact
that Balzac tried to give the impression that he led a sort of
monastic life, that it is generally believed the novelist never had
access to the aristocratic society of his time, and never had an
opportunity of observing the great ladies or of frequenting the
marvelous balls and receptions that fill so large a place in his
writings. Whether he made a success of such descriptions is not the
question here, but the following pages will at least furnish proof
that he not only had many social opportunities, but that his presence
was sought by many women belonging to high life and the nobility.

In presenting in the following pages a somewhat imposing list of
duchesses, countesses and women of varying degrees of nobility, it is
not intended to picture Balzac as a /preux chevalier/, for he was far
from being one. Even in the most refined of /salons/, he displayed his
Rabelaisian manners and costume, and remained the typical author of
the /Contes drolatiques/; but to maintain that he never knew women of
the upper class or never even entered their society, involves a
misapprehension of the facts. Neither would the present writer give
the impression that this was the only class of women he knew or
associated with, for he certainly was acquainted with many of the
/bourgeoisie/ and of the peasant class; but here it is difficult to
make out a case, since his letters to or about women of these classes
are rare, and literary men of his day have not given many details of
his association with them.

From Balzac's youth, his most intense longings were to be famous and
to be loved. At times it might almost be thought that the second
desire took precedence over the first, but it was not the ordinary
woman that this future /Napoleon litteraire/ was seeking. His desire
was to win the affection of some lady of high standing, and when urged
by his family to consider marriage with a certain rich widow of the
/bourgeoisie/, it can be imagined with what a sense of relief he wrote
his mother that the bird had flown. An abnormal longing to mingle with
the aristocracy remained with him throughout his life; and during his
stay at Wierzchownia, after having all but made the conquest of a very
rich lady belonging to one of the most noted families of Russia, he
flattered himself by exaggerating her greatness.

Not being crowned from the first with the success he desired, Balzac
needed encouragement in his work. For this he naturally turned to
women who would give him of their time and sympathy. In his early
years, he received this encouragement and assistance from his sister
Laure, from Madame de Berny, Madame d'Abrantes, Madame Carraud and
others, and in his later life he was similarly indebted to Madame
Hanska. They gave him ideas, corrected his style, conceived plots,
furnished him with historical background, and criticized his work in
general. Is it surprising then that, having received so much from
women, he should have accorded them so great a place in his writings
as well as in his personal life?

While Balzac did not, as is often stated, /create/ the "woman of
thirty," this characteristic type having already appeared in Madame de
Stael's /Delphine/, in Benjamin Constant's /Adolphe/, and in
Stendhal's /Le Rouge et le Noir/, he must be credited with having
magnified her charms and presented her advantages and superiority to a
much higher degree than had been done before. Women indeed play in
general an important role in his work, many of his novels bear their
names; about one-third of the stories of /La Comedie humaine/ are
dedicated to women; and while not quite so large a proportion of the
characters created are women, they are numbered among the most
important personages of his prolific fancy.

If we are to believe his own testimony, his popularity among women was
by no means limited to his Paris environment, for he writes: "Fame is
conveyed to me through the post office by means of letters, and I
daily receive three or four from women. They come from the depths of
Russia, of Germany, etc.; I have not had one from England. Then there
are many letters from young people. It has become fatiguing. . . ."

It was only a matter of justice that women should show their
appreciation thus, for Balzac rendered them a gracious service in
prolonging, by his enormous literary influence, the period of their
eligibility for being loved. This he successfully extended to thirty
years, even to forty years; with rare skill he portrayed the charm of
a declining beauty--as one might delight in the glory of a brilliant
autumn or of a setting sun. At the same time, and on the one hand, he
depicted the young girl of various types, and women of the working and
servant class. And since his own life is so reflected throughout his
work, it is of interest to become acquainted with the inner and
intimate side of his genius, which has left us some of the greatest
documents we possess concerning human nature.

Balzac knew many women, and to understand him fully one should study
his relations with them. If he has portrayed them well, it is because
he loved them tenderly, and was loved by many in return. These
feminine affections formed one of the consolations of his life; they
not only gave him courage but helped to soften the bitterness of his
trials and disappointments.

While an effort has been made in the following work to solve the
questions as to the identity of the /Sarah, Maria, Sofka, Constance-
Victoire, Louise, Caroline,/ and the /Helene/ of Balzac's dedications,
and to show the role each played, no attempt has here been made to
lift the tightly drawn veil which has so long enveloped one side of
Balzac's private life. Whoever wishes to do this may now consult the
recent publication of the late Vicomte de Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, or
the /Mariage de Balzac/ by the late Count Stanislas Rzewuski. It is
far more pleasant--even if the charges be untrue--to think as did the
late Miss K. P. Wormeley, that no supporting testimony has been
offered to prove anything detrimental to the great author's character.
Though doubtless much overdrawn, one prefers the delightful picture of
him traced by his old friend, George Sand.




In the delightful city of Tours, the childhood of Honore de Balzac was
spent in the midst of his family. This consisted of an original and
most congenial old father, a nervous, business-like mother, two
younger sisters, Laure and Laurentia, and a younger brother, Henri.
His maternal grandmother, Madame Sallambier, joined the family after
the death of her husband.

At about the age of eight, Honore was sent to a semi-military
/college/. Here, after six years of confinement, he lost his health,
not on account of any work assigned to him by his teachers, for he was
regarded as being far from a brilliant student, but because of the
abnormal amount of reading which he did on the outside. When he was
brought home for recuperation, his old grandmother alternately
irritated him with her "nervous attacks" and delighted him with her
numerous ways of showing her affection. At this time he wandered about
in the fresh air of the province of Touraine, and learned to love its
beautiful scenery, which he has immortalized in various novels.

After he had spent a year of this rustic life, his family moved to
Paris in the fall of 1814. There he continued his studies with M.
Lepitre, whose Royalist principles doubtless influenced him. He
attended lectures at the Sorbonne also, strolling meanwhile about the
Latin Quarter, and in 1816 was placed in the law office of M. de
Guillonnet-Merville, a friend of the family, and an ardent Royalist.
After eighteen months in this office, he spent more than a year in the
office of a notary, M. Passez, who was also a family friend.

It was probably during this period of residence in Paris that he first
met Madame de Berny, she who was later to wield so great an influence
over him and who held first place in his heart until their separation
in 1832. Probably at this same period, too, he met Zulma Tourangin, a
schoolmate of his sister Laure, and who, as Madame Carraud, was to
become his life-long friend. Of all the friendships that Balzac was
destined to form with women, this with Madame Carraud was one of the
purest, longest and most beautiful.

Having attained his majority and finished his legal studies, Balzac
was requested by his father to enter the office of M. Passez and
become a business man, but the life was so distasteful to him that he
objected and asked permission to spend his time as best he might in
developing his literary ability, a request which, in spite of the
opposition of the family, was finally granted for a term of two years.
He was accordingly allowed to establish himself in a small attic at
No. 9 rue Lesdiguieres, while his family moved to Villeparisis.

His father's weakness in thus giving in to his son was most irritating
to Balzac's mother, who was endowed with the business faculties so
frequently met with among French women. She was convinced that a
little experience would soon cause her son to change his mind. But he,
on his part, ignored his hardships. He began to dream of a life of
fame. In his garret, too, he began to develop that longing for luxury
which was to increase with the years, and which was to cost him so
much. At this time, he took frequent walks through the cemetery of
Pere-Lachaise around the graves of Moliere, La Fontaine and Racine. He
would occasionally visit a friend with whom he could converse, but he
usually preferred a sympathetic listener, to whom he could pour out
his plans and his innermost longings. Otherwise his life was as
solitary as it was cloistered. He confined himself to his room for
days at a time, working fiercely at the manuscript of the play,
/Cromwell/, which he felt to be a masterpiece.

This work he finished and took to his home for approval in April,
1820. What must have been his disappointment when, certain of success,
he not only found his play disapproved but was advised to devote his
time and talents to anything except literature! But his courage was
not daunted thus. Remarking that /tragedies/ appeared not to be in his
line, he was ready to return to his garret to attempt another kind of
literature, and would have done so, had not his mother, seeing that he
would certainly injure his health, interposed; and although only
fifteen months of the allotted two years had expired, insisted that he
remain at home, and later sent him to Touraine for a much needed rest.

During his stay at home, he was to suffer another disappointment. His
sister Laure, to whom he had confided all his secrets and longings,
was married to M. Surville in May, 1830, and moved to Bayeux. He was
thus deprived of her congenial companionship. The separation is
fortunate for posterity, however, since the letters he wrote to her
reveal much of the family life, both pleasant and otherwise, together
with a great deal concerning his own desires and struggles. Thus early
in life, he realized that his was a very "original" family, and
regretted not being able to put the whole group into novels. His
correspondence gives a very good description of their various
eccentricities, and he has later immortalized some of these by
portraying them in certain of his characters.

