Letters of Two Brides

Mémoires de Deux Jeunes Mariées
Letters of Two Brides
Also translated as Memoirs of Two Young Married Women

In the first letter we learn that the two young letter writers are Armande-Louise-Marie de Chaulieu and Renee de Maucombe and that they met and became best friends during their stay at the Carmelite Convent in Blois. Renee, only at the convent to be educated, was the first to leave. Louise, destined to become a nun, declined so severely after the departure of Renee that her aunt, a nun at the convent who was happy in the religious life, convinced Louise’s mother to change her mind and let Louise return home.

Louise writes to Renee that she was taken to Paris by a lady companion (Miss Griffith) and her late grandmother’s last remaining valet (Philippe) and installed in her grandmother’s apartments. No family were waiting to welcome her home. She was sad at being in her beloved grandmother’s rooms (which were as they had been when she died) but was told that the furniture and more had been left to her. Louise nearly faints at the thought that her father would have abandoned her to die in the convent instead of using any money received in restitution to arrange a marriage for her. Thinking that the only two people who ever loved her were Renee and her grandmother, Louise is now happy to be in her grandmother’s room and smell the lingering fragrance of her powder.

Louise’s mother has the rooms directly under hers with access via the same secret staircase. The father’s rooms are in a different wing. Being notified that her mother has returned, Louise goes with trepidation to pay her respects to the woman who only wrote her two letters in the eight years Louise was at the convent. The mother tactfully kisses Louise on the forehead and speaks to her as an adult, mentioning that she should not appear in society until new dresses are made for her. Louise pretends to be simpler and more naive than she actually is. The father arrives and almost seems sincere in his affection. The brother, Alphonse, states that he will take Louise’s side against their father, but Louise wonders why he never came to visit her in the convent when he was nearby visiting their brother the Marquis.

Louise’s father admits that he hoped to use her inheritance from her grandmother for her brother. She has disrupted that plan but he hopes that some day she will agree. Louise admits that she liked his frankness.

At lunch, which is the only meal the family regularly takes together, Louise realizes that her parents lead separate lives and the show of unity is only for the outer world. She has noted that her mother is never “visible” between the afternoon hours of two and four and that during this time she receives a young man of whom Louise has not yet been able to catch the merest glimpse.

It’s December and Louise’s wardrobe is ready; she will finally be coming out! At the ball, she is kept near to her mother, who also arranged dances for her–all with fools as Louise declares. She saw only one man at the ball who impressed her in the least. He was an author. Society appears to be a maze of intrigue. She goes to bed saddened by her first encounter with Society.

Louise finally hears from Renee and she’s got news! She’s getting married in a month’s time, although it doesn’t seem to be a love match, but more a combination of a safe settlement and someone that needs her care. She desperately wants childen and tells Louise that she will live for her children, so Louise must always write her every detail of excitement in her life. Renee plans to renovate the estate and expects no opposition from her future husband in any of her plans.

Some correspondence from others now appears. Don Felipe writes to his brother of his narrow escape to his estate in Sardinia after being betrayed. He, the Duc de Soria, had hoped to live on his estates, but they were run-down and improverished by neglect. Don Felipe tells his brother to go to the King and ask to be granted Don Felipe’s titles and property saying that Marie Heredia loves him and can marry no one but a Duc de Soria. He knows that they love each other and that Marie was only engaged to him (Felipe) by the wishes of their fathers. Felipe wishes Fernand to have all except his mother’s diamonds and his old nurse Urraca.

Writing from Paris, Felipe mentions that he is getting along by giving private lessons and living in a boarding house. Love seems to be his main regret and he wonders why he was never able to inspire love in a woman. Even their mother preferred Fernand. Felipe closes by requesting that Marie be told none of this and asks Fernand to caution Urraca to be careful only to address him by the name he is currently using, M Henarez.

Louise writes Renee that she will accompany her father to the French Embassy in Spain. Her mother would only go if M de Canalis was a member of the party. He is her mysterious afternoon visitor. The author of the previous letter, the Spanish refugee Don Felipe Henarez, happens to be the tutor teaching Spanish to Louise and her father. Louise admits that he is unattractive in looks–except for his eyes, the most beautiful eyes imaginable.

