Une Double Famille
A Second Home
Also translated as A Double Family
Also translated as A Double Life
This is one of Balzac’s best stories, about a man who keeps two households.
The story begins with a chaste and lovely needlewoman called Caroline who spends her days by the window of a run-down house in a seedy part of Paris. A gloomy young man passes by each day and inevitably he notices her and begins to take an interest in her despite his depression. One day he sees that she is desperately short of money and throws his purse in through the window, and after that there’s a picnic. One thing leads to another, and he sets her up in a charming house where she lives contentedly and bears him a couple of children.
Her mother, a rather crafty old woman, falls ill before long and there’s a splendid scene where three old biddies and her servant are all waiting for her to die so that they can get their hands on her money. On her death-bed she reveals the name of the man whose mistress her daughter is.
It turns out that Granville was a rising young lawyer who was persuaded by his father to marry a rich heiress called Angelique who is very religious. (This is not the only story where Balzac paints a disturbing picture of the excesses of religious fervour.) She furnishes his house in gloomy style and poor taste, and she inflicts excessive fasting on him but things were not too bad until the arrival in Paris of the Canon of Bayeux Cathedral who had been her confessor. From then on her religious bigotry made her difficult indeed: she refused to dress fashionably at social functions, and she won’t dance. She wants to boycott the social functions Granville needed to attend and even sought the advice of the Pope, who told her it was her duty to go wherever her husband took her. This made little impression on her however, and he couldn’t even invite anyone to dinner at home any more. To protect his sons from her bigotry he sent them away to school, but his daughters he allowed to remain at home because he intended to marry them off ASAP (and they turn up in a later story called A Daughter of Eve).
This goes on for years and years and his relationship with Caroline is the only thing that brings him joy – but of course Angelique has to find out somehow and she does when the Abbe tells her all about it. He ticks off Caroline who of course is distraught and there is a dreadful scene when Angelique arrives and has hysterics.
Some years later, Granville meets up with his friend the doctor, Bianchon in the street: it is where Caroline Crochard and her children is living in poverty with a wretch called Solvet but he isn’t interested – he has become bitter and twisted and won’t take an interest in any relationship ever again. None of his children bring him joy; they are only interested in their own lives and just want his money. He breaks off his friendship with Bianchon because he has helped Caroline who has transferred her affection to Solvet and broken his heart.
Later Granville sees his son Eugene and gives money, saying that a father should not have to ‘blush before his son’ but a lack of union between a husband and a wife always leads to terrible misfortune.
Read it here
Summarized by Lisa Hill, January 9th, 2011