Continually worried by his irritable mother, feeling himself forced to
make money by writing lest he be compelled to enter a lawyer's office,
he produced in five years, with different collaborators, a vast number
of works written under various pseudonyms. He tutored his younger and
much petted brother Henri, but found his pleasures outside of the
family circle. It was arranged that he should give lessons to one of
the sons of M. and Mme. de Berny, and thus he had an opportunity of
seeing much of Madame de Berny, whose patience under suffering and
sympathetic nature deeply impressed him. On her side, she took an
interest in him and devoted much time in helping and indeed "creating"
him. Unhappy in her married life, she must have found the
companionship of Balzac most interesting, and realizing that the young
man had a great future, she acted as a severe critic in correcting his
manuscripts, and cheered him in his hours of depression. Her mother
having been one of the Queen's ladies in waiting, the Royalist
principles previously instilled in the mind of the young author were
reinforced by this charming woman, as well as by her mother, who could
entertain him indefinitely with her exciting stories of imprisonment
and hairbreadth escapes.

After a few years of life at Villeparisis, Balzac removed to Paris. He
had met an old friend, M. d'Assonvillez, whom he told of the conflict
between his family and himself over his occupation, and this gentleman
advised him to seek a business that would make him independent, even
offering to provide the necessary funds. Balzac took the advice, and
with visions of becoming extremely rich, launched into a publishing
career, proposing to bring out one-volume editions of various authors'
complete works, commencing with La Fontaine and Moliere. As he did not
have the necessary capital for advertising, however, his venture
resulted in a loss. His friend then persuaded him to invest in a
printing-press, and in August, 1826, he made another beginning. He did
not lack courage; but though he later manipulated such wonderful
business schemes in his novels he proved to be utterly incapable
himself in practical life.

A second time he was doomed to failure, but with his indomitable will
he resolved that inasmuch as he had met with such financial disasters
through the press, he would recover his fortunes in the same way, and
set himself to writing with even greater determination than ever. Now
it was that Madame de Berny showed her true devotion by coming to his
aid in his financial troubles as well as in his literary ones; she
loaned him 45,000 francs, saw to it that the recently purchased type-
foundry became the property of her family, and, with the help of
Madame Surville, persuaded Madame de Balzac to save her son from the
disgrace of bankruptcy by lending him 37,000 francs. Thus, after less
than two years of experience, he found himself burdened with a debt
which like a black cloud was to hang over him during his entire life.
Other friends also came to his rescue. But if Balzac did not have
business capacity, his experience in dealing with the financial world,
of which he had become a victim, furnished him with material of which
he made abundant use later in his works.

In September, 1828, after this business was temporarily out of the
way, Balzac went to Brittany to spend a few weeks with some old family
friends, the Pommereuls. There he roved over the beautiful country and
collected material for /Les Chouans/, the first novel which he signed
with his own name. Notwithstanding the fact that before he had reached
his thirtieth year, he was staggering under a debt amounting to about
100,000 francs, Balzac with his never-failing hope in the future and
his ever-increasing belief in his destiny, cast aside his depression,
and fought continually to attain the greatness which was never fully
recognized until long after his death.

He had entered on what was indeed a period of struggle. Establishing
himself in Paris in the rue de Tournon, and later in the rue de
Cassini, he battled with poverty, lacking both food and clothing; but
his courage never wavered. Drinking black coffee to keep himself
awake, he wrote eighteen hours a day, and when exhausted would run
away to the country to relax and visit with his friends. The Baron de
Pommereul was only one of a rather numerous group. He frequently
visited Madame Carraud at her hospitable home at Frapesle, and M. de
Margonne in his chateau at Sache on the Indre. Often he would spend
many weeks at a time with the latter, where he made himself perfectly
at home, was treated as one of the family, and worked or rested just
as he wished. Leading the hermit's life by preference, he needed the
quietude of the country atmosphere in order to recover from the great
strain to which he subjected himself when the fit of authorship was
upon him. Thus it happened that several of his works were written in
the homes of various friends.

/Les Chouans/ and other novels met with success. Balzac's reputation
now gradually rose, so that by 1831 he was attracting much favorable
attention. Among the younger literary set who sought his acquaintance
was George Sand with whom he formed a true friendship which lasted
throughout his life. Now, too, though he was not betrayed into
neglecting his work for society, he accepted invitations, won by his
growing reputation, to some of the most noted salons of the day, among
them the Empire salon of Madame Sophie Gay, where he met many of the
literary and artistic people of his time, including Delphine, the
daughter of Madame Gay, who, as Madame de Girardin, was to become one
of his intimate friends. Here he met Madame Hamelin and the Duchess
d'Abrantes, who was destined to play an important role in his life,
and also the tender and impassioned poetess, Madame Desbordes-Valmore.
The beautiful Madame Recamier invited him to her salon, too, and had
him read to her guests, and he was also a frequent visitor in the
salon of the Russian Princess Bagration, where he was fond of telling
stories. Besides the salons, he was invited to numerous houses, dining
particularly often with the Baron de Trumilly, who took a great
interest in his work.

As his fame increased, letters arrived from various part of Europe.
Some of these were anonymous, and many were from women. Several of the
latter were answered, and early in 1832 Balzac learned that one of his
unknown correspondents was the beautiful Marquise de Castries (later
the Duchess de Castries). Throwing aside her incognito, she invited
him to call, and he, anxious to mingle with the exclusive society of
the Faubourg Saint-Germain, gladly accepted and promptly became
enraptured with her alluring charm. It was doubtless owing to the
influence of her relative, the Duc de Fitz-James, that he became
active in politics at this time.

In the course of this same year (1832) there came to him an anonymous
letter of great significance, dated from the distant Ukraine, and
signed /l'Etrangere/. Though not at that time giving him the slightest
presentiment of the outcome, this letter was destined eventually to
change the entire life of the novelist. A notice in the /Quotidienne/
acknowledging the receipt of it brought about a correspondence which
in the course of events revealed to the author that the stranger's
real name was Madame Hanska.

Love affairs, however, were far from being the only things that
occupied Balzac. He was continually besieged by creditors; the clouds
of his indebtedness were ever ready to burst over his head. Meanwhile,
his mother became more and more displeased with him, and impatient at
his constant calls upon her for the performance of all manner of
services. She now urged him to make a rich marriage and thus put an
end to his troubles and hers. But such was not Balzac's inclination,
and he rightly considered himself the most deeply concerned in the

All the while he was prodigiously productive, but the profits from his
works were exceedingly small. This fact was due to his method of
composition, according to which some of his works were revised a dozen
times or more, and also to the Belgian piracies, from which all
popular French authors suffered. In addition to this, his extravagant
tastes developed from year to year, and thus prevented him from
materially reducing his debts.

Unlike most Frenchmen, Balzac was particularly fond of travel in
foreign countries, and when allured by the charms of a beautiful
woman, he forgot his financial obligations and allowed nothing to
prevent his responding to the call of the siren. Thus he was enticed
by the Marquise de Castries to go to Aix and from there to Geneva in
1832, and one year later he rushed to Neufchatel to meet Madame
Hanska, with whom he became so enamored that a few months afterwards
he spent several weeks with her at this same fatal city of Geneva
where the Marquise had all but broken his heart. In the spring of 1835
he followed a similar desire, this time going as far as the beautiful
city of the blue Danube.

The charms of his sirens were not enough, however, to keep so
indefatigable a writer from his work. He permitted himself to enjoy
social diversions for only a few hours daily and some of his most
delightful novels were written during these visits, where it seemed
that the very shadow of feminine presence gave him inspiration. It
should be added, too, that in the limited time given to society during
these journeys, he not only worshipped at the shrine of his particular
enchantress of the moment, but managed to meet many other women of
social prominence.

As his fame spread, his extravagance increased; with his famous cane,
he was seen frequently at the opera, at one time sharing a box with
the beautiful Olympe. But his business relations with his publisher,
Madame Bechet, which seemed to be promising at first, ended unhappily,
and the rapidly declining health of his /Dilecta/, Madame de Berny,
not to mention the failure of another publisher Werdet, which there is
not space here to recount, cast a gloom from time to time over his
optimistic spirit. He now became the proprietor of the /Chronique de
Paris/, but aside from the literary friendships involved, notably that
of Theophile Gautier, he derived nothing but additional worries from
an undertaking he was unfitted to carry out. An even greater anxiety
was the famous lawsuit with Buloz, which was finally decided in his
favor, but which proved a costly victory, since it left him physically

In order to recuperate, he sought refuge in the home of M. de
Margonne, and travelled afterwards with Madame Marbouty to Italy,
where he spent several pleasant weeks looking after some legal
business for his friends, M. and Mme. Visconti. It was on his return
from this journey that he learned of the death of Madame de Berny.

