The Secrets of a Princess by Honoré de Balzac

Les Secrets de la Princesse de Cadignan
The Secrets of a Princess
Also translated as The Secrets of the Princesse de Cadignan

The Princess de Cadignan has the reputation of a coquette. The consequences of the July Revolution and a history of affairs have made the princess retire from the center of society. The house she shares with the Duc Georges de Maufrigneuse, a son, has all of the lovers in portraits. The Marquise, Mme d’Éspard, also a coquette, befriends her. Both easily inspired love from men but long in the autumn of life to feel happiness as well as the trepidation of first love. No one in society would believe that at heart they are complete innocents at love–except a man of genius, who might doubt after the initial rush of fascination. He would succumb to her beauty, feminine gestures, varying intonation, and steadfast adoration, but would require a lifetime of deception to blind him to the truth about her.

The chosen man is an author, Daniel D’Arthèz, who has led until now life like a Benedictine and who has boarded with Michel Chrestien, a promising adorer of the princess for four years. Friends persuade him that he has already achieved fame and wealth; he should now come into society and enjoy it. The princess would fascinate him, but they forewarn him about ruinous extravagances. