Madame Firmiani by Honoré de Balzac

Madame Firmiani

It’s not only beauty but everything which is in the eye of the beholder.

One of the rumours being bandied around is that a young man about town by the name of Octave de Camps has ruined himself for Madame Firmiani.

This rumour has reached even to the provinces and the attention of his uncle, Monsieur de Bourbonne, who comes to Paris with the intention of investigating the matter. Having friends in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, the uncle is introduced to Madame Firmiani using the name of his estate, Monsieur de Rouxellay. He is totally enchanted after a quarter hour.

After all the other guests have left, Monsieur de Bourbonne tells Madame Firmiani that he is Octave’s uncle and relates the rumours he has heard. She pales but he is unable to read the meaning of her reaction. When he asks her if she loves his nephew, she hedges and retires.

The next morning Monsieur de Bourbonne surprises Octave, who has been up all night in his room. He talks without allowing Octave to explain but doesn’t really give him a hard time.

When Octave is finally able to speak, he tells his uncle that he and Madame Firmiani are married. The uncle is taken aback since the couple is not living together.

Octave feels the best way to explain the situation is to read his wife’s letter to his uncle. It seems that Octave’s father got rich by ill-gotten means at the expense of another family and she wanted nothing to do with it. But if he made amends she wanted him to do so because it was the right thing to do and not because it would please her.

Octave, who had probably never really thought about it, immediately suffers remorse and wants to pay the family back with interest. Madame Firmiani isn’t just all talk either. She freely offers her savings which he accepts.

Octave tells his uncle that his wife is worried about her fortune as her first husband’s will has not been found and she fears other heirs might take all she has. Octave wants to earn a fortune himself so she will not suffer if this happens.

The good uncle offers to pay the honest debts but Octave desires to work and only requests a thousand crowns a year until he needs some capital for a business. He is working on an invention which will make him millions if successful.

Just then Octave hears Madame Firmiani’s coach arrive. She rushes in breathlessly to say that Firmiani’s will has been found and gives her fortune to Octave.

 

Read it here

Summary by Dagny, April 2009

3 comments on “Madame Firmiani by Honoré de Balzac

  1. scamperpb says:

    This is a slight little story, really more of a portrait than a story – or a ‘skit’ as Saintsbury calls it. I do believe it may be the only story of Balzac’s that I recall with a truly noble and virtuous woman – can that be right? Here’s a young woman who marries for love and is willing to give away her fortune to clear her husband’s moral obligations caused by his ancestors’ swindling a family. Amazing.

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  2. There are a few, just that they’re few and far between, lol. Honorine is one, although she’s just a girl. The Lily of the Valley is one–I can’t think of her actual name offhand, the wife/mother.

    The big one is Josephine Claes from The Quest for the Absolute/Alkahest!

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  3. scamperpb says:

    I knew there had to be some, thanks! A poor showing for 35 volumes of stories, LOL.

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