Renee writes to Louise that she is now married and very happy with her situation even though her love for her husband is not passionate. She is restoring both the estate and her husband’s emotional health and looking forward to having children.

Louise writes that the thought of Renee existing in commonplace tedium gives her chills. She again mentions how her Spanish tutor’s melancholy fascinates her even while his coldness provokes her. She has begun to play word games with him.

Renee writes a quick answer warning Louise to have nothing to do with the Spaniard.

Louise writes to Renee that her father told her he was fooled by her attitude when she first returned home and is now pleased to find her intelligent and open. He requests she take as much as six months to reconsider relinquishing her inheritance for the sake of her brother and if she still declines, he will respect her wishes. Returning the subject of her tutor, Louise is ashamed to admit that she condescended to offer him her hand to kiss. At a ball she asked Felix de Vandenesse to obtain information for her about anyone bearing the name of Henarez who had visited France in the company of the King of Spain. The Prince de Talleyrand related that the Duke and his two sons were among guests at his country estate in 1809 and Henarez is the Moorish name of the Soria family. He added to Vandenesse that the old Duke is deceased and the elder son has just had everything, titles, land, etc., confiscated by King Ferdinand, but escaped before being put to death. Louise confronts her tutor with the information and he flatly denies he is the Duc de Soria. Without lying he frustrates Louise by not admitting or denying he is a nobleman. She lays a trap for him with a letter purportedly from a friend detailing the man who could win her heart. Henarez asks to keep the letter in remembrance of Louise as this is their last lesson. He has just received enough money for his needs from his family and desires to send another poor Spaniard to be her tutor. At dinner, Louise’s father says that Henarez now uses the title Baron de Macumer from his estate in Sardinia. Louise confesses to Renee that she is in love with Henarez and was thrilled to discover him watching her, never taking his eyes from her, at the Opera.

Renee writes a long letter to Louise. It seems her marriage was one of convenience with the alternative being to return to the convent. Renee’s husband loves her with a passion and she confessed to him that it was not returned but hoped that some day it would be. He was willing to wait and it paid off, for in three short months, she viewed him in a romantic light and is very happy now. Her husband Louis is studying to meet the political ambitions she has for him. He is deliriously happy as indicated by a letter he wrote Renee when he was away at Marseilles.

The younger brother and new Duc de Soria wrote to Henarez that he and Marie have sent two million francs with the servant Urraca and beg him to keep them because he and Marie have each other. Henarez is cautioned to send his letters to them via Rome and remain incognito.

Louise relates to Marie that she spotted the Baron in a tree at night contemplating her window. He sent a message which she burned without reading. The next evening at the opera, he was again watching her. After she heard more about him–all good and romantic!–from the chief secretary of the Spanish embassy, she was sorry she hadn’t read his note of the previous night. When she gets home, Louise is thrilled to receive another letter which she reproduces for Renee–a love letter. Baron de Macumer asks for a sign. If she will accept his attentions, she is to to carry a red camellia and a white camellia at the opera the following night. Louise arrives at the opera carrying a white camellia, but takes a red one from her mother’s bouquet during the evening, giving Henarez an unmistakable sign. The opera is “Romeo and Juliet”.

It’s now April. While Louise is riding in her carriage, she spots the Spaniard on a fine Arabian horse bred on his estate in Sardinia. He stops to talk and she indicates that he is drawing too much attention to himself with such a magnificent horse. He appears the next day on an English horse.

Louise confesses to Renee that she loves Felipe, as she now calls her former tutor, but conceals the fact from him. Louise’s portrait was painted. She gave the original to Felipe and said the copy was good enough for her father. Felipe had the Sardinian ambassador bring him to the De Chaulieu opera box and introduce him. Mmes de Maufrigneuse and d’Espard were present at the time and remarked that he was in love.

Louise writes to Felipe that she is very displeased by his attitude and actions at Mme d’Espard’s. Felipe replies with a profuse letter of apology to Louise and indicates that he wanted her to see the “few gifts” he possesses as he was considered “a good talker” in Madrid.