During this period of general depression, Balzac devoted a certain
amount of attention to another correspondent, Louise, whom he never
met but whose letters cheered him, especially during his imprisonment
for refusing to serve in the Garde Nationale. In the same year (1836),
he was drawn by the charming Madame de Valette to Guerande, where he
secured his descriptive material for /Beatrix/.

In the spring of 1837, he went to Italy for the second time, hoping to
recuperate, and wishing to see the bust of Madame Hanska which had
been made by Bartolini. He visited several cities, and in Milan he was
received in the salon of Madame Maffei, where he met some of the best
known people of the day. He had now thought of another scheme by means
of which he might become very rich,--always a favorite dream of his.
He believed that much silver might be extracted from lead turned out
of the mines as refuse, and was indiscreet enough to confide his ideas
to a crafty merchant whom he met at Genoa. A year later, when Balzac
went to Sardinia to investigate the possibility of the development of
his plans, he found that his ideas had been appropriated by this
acquaintance. On his return from this trip to Corsica and Sardinia, on
which he had endured much physical suffering, and had spent much money
to no financial avail, he stopped again at Milan to look after the
interests of the Viscontis. In the Salon of the same year (1837), the
famous portrait by Boulanger was displayed. About the same time,
together with Theophile Gautier, Leon Gozlan, Jules Sandeau and
others, he organized an association called the /Cheval Rouge/ for
mutual advertisement.

Balzac now bought a piece of land at Ville d'Avray (Sevres), and had a
house built, /Les Jardies/, which afforded much amusement to the
Parisians. He went there to reside in 1838 while the walls were still
damp. Here he formed another scheme for becoming rich, this time in
the belief that he would be successful in raising pineapples at his
new home. /Les Jardies/ was a three-story house. The principal
stairway was on the outside, because an exterior staircase would not
interfere with the symmetrical arrangement of the interior. The garden
walls, not long after completion, fell down as they had no
foundations, and Balzac sadly exclaimed over their giving way! After a
brief residence here of about two years, he fled from his creditors
and concealed his identity under the name of his housekeeper, Madame
de Brugnolle, in a mysterious little house, No. 19, rue Basse, Passy.

Aside from his novels, which were appearing at a most rapid rate,
Balzac wrote many plays, but they all met with failure for various
reasons. Other literary activities, such as his brief directorship of
the /Revue Parisienne/, numerous articles and short stories, and his
cooperation in the /Societe des Gens-de-Lettres/, which was organized
to protect the rights of authors and publishers, occupied much of his
precious time; in addition, he had his unremitting financial

This "child-man," however, with his imagination, optimism, belief in
magnetism and clairvoyance, and great steadfastness of character, kept
on hoping. Not discouraged by his ever unsuccessful schemes for
becoming a millionaire, he conceived the project of digging for hidden
treasures, and later thought of making a fortune by transporting to
France oaks grown in distant Russia.

In the spring of 1842 Balzac's novels were collected for the first
time under the name of the /Comedie humaine/. This was shortly after
one of the most important events of his life had occurred, when on
January 5 he received a letter from Madame Hanska telling of the death
of her husband the previous November. Balzac wished to leave for
Russia immediately, but Madame Hanska's permission was not
forthcoming, and it was not until July of 1843 that Balzac arrived at
St. Petersburg to visit his "Polar Star."

On his return home he became very ill, and from this time onward his
robust constitution, which he had so abused by overwork and by the use
of strong coffee, began to break under the continual strain and his
illnesses became more and more frequent. His visit to his
/Chatelaine/, however, had increased his longing to be constantly in
her society, and he was ever planning to visit her. During her
prolonged stay in Dresden in the winter and spring of 1845, he became
so desperate that he could not longer do his accustomed work, and when
the invitation to visit her eventually came, he forgot all in his
haste to be at her side.

With Madame Hanska, her daughter Anna, and the Count George Mniszech,
Anna's fiance, Balzac now traveled extensively in Europe. In July,
after some preliminary journeys, Madame Hanska and Anna secretly
accompanied him to Paris where they enjoyed the opportunity of
visiting Anna's former governess, Lirette, who had entered a convent.
In August, after visiting many cities with the two ladies, Balzac
escorted them as far as Brussels. In September he left Paris again to
join them at Baden, and in October, went to meet them at Chalons
whence all four--Count Mniszech being now of the party--journeyed to
Marseilles and by sea to Naples. After a few days at Naples, Balzac
returned to Paris, ill, having spent much money and done little work.

Ever planning a home for his future bride, and buying objects of art
with which to adorn it, Balzac with his numerous worries was
physically and mentally in poor condition. In March, 1846, he left
Paris to join Madame Hanska and her party at Rome for a month. He
traveled with them to some extent during the summer, and a definite
engagement of marriage was entered into at Strasbourg. In October he
attended the marriage of Anna and the Count Mniszech at Wiesbaden, and
Madame Hanska visited him secretly in Paris during the winter.

He was now in better spirits, and his health was somewhat improved,
enabling him to do some of his best work, but he was being pressed to
fulfil his literary obligations, and, as usual, harassed over his
debts. In September he left for Wierzchownia, where he remained until
the following February, continually hoping that his marriage would
soon take place. But Mme. Hanska hesitated, and the failure of the
Chemin de Fer du Nord added more financial embarrassments to his
already large load. The Revolution of 1848 brought him into more
trouble still, and his health was obviously becoming impaired. Yet he
continued hopeful.

After spending the summer in his house of treasure in the rue
Fortunee, he again left, in September, 1848, for Wierzchownia, this
time determined to return with his shield or upon it. During his
prolonged stay of eighteen months, while his distraught mother was
looking after affairs in his new home, his health became so bad that
he could not finish the work outlined during the summer. No sooner had
he recovered from one malady than he was overtaken by another. Unable
to work, distracted by bad news from his family, and being the witness
of several financial failures incurred by Madame Hanska, Balzac
naturally was supremely depressed. At this time, a touch of what may
not uncharitably be termed snobbishness is seen in his letters to his
family when he extols the unlimited virtues of his /Predilecta/ and
the Countess Anna.

After seventeen long years of waiting, with hope constantly deferred,
Balzac at last attained his goal when, on March 14, 1850, Madame
Hanska became Madame Honore de Balzac. His joy over this great triumph
was beyond all adequate description, but he was unable to depart for
Paris with his bride until April. After a difficult journey, the
couple arrived at Paris in May, but the condition of Balzac's health
was hopeless and only a few more months were accorded him. With his
usual optimism, he always thought that he would be spared to finish
his great work, and when informed by his physician on August 17 that
he would live but a few hours, he refused to believe it.

Unless he had been self-centered, Balzac could never have left behind
him his enormous and prodigious work. In spite of certain unlovely
phases of his private character and failure to fulfil his literary and
financial obligations, he was a man of great personal charm. Though at
various times he was under consideration for election to the French
Academy, his name is not found numbered among the "forty immortals."
But he was the greatest of French novelists, a great creator of
characters, who by some competent critics has been ranked with
Shakespeare, and he has left to posterity the incomparable, though
unfinished /Comedie humaine/, which is in itself sufficient for his




"Farewell, my dearly beloved mother! I embrace you with all my
heart. Oh! if you knew how I need just now to cast myself upon
your breast as a refuge of complete affection, you would insert a
little word of tenderness in your letters, and this one which I am
answering has not even a poor kiss. There is nothing but . . . Ah!
Mother, Mother, this is very bad! . . . You have misconstrued what
I said to you, and you do not understand my heart and affection.
This grieves me most of all! . . ."

The above extract is sadly typical of a relationship of thirty years,
1820-1850, between a mother, on the one hand, who never understood or
appreciated her son--and a son, on the other, whose longings for
maternal affection were never fully gratified. To his mother Balzac
dedicated /Le Medicin de Campagne/, one of his finest sociological

Madame Surville has described Balzac's mother, and her own, as being
rich, beautiful, and much younger than her husband, and as having a
rare vivacity of mind and of imagination, an untiring activity, a
great firmness of decision, and an unbounded devotion to her family;
but as expressing herself in actions rather than in words. She devoted
herself exclusively to the education of her children, and felt it
necessary to use severity towards them in order to offset the effects
of indulgence on the part of their father and their grandmother.
Balzac inherited from his mother imagination and activity, and from
both of his parents energy and kindness.

