Letters to Madame Hanska

To Madame Hanska.

Paris, January, 1833.

Madame,—I entreat you to completely separate the author from the man, and to believe in the sincerity of the sentiments which I have vaguely expressed in the correspondence you have obliged me to hold with you. In spite of the perpetual caution which some friends give me against certain letters like those which I have had the honour to receive from you, I have been keenly touched by a tone that levity cannot counterfeit. If you will deign to excuse the folly of a young heart and a wholly virgin imagination, I will own that you have been to me the object of the sweetest dreams; in spite of my hard work I have found myself more than once galloping through space to hover above the unknown country where you, also unknown, live alone of your race. I have taken pleasure in comprehending you among the remains almost always unfortunate of a dispersed people, a people scattered thinly over the earth, exiled perhaps from heaven, but of whom each being has language and sentiments to him peculiar and unlike those of other men,—delicacy, choiceness of soul, chasteness of feeling, tenderness of heart, purer, sweeter, gentler than in the best of other created beings. There is something saintly in even their enthusiasms, and calm in their ardour. These poor exiles have all, in their voices, their words, their ideas, something, I know not what, which distinguishes them from others, which serves to bind them to one another in spite of distance, lands, and language; a word, a phrase, the very sentiment exhaled in a look are like a rallying call which they obey; and, compatriots of a hidden land whose charms are reproduced in their memories, they recognize and love one another in the name of that country toward which they stretch their arms. Poesy, music, and religion are their three divinities, their favourite loves; and all these passions awake in their hearts sensations that are equally powerful.

I have clothed you with all these ideas. I have held out to you my hand, fraternally, from afar, without conceit, without affectation, but with a confidence that is almost domestic, with sincerity; and could you have seen my glance you would have recognized within it both the gratitude of a lover and the religions of the heart,—the pure tenderness that binds the son to a mother, the brother to a sister, the respect of a young man for woman, and the delightful hopes of a long and fervent friendship.

‘T was an episode wholly romantic; but who will dare to blame the romantic? It is only frigid souls who cannot conceive all there is of vast in the emotions to which the unknown gives full scope. The less we are restrained by reality, the higher is the flight of the soul. I have therefore let myself gently float upon my reveries, and they are ravishing. So, if a star darts from your candle, if your ear should catch a distant murmur, if you see figures in the fire, if something sparkles or speaks beside you, near you, believe that my spirit is wandering among your panels.

Amid the battle I am fighting, amid my heavy toil, my endless studies, in this agitated Paris, where politics and literature absorb some sixteen or eighteen hours of the twenty-four, to me, an unfortunate man, widely different from the author that people imagine, come charming hours which I owe to you. So, in order to thank you, I dedicated to you the fourth volume of the “Scènes de la Vie privée,” putting your seal at the head of the last “Scene,” which I was writing at the moment when I received your first letter. But a person who is a mother for me, and whose caprices and even jealousy I am bound to respect, exacted that this silent testimony of secret sentiments should be suppressed. I have the sincerity to avow to you both the dedication and its destruction, because I believe you have a soul sufficiently lofty not to desire a homage which would cause grief to a person as noble and grand as she whose child I am, for she preserved me in the midst of griefs and shipwreck where in my youth I nearly perished. I live by the heart only, and she made me live! I have saved the only copy of that dedication for which I was blamed as if it were a horrible coquetry; keep it, madame, as a souvenir and by way of thanks. When you read the book say to yourself that in concluding it and revising it I thought of you and of the compositions which you have preferred to all the others. Perhaps what I am doing is wrong; but the purity of my intentions must absolve me.


Excerpt from first letter. Entire book available free at Project Gutenberg.


Droll Stories by Honoré de Balzac

Contes Drolatiques
Droll Stories, Collected from the Abbeys of Touraine



This is a book of the highest flavour, full of right hearty merriment, spiced to the palate of the illustrious and very precious tosspots and drinkers, to whom our worthy compatriot, Francois Rabelais, the eternal honour of Touraine, addressed himself. Be it nevertheless understood, the author has no other desire than to be a good Touranian, and joyfully to chronicle the merry doings of the famous people of this sweet and productive land, more fertile in cuckolds, dandies and witty wags than any other, and which has furnished a good share of men of renown in France.
Honoré de Balzac


As you might suspect from the above quote (Prologue, Volume 1), though humorous, many of the stories are a bit risqué. They are set in the sixteenth century and written in old style language. Balzac’s original plan was to write one hundred of these short stories, but only thirty were completed at the time of his death. Generally available in three groups of ten, the final ten were completed and published in 1837.