Louise tells Renee that she further tested Felipe and then told him to ask for her hand, saying that her father wished to keep her fortune and if Felipe would acknowledge receipt of it in the marriage contract, she felt sure he would agree to the marriage. She scolds Renee for not writing more often.

Renee answers Louise, saying that her life is so routine she had nothing about which to write.

Louise writes Renee that the wedding is set and immediately afterwards they are leaving for a new estate Felipe has purchased.

It has been eight month’s since Louise’s marriage and she is deliriously happy. She and Felipe spent seven and one half months at Chantepleurs, their estate sixty leagues from Paris, and have now returned to Paris. Louise urges Renee to have Louis elected deputy as he will soon be forty, old enough for a seat in the Chamber at Paris.

The listless Renee writes to Louise from her outdoor sanctuary from which she can see the Mediterranean in the distance.

Renee had her husband write to tell Louise that she had a boy and would like Renee to be the godmother. They have named the baby Armand-Louis and the christening will be postponed until Louise can attend.

Ever selfish Louise writes she would be happy to be the godmother but Felipe must be the godfather as she does not want to take part in a church ceremony with anyone else. She then babbles on about her gay, full life.

It’s been five months since the baby and Renee writes that this is the first chance she’s had to pen a letter to Louise. Renee feels that the love she now feels for Louis as the father of her child may surpass the emotional romantic love.

Louise mentions her daily schedule to Renee. The mornings belong to Felipe but from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. her time is given to Paris and society. Louise’s parents have left for Madrid. Her mother went because they were able to get her “fascinating poet” appointed attache. With her inheritance, Louise’s father purchased an estate for the younger brother who is now engaged to Mlle de Mortsauf. Louise says that though she was “insignificant” two years ago she now reigns as a queen and is described as “the most charming woman in Paris”, adding that there are at least a score of women always in that position. Louise is coming to realize there is a price to pay for this celebrity and she longs for a real friend.

Renee tells Louise that she has had no time to write as she is a slave to her baby day and night.

Louise addressed her letter to “The Vicomtesse de L’Estorade”. She wrote to Renee in the presence of the Keeper of the Seals to let them know that Louis’ father was just made Comte de l’Estorade.

Louise and Felipe have been at La Crampade for the Christening. Louise writes to Renee from an inn. She and Felipe left La Crampade suddenly and without telling anyone because Louise was jealous of the way Felipe looked at Renee! She didn’t like their tete-a-tetes and she was also growing envious of the attention bestowed on the baby. Louise mentions she must have a baby of her own before Renee visits Chantepleurs. However, she hopes Renee will visit in October when Felipe is in Sardinia tending to estate business.

Renee writes how surprised everyone was at the abrupt departure of Louise and Felipe and how silly it was for Renee to be jealous. She goes on to write a lengthy letter of how she thinks Louise should behave in her marriage and toward Felipe, ruling without appearing to do so. It has worked marvelously for her and Louis.

Louise writes from Italy, having foiled Felipe’s plans to go alone and work on his estate in Sardinia. She has not received Renee’s letter of advice which was sent to Chantepleurs and has no plans to return to Chantepleurs until at least after the first of the year.

In a brief letter to Louise in Italy, Renee asks Louise to have her initial letter after the visit and departure forwarded to her. She gives Louise some government news and says that since Louis is not yet forty, her father will stand for the seat and then resign when the right time arrives.

Louise received the “atrocious” letter and cried as she read it to her husband. But she was grateful for the letter after Felipe said he would rather have five years with her the way they were than thirty years under the conditions proposed by Renee. Louise said this proved the depth of Felipe’s love for her.

Much news in this letter dated January 1827. Renee’s father was duly elected to the Chamber, Louis’ father has died and Renee is nearing the birth of her second child. Her first child, Armand, was very ill. He miraculously recovered after four miserable days and no help from the three doctors who were called in.

Louise has been busy in Paris and Louis can now wear a ribbon of the Legion of Honor. She concedes that her father was correct in using her inheritance for the benefit of the younger son as he is now well married and in line for his father-in-law’s post as first gentleman of the chamber. Her parents returned from Madrid for the wedding. Also in Paris are her brother and sister-in-law, the Duc and Duchesse de Soria and she is nervous of Marie’s splendid appearance and is giving extra attention and caresses to Felipe. She and Felipe plan to go to Chantepleurs early as their Italian tour was so costly.