Madame de Balzac has been charged with not having been a tender mother
towards her children in their infancy. She had lost her first child
through her inability to nurse it properly. An excellent nurse,
however, was found for Honore, and he became so healthy that later his
sister Laure was placed with the same nurse. But she never seemed
fully to understand her son nor even to suspect his promise. She
attributed the sagacious remarks and reflections of his youth to
accident, and on such occasions she would tell him that he did not
understand what he was saying. His only reply would be a sweet,
submissive smile which irritated her, and which she called arrogant
and presumptuous. With her cold, calculating temperament, she had no
patience with his staking his life and fortune on uncertain financial
undertakings, and blamed him for his business failures. She suffered
on account of his love of luxury and his belief in his own greatness,
no evidence of which seemed sufficient to her matter-of-fact mind. She
continued to misjudge him, unaware of his genius, but in spite of her
grumbling and harassing disposition, she often came to his aid in his
financial troubles.

Contrary to the wishes of his parents, who had destined him to become
a notary, Balzac was ever dreaming of literary fame. His mother not
unnaturally thought that a little poverty and difficulty would bring
him to submission; so, before leaving Paris for Villeparisis in 1819
she installed him in a poorly furnished /mansard/, No. 9, rue
Lesdiguieres, leaving an old woman, Madame Comin, who had been in the
service of the family for more than twenty years, to watch over him.
Balzac has doubtless depicted this woman in /Facino Cane/ as Madame
Vaillant, who in 1819-1820 was charged with the care of a young
writer, lodged in a /mansard/, rue Lesdiguieres.

After fifteen months of this life, his health became so much impaired
that his mother insisted on keeping him at home, where she cared for
him faithfully. On a former occasion Madame de Balzac had had her son
brought home to recuperate, for when he was sent away to /college/ at
an early age, his health became so impaired that he was hurriedly
returned to his home. Balzac probably refers to this event in his life
when he writes, in /Louis Lambert/, that the mother, alarmed by the
continuous fever of her son and his symptoms of /coma/, took him from
school at four or five hours' notice.

During the five years (1820-1825) that Balzac remained at home in
Villeparisis, he longed for the quiet freedom of his garret; he could
not adapt himself to the bustling family circle, nor reconcile himself
to the noise of the domestic machinery kept in motion by his vigilant
and indefatigable mother. She was of a nervous, excitable nature,
which she probably inherited from her mother, Madame Sallambier. She
imagined that he was ill, and of course there was no one to convince
her to the contrary. Had she known that while she thought she was
contributing everything to the happiness of those around her, she was
only doing the opposite, we may be sure that she of all women would
have been the most wretched.

Balzac having failed in his speculations as publisher and printer, was
aided by his mother financially, and she figured as one of his
principal creditors during the remainder of his life. (E. Faguet in
/Balzac/, is exaggerating in stating that Madame de Balzac sacrificed
her whole fortune for Honore, for much of her means was spent on her
favorite son, Henri.)

M. Auguste Fessart was a contemporary of the family, an observer of a
great part of the life of Honore, and his confidant on more than one
occasion. In his /Commentaires/ on the work entitled /Balzac, sa Vie
et ses Oeuvres/, by Madame Surville, he states that the portrait of
Madame de Balzac is flattering--a daughter's portrait of a mother--and
declares that Madame de Balzac was very severe with her children,
especially with Honore, adding that Balzac used to say that he never
heard his mother speak without experiencing a certain trembling which
deprived him of his faculties. Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, in reviewing
the /Commentaires/ of M. Fessart, notes the recurring instances in
which pity is expressed for the moral and material sufferings almost
constantly endured by Balzac in his family circle. These sufferings
seem to have impressed him more than anything else in the career of
the novelist. In speaking of Balzac's financial appeal to his family,
M. Fessart notes: "And his mother did not respond to him. She let him
die of hunger! . . . I repeat that they let him die of hunger; he told
me so several times!" When Madame Surville speaks of their keeping
Balzac's presence in Paris a secret, saying that it was moreover a
means of keeping him from all worldly temptations, M. Fessart replies:
"And of giving him nothing, and of allowing him to be in need of
everything!" Finally, when Madame Surville speaks of her parents' not
giving Balzac the fifteen hundred francs he desired, M. Fessart
confirms this, saying that his family always refused him money.

A letter from Balzac to Madame Hanska testifies to this attitude of
his family towards him: "In 1828 I was cast into this poor rue
Cassini, in consequence of a liquidation to which I had been
compelled, owing one hundred thousand francs and being without a
penny, when my family would not even give me bread."

MM. Hanotaux et Vicaire, to whose admirable work we shall have
occasion to refer often, state that Madame de Balzac advanced thirty-
seven thousand six hundred francs for Balzac on August 16, 1822, and
that his parents paid a total of forty-five thousand francs for him.

Having read M. Fessart's description of Madame de Balzac, one can
agree with Madame Ruxton in saying that Balzac has portrayed his own
youth in his account of the early life of Raphael in /La Peau de
Chagrin/, Balzac's mother, instead of Raphael's father, being
recognized in the following passage:

"Seen from afar, my life appears to contract by some mental
process. That long, slow agony of ten years' duration can be
brought to memory to-day in some few phrases, in which pain is
resolved into a mere idea, and pleasure becomes a philosophical
reflection . . . When I left school, my father submitted me to a
strict discipline; he installed me in a room near his own study,
and I had to rise at five in the morning and retire at nine at
night. He intended me to take my law studies seriously. I attended
school, and read with an advocate as well; but my lectures and
work were so narrowly circumscribed by the laws of time and space,
and my father required of me such a strict account, at dinner,
that . . . In this manner I cowered under as strict a despotism as
a monarch's until I became of age."

In confirmation of this idea, Madame Ruxton[*] quotes Madame Barnier,
granddaughter of the Duchesse d'Abrantes, who knew both Balzac and his
mother, and who describes her as a cold, severe, superior, but hard-
hearted woman, just the opposite of her son. Balzac himself states:
"Never shall I cease to resemble Raphael in his garret."

[*] In /La Dilecta de Balzac/, Balzac states that he has described his
own life in /La Peau de Chagrin/. For a picture of Balzac's
unhappy childhood drawn by himself, see /Revue des deux Mondes/,
March 15, 1920.

After the death (June 1829) of her husband, Madame de Balzac lived
with her son at different intervals, and during his extended tour of
six months in 1832 she attended to the details of his business. With
her usual energy and extreme activity, she displayed her ability in
various lines, for she had to have dealings with his publisher, do
copying, consult the library,--sending him some books and buying
others,--have the servant exercise the horses, sell the horses and
carriage and dismiss the servant, arrange to have certain payments
deferred, send him money and consult the physician for him, not to
mention various other duties.

While Madame de Balzac was certainly requested to do far more than a
son usually expects of his mother, her tantalizing letters were a
source of great annoyance to him, as is seen in the following:

"What you say about my silence is one of those things which, to use
your expression, makes me grasp my heart with both hands; for it
is incredible I should be able to produce all I do. (I am obeying
the most rigorous necessity); so if I am to write, I ought to have
more time, and when I rest, I wish to lay down and not take up my
pen again. Really, my poor dear mother, this ought to be
understood between us once for all; otherwise, I shall have to
renounce all epistolary intercourse. . . . And this morning I was
about to make the first dash at my work, when your letter came and
completely upset me. Do you think it possible to have artistic
inspirations after being brought suddenly face to face with such a
picture of my miseries as you have traced? Do you think that if I
did not feel them, I should work as I do? . . . Farewell, my good
mother. Try and achieve impossibilities, which is what I am doing
on my side. My life is one perpetual miracle. . . . You ask me to
write you in full detail; but, my dear mother, have you yet to be
told what my existence is? When I am able to write, I work at my
manuscripts; when I am not working at my manuscripts, I am
thinking of them; I never have any rest. How is it my friends are
not aware of this? . . . I beg of you, my dear mother, in the name
of my heavy work, never to write me that such a work is good, and
such another bad: you upset me for a fortnight."

