A Study of Woman by Honoré de Balzac

Étude de femme
A Study of  Woman

This is another amusing little bagatelle of a story. On one hand, there is the ultra-responsible ultraist the Marquise de Listomere, who goes to confession and communion regularly as she waits for her dullard of a husband to move up in the ranks under Louis XVIII.

On the other, there is our old friend, Eugene de Rastignac, who toys with the idea of toying with the upright Marquise when he meets her at a party. When he returns home, he thinks hot thoughts about her under the sheets. When he awakes, he writes two letters, one to his lawyer and the other to his current inamorata, Madame de Nucingen.

At least, that’s what he thinks he does. Except that his provocative little billet-doux is actually addressed to … the Marquise de Listomere. Now here’s a pickle if there ever was one!

When the Marquise gets his letter, she turns several shades of red, though, most interestingly, she doesn’t throw the letter into the fire. Instead, she plans to remain blissfully correct, while, perhaps, at the same time, reveling in the thought that a young scamp like Eugene de Rastignac is after her bod.

For starters, she tries to beard Eugene de Rastignac at the Marquis de Beauseant’s party, but he doesn’t show. Then Eugene discovers his mistake and pays a visit to the Chateau Listomere, where he is refused admittance. But who should he meet by the door than the Marquis, who bluffly invites him in.

Naturally, the Marquise is nonplussed that her little ploy has fizzled. When he gets a moment alone with the Marquise, he stammers an explanation to her and turns all the hues of the spectrum as he tries to get the truth out without incriminating his real mistress. But the Marquise has by now guessed that it is Mme de Nucingen who was to be the recipient of Eugene’s mash note.

Oddly, the Marquise is less than triumphant at having heard that Eugene is in fact not after her (at least, seriously not). She withdraws in a huff and lets it out that she is suffering from gastritis as she cancels all her social engagements.

One of the things I like about this story is that it is just as much a study of men and their omnidirected sexuality as it is about women.


Read it here

Summary by Jim, August 2009

2 comments on “A Study of Woman by Honoré de Balzac

  1. scamperpb says:

    This is a pleasant little story – a sketch really. Saintsbury said he thought Balzac should have done more sketches and less long, involved stories, and I am inclined to agree. It was amusing that the chaste Marquise de Listomere was miffed when she figured out the love letter by Eugene was meant for someone else, LOL. My guess is many women would react as she did – I guess we all like a little extra excitement in our lives. I wonder if she would have responded, or just enjoyed being indignant, LOL.


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