Renee writes Louise that she now has a daughter, Jeanne-Athenais. She still worries about little Armand but he is doing well, eating and walking. She will visit at Chantepleurs as soon as she’s able.

Louise writes Renee that she would give anything and suffer anything if only she could have a child.

Louise scolds Renee for not having written for an entire year! And for not being in Paris with Louis these four months.

Renee writes that besides the sick uncle, she didn’t want to bring two youngsters to Paris to live in a hotel just when she was expecting her confinement. The uncle has given her funds for purchasing a house in Paris. As for not writing, the children are taking up all her time.

Felipe is dead! Louise writes to Renee of his last days, her bedside vigil and the comfort she received from his brother and wife. She begs Renee to come to her and bring the children.

Renee writes that Louis is detained with election business but she and the children are on their way.

It’s been about four years since Felipe’s death and Louise writes to Renee that she is marrying again, secretly. She has liquidated most of her assets and plans on living in strict seclusion with her new husband who she claims to love as much as Felipe loved her.
Marie Gaston is Louise’s idol.

Marie writes his friend and saviour Daniel D’Arthez, inviting him and Joseph Bridau to the wedding and telling him all about Louise.

Renee writes a brief letter to Louise telling her she thinks she is making a mistake but that as there is no going back. She is glad to know that their isolation is only two leagues from Paris.

Renee writes to Louise that she hasn’t heard from her in two years and misses her. She says Louis is happy in his career and gives details of how her three children are faring.

Louise answers Renee’s letter saying that she and Marie are deliriously happy and that they never go anywhere even though they often think they should go to Paris to see the new sights. They are all in all to each other but still wish for children.

Renee writes that Louise that her letter sounds like that of a child and that they really should return to Paris.

Louise writes Renee that a calamity has struck. After she discovered Gaston had made a hurried and secret trip to Paris she became so jealous she played the part of a spy. Eventually she found that he had been visiting a Madame Gaston and two boys who looked just like him. Louise has now arranged for her death. She had made her will and asks Renee to come for a last farewell.

Renee consulted Louis and they had Gaston investigated. The woman is his brother’s widow and the two boys his nephews. He was helping them secretly to avoid imposing them upon Louise.

Louise answers Renee: “It is too late. Come to see me die!”

Renee writes her husband and tells him to go to Provence with the children and she will stay with Louise who is on the point of death. Renee brought Bianchon and other doctors to see Louise but none could save her. Determined to die when she thought Gaston was unfaithful, she worked herself into a sweat one night and lay by the lake in the damp. Louise spoke to Renee of love and said that at least she had lived her thirty years. Louise had Gaston bring his sister-in-law and nephews so she could meet them and Renee sent for Louise’s family. Gaston confided to Renee that he needed to be a father to his nephews and asked Renee to be a second mother. As he felt the blow of losing Louise would shorten his life, he wanted Louis to be the guardian along with his sister-in-law. Louise kept up a bold front before everyone but Renee until almost the very end. She died on her birthday.

Read it here

Summarized by Dagny, February 2010


2 comments on “Letters of Two Brides

  1. scamperpb says:

    I find I’m all over the map in my thoughts on this story. It’s different for Balzac but well done. Jim Paris says it is the story of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. Louise the City Mouse allows her father to take her inheritance to make a prominent place in society for her brother but falls in love with her tutor, who turns out to be a Spanish noble. Not exactly likely, LOL, but typical of romantic Balzac. At any rate she marries him, they live happily and then he dies (somehow this is her fault because of her jealousies). She remarries, lives happily until overcome with suspicions of another woman and then she herself dies. She is childless, for which her friend Renee the Country Mouse criticizes her even though it’s not Louise’s intention not to have children. Renee married to have children but grew to love her husband and had a happy life. I remain convinced that Balzac never quite understood women – or perhaps French women at this time, at least the ones to which Balzac was exposed to, were unlike other women.


  2. I didn’t notice this the first time around, but Renee is also heavily featured in The Member for Arcis.


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