Balzac appreciated what his mother did for him, and while he never
fully repaid her the money she had so often requested of him, she
might have felt herself partially compensated by these kind words of

"My kind and excellent mother,--After writing to you in such haste,
I felt my inmost heart melt as I read your letter again, and I
worshipped you. How shall I return to you, when shall I return to
you, and can I ever return to you, by my love and endeavors for
your happiness, all that you have done for me? I can at present
only express my deep thankfulness. . . . How deep is my gratitude
towards the kind hearts who pluck some of the thorns from my life
and smooth my path by their affection. But constrained to an
unceasing warfare against destiny, I have not always leisure to
give utterance to what I feel. I would not, however, allow a day
to pass without letting you know the tenderness your late proofs
of devotion excite in me. A mother suffers the pangs of labor more
than once with her children, does she not, my mother? Poor
mothers, are you ever enough beloved! . . . I hope, my much
beloved mother, you will not let yourself grow dejected. I work as
hard as it is possible for a man to work; a day is only twelve
hours long, I can do no more. . . . Farewell, my darling mother; I
am very tired! Coffee burns my stomach. For the last twenty days I
have taken no rest; and yet I must still work on, that I may
remove your anxieties. . . . Keep your house; I had already sent
an answer to Laura, I will not let either you or Surville bear the
burden of my affairs. However, until the arrival of my proxy, it
is understood that Laura, who is my cash keeper, will remit you a
hundred and fifty francs a month. You may reckon on this as a
regular payment; nothing in the world will take precedence of it.
Then, at the end of November to December 10, you will have the
surplus of thirty-six thousand francs to reimburse you for the
excess of the expenditure over the receipts during the time of
your stewardship; during which, thanks to your devotion, you gave
me all the tranquility that was possible. . . . I entreat you to
take care of yourself! Nothing is so dear to me as your health! I
would give half of myself to keep you well, and I would keep the
other half, to do you service. My mother, the day when we shall be
happy through me is coming quickly; I am beginning to gather the
fruits of the sacrifices I have made this year for a more certain
future. Still, a few months more and I shall be able to give you
that happy life--that life without cares or anxiety--which you so
much need. You will have all you desire; our little vanities will
be satisfied no less than the great ambitions of our hearts. Oh
do, I pray you, nurse yourself! . . . Your comfort in material
things and your happiness are my riches. Oh! my dear mother, do
live to see my bright future realized!"[*]

[*] In speaking of Balzac's relations to his mother, Mr. F. Lawton
(/Balzac/) states: "Madame Balzac was sacrificed to his
improvidence and stupendous egotism; nor can the tenderness of the
language--more frequently than not called forth by some fresh
immolation of her comfort to his interests--disguise this
unpleasing side of his character and action. . . . And his
epistolary good-byes were odd mixtures of business with

Thus did the poor mother alternately receive letters full of scoldings
and of terms of endearment from her son whose genius she never
understood. She was faithful in her duties, and her ambitious son
probably did not realize how much he was asking of her. But she may
have had a motive in keeping him on the prolonged visit during which
this last letter was written, for she was interested in his
prospective marriage. Although her full name is never mentioned, the
women in question, Madame D----, was evidently a widow with a fortune,
and in view of this prospect was most pleasing to Madame de Balzac.
However, this matrimonial plan fell through, and Balzac himself was
never enthusiastic over it. He felt that his attentions to Madame
D---- would consume his very precious time, and that the affair could
not come off in time to serve his interests. Could it be that Balzac
was alluding to this same Madame D---- when he wrote some time later:
"My beloved mother,--the affair has come to nothing, the bird was
frightened away, and I am very glad of it. I had no time to run after
it, and it was imperative it should be either yes or no."

This marriage project, like many others planned either for or by
Balzac, came to naught, and his mother evidently became displeased
with him, for she left him on his return, when he was in great need of
consolation and sympathy. As frequently happened under such
circumstances, Balzac expressed his deep regrets at his mother's
conduct to one of his best friends, Madame Carraud, and confided to
her his loneliness and longings.

Madame de Balzac was much occupied with religious ideas, and had made
a collection of the writings of the mystics. Balzac plunged into the
study of clairvoyance and mesmerism, and his mother, interested in the
marvelous, helped him in his studies, as she knew many of the
celebrated clairvoyants and mesmerists of the time.

At various times, Balzac's relations with his mother were much
estranged; at one time he did not even know where she was. When she
was disappointed in her favorite child, Henri, she seemed to recognize
the great wrong involved in her lack of affection for Honore and his
sister Laure. But she never gave him the attentions that he longed
for. In May, 1840, he wrote to Madame Hanska that he was especially
sad on the day of his /fete catholique/ (May 16) as, since the death
of Madame de Berny, there was no one to observe this occasion, though
during her life every day was a /fete/ day; he was too busy to join
with his sister Laure in the mutual observance of their birthdays, and
his mother cared little for him; once the Duchesse de Castries had
sent him a most beautiful bouquet,--but now there was no one.

The same year (1840) he took his mother to live with him /Aux
jardies/. This he regarded as an additional burden. Her continual
harassing him for the money he still owed her, her nervous and
discordant disposition, her constant intrigues to force him to marry,
and her numerous little acts that placed him in positions beneath the
dignity of an author's standing were an incessant source of annoyance
to him.

She did not remain with him long, but he tried to perform his filial
duties and make her comfortable, as various letters show. One of these
reads as follows:

"My dear Mother,--It is very difficult for me to enter into the
engagement you ask of me, and to do so without reflection would
entail consequences most serious both for you and for myself. The
money necessary for my existence is, as it were, wrung from what
should go to pay my debts, and hard work it is to get it. The sort
of life I lead is suitable for no one; it wears out relations and
friends; all fly from my dreary house. My affairs will become more
and more difficult to manage, not to say impossible. The failure
of my play, as regards money, still further complicates my
situation. I find it impossible to work in the midst of all the
little storms raised up in a household where the members do not
live in harmony. My work has become feeble during the last year,
as any one can see. I am in doubt what to do. But I must come to
some determination within a few days. When my furniture has been
sold, and when I have disposed of 'Les Jardies,' I shall not have
much left. And I shall find myself alone in the world with nothing
but my pen, and an attic. In such a situation shall I be able to
do more for you than I am doing at this moment? I shall have to
live from hand to mouth by writing articles which I can no longer
write with the agility of youth which is no more. The world, and
even relations, mistake me; I am engrossed by my work, and they
think I am absorbed in myself. I am not blind to the fact, that up
to the present moment, working as I work, I have not succeeded in
paying my debts, nor in supporting myself. No future will save me.
I must do something else, look out for some other position. And it
is at a time like this that you ask me to enter into an
engagement! Two years ago I should have done so, and have deceived
myself. Now all I can say is, come to me and share my crust. You
were in a tolerable position; I had a domestic whose devotion
spared you all the worry of housekeeping; you were not called on
to enter into every detail, you were quiet and peaceful. You
wished me to count for something in your life, when it was
imperative for you to forget my existence and allow me the entire
liberty without which I can do nothing. It is not a fault in you,
it is the nature of women. Now everything is changed. If you wish
to come back, you will have to bear a little of the burden which
is about to weigh me down, and which hitherto has only pressed
upon you because you chose to take it to yourself. All this is
business, and in no way involves my affection for you, which is
always the same; so believe in the tenderness of your devoted

Later, when Balzac purchased his home in the rue Fortunee, his mother
had the care of it while he was in Russia. He asked her to visit the
house weekly and to keep the servants on the alert by enquiring as
though she expected him; yet Balzac wrote his nieces to have their
grandmother visit them often, lest she carry too far the duties she
imposed on herself in looking after his little home. He cautioned her
to allow no one to enter the house, to insist that his old servant
Francois be discreet, and especially that she be prudent in not
talking about his plans; and that by all means she should take a
carriage while attending to his affairs; this request was not only
from him but also from Madame Hanska.

She was most faithful in looking after his home and watching the
workmen to see that his instructions were carried out. In fact, she
never left the house except when, on one occasion, owing to the
excessive odors of the paint, she spent two nights in Laure's home.

Balzac's stay at Wierzchownia, however, was far from tranquil, for his
mother was discontented with the general aspect of his affairs and
increased his vexations by writing a letter in which she addressed him
as /vous/, declaring that her affection was conditional on his
behavior, a thing he naturally resented. "To think," he writes, "of a
mother reserving the right to love a son like me, seventy-two years on
the one side, and fifty on the other!"

This letter caused a serious complication in his affairs in Russia,
but the mother evidently became reconciled for a few months later she
wrote to him expressing her joy at the news of his recovery, and
asking him to extend to his friends her most sincere thanks for their
care of him in his serious illness. Aside from knowing of his illness
and her inability to see him, she was most happy in feeling that he
was with such good friends.