Droll Stories — Volume 1, The First Ten Tales:

 The Fair Imperia
The Venial Sin
The King’s Sweetheart
The Devil’s Heir
The Merrie Jests of King Louis the Eleventh
The High Constable’s Wife
The Maid of Thilouse
The Brother-in-arms
The Vicar of Azay-le-rideau
The Reproach

Read it here


Droll Stories — Volume 2, The Second Ten Tales:

The Three Clerks of Saint Nicholas
The Continence of King Francis the First
The Merry Tattle of the Nuns of Poissy
How the Chateau D’Azay Came to Be Built
The False Courtesan
The Danger of Being Too Innocent
The Dear Night of Love
The Sermon of the Merry Vicar of Meudon
The Succubus
Despair in Love

Read it here


Droll Stories — Volume 3, The Third Ten Tales:

Perseverance in Love
Concerning a Provost Who Did Not Recognise Things
About the Monk Amador, Who Was a Glorious Abbot of Turpenay
Bertha the Penitent
How the Pretty Maid of Portillon Convinced Her Judge
In Which It Is Demonstrated That Fortune Is Always Feminine
Concerning a Poor Man Who Was Called Le Vieux Par-Chemins
Odd Sayings of Three Pilgrims
The Fair Imperia Married

Read it here


Now make ye merry, my hearties, and gayly read with ease of body and rest of reins, and may a cancer carry you if you disown me after having read me.

These words are those of our good Master Rabelais, before whom we must also stand, hat in hand, in token of reverence and honour to him, prince of all wisdom, and king of Comedy. – Honoré de Balzac


The Afflictions of an English Cat by Honoré de Balzac

Peines de coeur d’une chatte anglaise
The Afflictions of an English Cat

Included in Lords of the Housetops: Thirteen Cat Tales
Translated by Carl Van Vechten




The Afflictions of an English Cat which, it will be perceived by even a careless reader, is certainly a good deal more than a cat story. It is, indeed, a satire on British respectability, but we Americans of today need not snicker at the English while reading it, for the point is equally applicable to us.

Carl Van Vechten.
April 6, 1920.
New York.


Read it here
Listen to it here


Love in a Mask – A Note



A Hitherto Unpublished Novel



Translated by


Copyright, 1911


Balzac, in gratitude to the Duchesse de Dino for her friendship and unfailing kindness to him, one day presented her with the story of “L’Amour Masque” (Love in a Mask) in his own handwriting. The duchess was one of the few French aristocrats who in Balzac’s time welcomed untitled authors to their salons, and her library boasted many such offerings from the literary men of her day. She placed Balzac’s unpublished book on her shelves by the side of similarly unpublished poems by Alfred de Musset, and stories by Eugene Sue and others. The Balzac manuscript was incased in a finely tooled binding of great richness and beauty, bearing the ex libris of the ducal family.

For more than half a century the manuscript remained where the duchess had placed it. Then her son, M. Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, the present Duc de Dino, made it a present to his friend, the learned Lucien Aubanel. By him it was given to M. Gillequin, with the suggestion that it be published, and it accordingly appeared in print for the first time in March, 1911. The Duc de Dino, in a letter written to M. Gillequin on this occasion, guaranteed the history of the volume which for so long had been one of the treasured possessions of his family.


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Thanks to Marc at Free Literature this edition of Love in a Mask is now available in numerous formats at Project Gutenberg.

The Vicar’s Passion

The Vicar’s Passion is one of Balzac’s early works (often referred to as Pot-Boilers) to which he did not sign his real name. Le Vicaire des Ardennes was published under the pseudonym of Horace de Saint-Aubin.

The Yahoo Balzac Group will be reading and discussing this work beginning October 1.

Publisher’s Comment: The novel begins with a brilliant comedic scene in which the local bourgeoisie wonders about its new vicar, a dashingly handsome young man with a dark, brooding personality. Ultimately, they begin to uncover his “terrible” past . . .