She complained of his not writing oftener, but he replied that he had
written to her seven times during his absence, that the letters were
posted by his hostess and that he did not wish to abuse the
hospitality with which he was so royally and magnificently
entertained. He resented his mother's dictating to him, a man of fifty
years of age, as to how often he should write to his nieces, for while
he enjoyed receiving their letters, he thought they should feel
honored in receiving letters from him whenever he had time to write to

When the poor mother attempted to be gracious to her son by sending
him a box of bonbons, she only brought him trouble, for she packed it
in newspapers, and in passing the custom-house, it was taken out and
the candy crushed. Instead of thanking her for her good intentions, he
rebuked her for her stupidity in regard to sending printed matter into
Russia, as it endangered his stay there.

Balzac was always striving to pay his mother his long-standing
indebtedness, but the Revolution of 1848, in connection with his
continued illness, made this impossible. This burden of debt was also,
at this time, preventing his obtaining a successful termination of his
mission to Russia, for, as he explained to his mother, the lady
concerned did not care to marry him while he was still encumbered with
debt. Being a woman past forty, she desired that nothing should
disturb the tranquillity in which she wished to live.

Owing to this critical situation and to his poor health, Balzac had
repeatedly requested his mother never to write depressing news to him,
but she paid little attention to this request and sent him a letter
hinting at trouble in so vague a manner and with such disquieting
expressions that, in his extremely nervous condition, it might have
proved fatal to him. Yet it did not affect him so seriously as it did
Madame Hanska, who read the letter to him, for owing to his terrible
illness and the method of treatment, his eyes had become so weak that
he could no longer see in the evening. Madame Hanska was so deeply
interested in everything that concerned Balzac that this news made her
very ill. For them to live in suspense for forty days without knowing
anything definite was far worse than it would have been had his mother
enumerated in detail the various misfortunes. From the preceding
revelations of the disposition of Madame de Balzac, one can easily
understand how it happened that her son has immortalized some of her
traits in the character of /Cousine Bette/.

During the remainder of Balzac's stay in the Ukraine, he was
preoccupied with the thought of his mother having every possible
comfort, with his becoming acclimatized in Russia,--impossible though
it was for him in his condition,--and above all with the realization
of his long-cherished hope. But he cautioned his mother to observe the
greatest discretion in regard to this hope, "for such things are never
certain until one leaves the church after the ceremony."

What must have been his feeling of triumph when he was able to write:

"My very dear Mother,--Yesterday, at seven in the morning, thanks
be to God, my marriage was blessed and celebrated in the church of
Saint Barbara, at Berditchef, by the deputy of the Bishop of
Jitomir. Monseigneur wished to have married me himself, but being
unable, he sent a holy priest, the Count Abbe Czarouski, the
eldest of the glories of the Polish Roman Catholic Church, as his
representative. Madame Eve de Balzac, your daughter-in-law, in
order to make an end of all obstacles, has taken an heroic and
sublimely maternal resolution, viz., to give up all her fortune to
her children, only reserving an annuity to herself. . . . There
are now two of us to thank you for all the good care you have
taken of our house, as well as to testify to you our respectful

Balzac was not only anxious that his bride should be properly
received, but also that his mother should preserve her dignity. On
their way home he writes her from Dresden to have the house ready for
their arrival (May 19, 20, 21), urging that she go either to her own
home or to Laure's, for it would not be proper for her to receive her
daughter-in-law in the rue Fortunee, and that she should not call
until his wife had called on her. After reminding her again not to
forget to procure flowers, he suggests that owing to his extremely
feeble health he meet her at Laure's, for there he would have one less
flight of stairs to climb. These suggestions, however, were
unnecessary, as his mother had been ill in bed for several weeks in
Laure's house.

After the novelist's return to Paris with his bride, his physical
condition was such that in spite of the efforts of his beloved
physician, Dr. Nacquart, little could be done for him, and he was
destined to pass away within a short time. Balzac's mother, she with
whom he had had so many misunderstandings, she who had doubtless never
fully appreciated his greatness but who had sacrificed her physical
strength and worldly goods for his sake, an old woman of almost
seventy-two years, showed her true maternal love by remaining with her
glorious and immortal son in his last moments.


"To the Casket containing all things delightful; to the Elixir of
Virtue, of Grace, and of Beauty; to the Gem, to the Prodigy of all
Normandy; to the Pearl of the Bayeux; to the Fairy of St.
Laurence; to the Madonna of the Rue Teinture; to the Guardian
Angel of Caen, to the Goddess of Enchanting Spells; to the
Treasury of all Friendship--to Laura!"

Two years younger than Balzac, his sister Laure, not only played an
important part in his life, but after his death rendered valuable
service by writing his life and publishing a part of his
correspondence.[*] Being reared by the same nurse as he, and having
had the same home environment, she was the first of his intimate
companions, and throughout a large part of his life remained one of
the most sympathetic of all his confidantes. As children they loved
each other tenderly, and his chivalrous protection of her led to his
being punished more than once without betraying her childish guilt.
Once when she arrived in time to confess, he asked her to avow nothing
the next time, as he liked to be scolded for her.

[*] MM. Hanotaux et Vicaire, /Le Jeunesse de Balzac/, have correctly
observed that Balzac's sister, Madame Surville, has written a most
delicate and interesting book, but that she had not correctly
portrayed her brother because she was blinded by her devotion to

He it was who accompanied her to dances, but having had the misfortune
to slip and fall on one such occasion he was so sensitive to the
amused smiles of the ladies that he gave up dancing, and decided to
dominate society otherwise than by the graces and talents of the
drawing-room. Thus it was that he became merely a spectator of these
festivities, the memory of which he utilized later.

It was to Laure that, in the strictest confidence, he sent the plan of
his first work, the tragedy /Cromwell/, writing it to be a surprise to
the rest of the family when finished. To her he looked for moral
support, asking her to have faith in him, for he needed some one to
believe in him. To her also he confided his ambitions early in his
career, saying that his two greatest desires were to be famous and to
be loved.

Laure was married in May, 1820, to M. Midi de la Greneraye Surville,
and moved from her home in Villeparisis to Bayeux. When she became
homesick Balzac wrote her cheerful letters, suggesting various means
of employing her time. His admiration of her was such that he even
asked her to select for him a wife of her own type. He explained to
her that his affection was not diminished an atom by distance or by
silence, for there are torrents which make a terrible to-do and yet
their beds are dry in a few days, and there are waters which flow
quietly, but flow forever.

Madame Surville seems to have been the impersonation of discretion and
appreciation; she was intimately acquainted with all the characters in
his work and made valuable suggestions; he was most happy when
discussing plans with her. He longed to have his glory reflect on his
family and make the name of Balzac illustrious. When carried away with
some beautiful idea, he seemed to hear her tender voice encouraging
him. he felt that were it not for her devotion to the duties of her
home, their intimacy might have become even more precious and that
stimulated by a literary atmosphere she might herself have become a

He consulted her frequently with regard to literary help, once asking
her to use all her cleverness in writing out fully her ideas on the
subject of the /Deux Rencontres/, about which she had told him, for he
wished to insert them in the /Femme de trente Ans/. As early as 1822
she received a similar request asking her to prepare for him a
manuscript of the /Vicaire des Ardennes/; she was to prepare the first
volume and he would finish it. And many years later (1842), Balzac
asked his sister to furnish him with ideas for a story for young
people. After the name of this story had been changed a few times, it
was published under the title of /Un Debut dans la Vie/. This explains
why Balzac used the following words in dedicating it to her: "To
Laure. May the brilliant and modest intellect that gave me the subject
of this scene have the honor of it!" This, however, was not the first
time he had honored her by dedicating one of his works to her, for in
1835 he inscribed to "Almae Sorori" a short story, /Les Proscrits/.

Balzac was often depressed, and felt that even his own family was not
in sympathy with his efforts; he told his sister that the universe
would be startled at his works before his relations or friends would
believe in their existence. Yet he knew that they did appreciate him
to a certain extent, for his sister wrote him that in reading the
/Recherche de l'Absolu/, and thinking that her own brother was the
author of it, she wept for joy.

In his youth, at all events, Balzac seems to have had no secrets from
his sister, and it is to her that the much disputed letter of
Saturday, October 12, 1833, was addressed. Their friendship was
sincere and devoted; and yet there were coolnesses, caused largely by
the influence of their mother,--and of M. Surville, whose jealous and
tyrannical disposition prevented their seeing each other as frequently
as they would have liked. She once celebrated her birthday by visiting
her brother, but she held her watch in her hand as she had only twenty
minutes for the meeting. For awhile, he could not visit her; later,
this estrangement was overcome, and after the first presentation of
his play /Vautrin/ (1840), his sister cared for him in her home during
his illness.

Madame Surville performed many duties for her brother but was not
always skilful in allaying the demands of his creditors. On Balzac's
return from a visit to Madame Hanska in Vienna, he found that his
affairs were in great disorder, and that his sister, frightened at the
conditions, had pawned his silverware. In planning at a later date to
leave France, however, he did not hesitate to entrust his treasures to
his sister, saying that she would be a most faithful "dragon." He was
also wisely thoughtful of her; on one occasion when she had gone to a
masked ball contrary to her husband's wishes, Balzac went after her
and took her home without giving her time to go round the room.

She evidently had more influence over their mother than had he, for he
asked her when on the verge of taking Madame de Balzac into his home
again, to assist him in making her reasonable:

"If she likes, she can be very happy, but tell her that she must
encourage happiness and not frighten it away. She will have near
her a confidential attendant and a servant, and that she will be
taken care of in the way she likes. Her room is as elegant as I
can make it. . . . Make her promise not to object to what I wish
her to do as regards her dress: I do not wish her to be dressed
otherwise than as she /ought to be/, it would give me great
pain . . ."

During his prolonged stay in Russia, he requested his sister to
conceal from their mother the true condition of his illness and the
uncertainty of his marriage, and to entreat her to avoid anything in
her letters which might cause him pain. Feeling that she would never
have allowed such a thing had she known of it, he informed her in
detail concerning their mother's letter which had caused him endless

While Madame Surville was a great stimulus to Balzac early in his
literary career, she in turn received the deepest sympathy from him in
her financial struggle, and, while he was so happy and was living in
such luxury in Russia, he only regretted that he could not assist her,
for he had enjoyed hospitality in her home.

Madame Surville had at least one of her mother's traits--that of
continually harassing Balzac by trying to marry him to some rich
woman; once she had even chosen for him the goddaughter of Louis-
Philippe. But the most serious breach of relations between the two
resulted from her failure to approve of Balzac's adoration of Madame
Hanska. While admitting the extreme beauty of the celebrated Daffinger
portrait, she was jealous of his /Predilecta/. When she saw the bound
proofs of /La Femme superieure/ which he had intended for Madame
Hanska, she felt that she was being neglected. In the end, he robbed
his /Chatelaine/ to the profit of his /cara sorella/. But when she
became impatient at Balzac's prolonged stay at Wierzchownia, he
resented it, explaining that marriage is like cream--a change of
atmosphere would spoil it,--that bad marriages could be made with the
utmost ease, but good ones required infinite precautions and
scrupulous attention. He tried to make her see the advantage of this
marriage, writing her:

"Consider, dear Laura, none of us are as yet, so to speak,
/arrived/; if, instead of being obliged to work in order to live,
I had become the husband of one of the cleverest, the best-born,
and best-connected of women, who is also possessed of a solid
though circumscribed fortune, in spite of the wish of the lady to
live retired, to have no intercourse even with the family, I
should still be in a position to be much better able to be of use
to you all. I have the certainty of the warm kindness and lively
interest which Madame Hanska takes in the dear children. Thus it
is more than a duty in my mother, and all belonging to me, to do
nothing to hinder me from the happy accomplishment of a union
which /before all is my happiness/. Again, it must not be
forgotten that this lady is illustrious, not only on account of
her high descent, but for her great reputation for wit, beauty,
and fortune (for she is credited with all the millions of her
daughter); she is constantly receiving proposals of marriage from
men of the highest rank and position. But she is something far
better than rich and noble; she is exquisitely good, with the
sweetness of an angel, and of an easy compatibility in daily life
which every day surprises me more and more; she is, moreover,
thoroughly pious. Seeing all these great advantages, the world
treats my hopes with something of mocking incredulity, and my
prospects of success are denied and derided on all sides. If we
were all to live . . . under the same roof, I could conceive the
difficulties raised by my mother about her dignity; but to keep on
the terms which are due to a lady who brings with her (fortune
apart) most precious social advantages, I think you need only
confine yourself to giving her the impression that my relations
are kind and affectionate amongst themselves, and kindly
affectionate towards the man she loves. It is the only way to
excite her interest and to preserve her influence, which will be
enormous. You may all of you, in a great fit of independence, say
you have no need of any one, that you intend to succeed by your
own exertions. But, between ourselves, the events of the last few
years must have proved to you that nothing can be done without the
help of others; and the social forces that we can least afford to
dispense with are those of our own family. Come, Laura, it is
something to be able, in Paris, to open one's /salon/ and to
assemble all the /elite/ of society, presided over by a woman who
is refined, polished, imposing as a queen, of illustrious descent,
allied to the noblest families, witty, well-informed, and
beautiful; there is a power of social domination. To enter into
any struggle whatever with a woman in whom so much influence
centers is--I tell you this in confidence--an act of insanity. Let
there be neither servility, nor sullen pride, nor susceptibility,
nor too much compliance; nothing but good natural affection. This
is the line of conduct prescribed by good sense towards such a

One can see how Madame Surville would resent such a letter, especially
when she might have arranged another marriage, advantageous and
sensible, for him. But poor Balzac, knowing her interest in his
happiness, writes to her a joyful letter the day after his marriage:
"As to Madame de Balzac, what more can I say about her? I may be
envied for having won her: with the exception of her daughter, there
is no woman in this land who can compare with her. She is indeed the
diamond of Poland, the gem of this illustrious house of Rzewuski."
After explaining to her that this was a marriage of pure affection, as
his wife had given her fortune to her children and wished to live only
for them and for him, Balzac tells his sister that he hoped to present
Madame Honore de Balzac to her soon, signing the letter, "Your brother
Honore at the summit of happiness."

A great attraction for Balzac in the home of Madame Surville were his
two nieces, Sophie and Valentine, to whom he was devoted, and with
whom he frequently spent his evenings. The story is told that one
evening on entering his sister's home, he asked for paper and pencil,
which were given him. After spending about an hour, not in making
notes, as one might imagine, but in writing columns of figures and
adding them, he discovered that he owed fifty-nine thousand francs,
and exclaimed that his only recourse was to blow his brains out, or
throw himself into the Seine! When questioned by his niece Sophie in
tears as to whether he would not finish the novel he had begun for
her, he declared that he was wrong in becoming so discouraged, to work
for her would be a pleasure; he would no longer be depressed, but
would finish her book, which would be a masterpiece, sell it for three
thousand /ecus/, pay all his creditors within two years, amass a dowry
for her and become a peer of France!

Balzac had forbidden his nieces to read his books, promising to write
one especially for them. The book referred to here is /Ursule Mirouet/
which he dedicated to Sophie as follows:

"To Mademoiselle Sophie Surville.

"It is a real pleasure, my dear niece, to dedicate to you a book of
which the subject and the details have gained the approbation--so
difficult to secure--of a young girl to whom the world is yet
unknown, and who will make no compromise with the high principles
derived from a pious education. You young girls are a public to be
dreaded; you ought never to be permitted to read any books less
pure than your own pure souls, and you are forbidden certain
books, just as you are not allowed to see society as it really is.
Is it not enough, then, to make a writer proud, to know that he
has satisfied you? Heaven grant that affection may not have misled
you! Who can say? The future only, which you, I hope, will see,
though he may not, who is your uncle

To Valentine Surville he dedicated /La Paix du Menage/.

The novelist was interested in helping his sister find suitable
husbands for her daughters. He and Sophie had a wager as to which--she
or he--would marry first; so when Balzac finally reached his own long-
sought goal, he did not forget to remind his niece that she owed him a
wedding gift.

Sophie became an accomplished musician, having for her master Ambroise
Thomas. Balzac spoke very lovingly of Valentine during her early
childhood; but she was so attractive that he feared she would be
spoiled. And spoiled she was, or perhaps naturally inclined to
indolence, for he wrote her a few years later:

"I should be very glad to learn that Valentine studies as much as
the young Countess, who, besides all her other studies, practices
daily at her piano. The success of this education is owing to hard
work, which Miss Valentine shuns a little too much. Now, I say to
my dear niece that to do nothing except what we feel inclined to
do is the origin of all deterioration, especially in women. Rules
obeyed and duties fulfilled have been the law of the young
Countess from childhood, although she is an only child and a rich
heiress. . . . Thus I beg Valentine not to exhibit a Creole
/nonchalance/; but to listen to the advice of her sister, to
impose tasks on herself, and to do work of various sorts, without
neglecting the ordinary and daily cares of the household, and,
above all, constantly to withstand the inclination we all have,
more or less, to give ourselves up to what we find pleasant; it is
by this yielding to inclination that we deteriorate and fall into

While Balzac was living in Wierzchownia, he urged his nieces to write
to him oftener, as the young Countess Anna took the greatest interest
in their chatter; they were like two nightingales coming by post to
enchant the Ukrainian solitude. He had portrayed them so well that all
took an interest in them, and their letters were called for first
whenever he received a package from Paris. He requested them to send
him certain favorite recipes, and planned to have Sophie play with the
young countess.

Sophie seemed to have some of the traits of her grandmother; for the
novelist wrote his sister:

"Sophie has traced out a catechism of what she considers /my
duties/ towards you, just as last year my mother wrote me a
catechism of my duties towards my nieces; it is a sort of cholera
peculiar to our family, to lecture uncles both at home and abroad.
I make fun if it, but all these little things are remarked upon,
which I do not like; then these blank pages make me furious. I
forgive Sophie on account of the /motif/, which is you, and for
all she and Valentine have done for your /fete/. Ah! if my wishes
are ever realized, how I shall enjoy introducing my dear nieces,
both so unspoiled by the devil! I have sung their praises here. I
have said Sophie is a great musician: I add, Valentine is a /man
of letters/, and she is tired with writing three pages."

If certain letters received by Balzac from his family irritated him,
he perhaps unconsciously was making his sister jealous by continually
extolling the young Countess Mniszech:

"She has a genius, as well as a love, for music; if she had not
been an heiress, she would have been a great artiste. If she comes
to Paris in eighteen months or two years, she will take lessons in
thorough bass and composition. It is all she needs as regards
music. She has (without exaggeration) hands the size of a child of
eight years old. These minute, supple, white hands, three of which
I could hold in mine, have an iron power of finger, in the
proportion, like that of Liszt. The keys, not the fingers, bend;
she can compass ten keys by the span and elasticity of her
fingers; this phenomenon must be seen to be believed. Music, her
mother, and her husband: these three words sum up her character.
She is the Fenella of the fireside; the will-o'-wisp of our souls;
our gaiety; the life of the house. When she is not here, the very
walls are conscious of her absence--so much does she brighten them
by her presence. She had never known misfortune; she knows nothing
of annoyance; she is the idol of all who surround her, and she had
the sensibility and goodness of an angel: in one word, she unites
qualities which moralists consider incompatible; it is, however,
only a self-evident fact to all who know her. She is evidently
well informed, without pedantry; she has a delightful /naivete/;
and though long since married, she has still the gaiety of a
child, loving laughter like a little girl, which does not prevent
her from possessing a religious enthusiasm for great objects.
Physically, she has a grace even more beautiful than beauty, which
triumphs over a complexion still somewhat brown (she is hardly
sixteen);[*] a nose well formed, but not striking, except in the
profile; a charming figure, supple and /svelte/; feet and hands
exquisitely formed, and wonderfully small, as I have just
mentioned. All these advantages are, moreover, thrown into relief
by a proud bearing, full of race, by an air of distinction and
ease which all queens have not, and which is now quite lost in
France, where everybody wishes to be equal. This exterior--this
air of distinction--this look of a /grande dame/, is one of the
most precious gifts which God--the God of women can bestow. The
Countess Georges speaks four languages as if she were a native of
each of the countries whose tongue she knows so thoroughly. She
has a keenness of observation which astonishes me; nothing escapes
her. She is besides extremely prudent; and entirely to be relied
on in daily intercourse. There are no words to describe her, but
/perle fine/. Her husband adores her; I adore her; two cousins on
the point of /old-maidism/ adore her--she will always be adored,
as fresh reasons for loving her continually arise."

[*] For the incorrectness of this statement, see the chapter on the
Countess Mniszech.

Such adoration of Madame Hanska's daughter was enough to make Madame
Surville jealous, especially when she was so despondent over her
financial situation, but Balzac tried to cheer her thus: "You should
be proud of your two children, they have written two charming letters,
which have been much admired here. Two such daughters are the reward
of your life; you can afford to accept many misfortunes."[*]

[*] Sophie Surville, the older daughter, whose matrimonial
possibilities were so much discussed, was finally unhappily
married to M. Mallet. She was a good harpist, and taught the harp.
She died without issue. Valentine was married, 1859, to M. Louis
Duhamel, a lawyer. She had a good voice for singing and literary
talent; she took charge of having Balzac's correspondence
published. She had two children; a daughter who became Mme. Pierre
Carrier-Belleuse, wife of an artist, and a son, /publiciste
distingue/. Laurence de Balzac had two sons; the older Alfred de
Montzaigle, dissipated, a friend of Musset, died in 1852 without
issue. The younger son, Alfonse, married Mlle. Caroline Jung; he
died in 1868 at Strasbourg. Of their three children, only one,
Paul de Montzaigle, lived. M. Surville-Duhamel, Mme. Pierre
Carrier-Belleuse, and M. de Montzaigle are the only living
relatives of Balzac. Mme. Belleuse and M. de Montzaigle have each
a little daughter.


"Ah we are fine specimens in this blessed family of ours! What a
pity we can't put ourselves into novels."

Another member of Balzac's family circle was his affectionate and
amiable grandmother, whom he loved from childhood. After her husband's
death, Madame Sallambier lived with her daughter, Madame de Balzac.
She seems to have had a kind disposition, and having the requisite
means, she could indulge Honore in various ways. When he was brought
back from /college/ in wretched health, she condemned the schools for
their neglect.

While studying at home, Balzac frequently spent his evenings playing
whist or Boston with her. Through voluntary inattention or foolish
plays, she allowed him to win money which he used to buy books.
Throughout his life he loved these games in memory of her. she
encouraged him in his writings, and when /L'Heritiere de Birague/ was
sold for eight hundred francs, he was sure of the sale of the /first/
copy, for she had promised to buy it. He was devoted to her, and when
he had neglected writing to her for some time, he atoned by sending to
her a most affectionate letter.

After the marriage of his sister Laure, Balzac kept her informed in
detail concerning the family life. Of his grandmother, we find the

"Grandmamma begs me to say all the pretty things she would write if
that unfortunate malady did not rob her of all her facilities!
Nevertheless she begins to think her head is better, and if the
spring comes there is every reason to hope she will recover her
wonted gaiety. . . . Grandmamma is suffering from a nervous
attack; . . . Papa says that grandmamma is a clever actress who
knows the value of a walk, of a glance, and how to fall gracefully
into an easy chair."

If Madame Sallambier with her nervous attacks annoyed Balzac in his
youth, he spoke beautifully of her after her death, and referred to
her as his "grandmother who loved him," or his "most excellent
grandmother." In speaking of his grief over the death of Madame de
Berny, he said that never, since the death of his grandmother, had he
so deeply sounded the gulf of separation. One of his characteristics
he inherited from his grandmother, that of keeping trivial things
which had belonged to those he loved.

Not a great deal is said of Balzac's younger sister, Laurentia, but he
has left this pen picture of her:

"On the whole you know that Laurentia is as beautiful as a picture
--that she has the prettiest of arms and hands, that her
complexion is pale and lovely. In conversation people give her
credit for plenty of sense, and find that it is all a natural
sense, which is not yet developed. She has beautiful eyes, and
though pale many men admire that. . . . You are not aware that
Laurentia has taken a violent fancy to Augustus de L----- . Say
nothing that might lead her to suspect I have betrayed the secret,
but I have all the trouble in the world to get it into her head
that authors are the most villainous of matches (in respect of
fortune, be it understood). Really Laurentia is quite romantic.
How she would hate me if she knew with what irreverence I allude
to her tender attachment."

This attachment was evidently not very serious, for not long afterward
Laurentia was married to Monsieur de Montzaigle. His family had a
title and stood well in the town, so Laurentia's parents were pleased
with the marriage. This was a great event in the family, and Balzac
describes to his married sister, Laure, the accompanying excitement in
the home:

"Grandmamma is in a great state of delight; papa is quite
satisfied,--so am I,--so are you. As to mamma, recall the last
days of your own /demoisellerie/, and you will have some idea of
what Laurentia and I have to endure. Nature surrounds all roses
with thorns: mamma follows nature."[*]

[*] It was from the father of Laurentia's husband that M. and Madame
de Berny bought their home in Villeparisis.

The happiness of poor Laurentia was of short duration. She died five
years after her marriage, having two children. Her husband did not
prove to be what the Balzac family had expected, and her children were
left destitute for Madame de Balzac to care for. Balzac always spoke
tenderly of her, and once in despair he exclaimed that at times he
envied his poor sister Laurentia, who had been lying for many years in
her coffin.

After Balzac's return from St. Petersburg, his letters were filled
with allusions to Madame de Brugnolle, his housekeeper and financial
counselor. He brought presents to various friends, and her he
presented with a muff. Besides being very practical, economical and
kind, she was a good manager for Balzac financially and strict with
him regarding his diet; the /bonne montagnarde/ did almost everything
possible, from running his errands to making his home happy. He sent

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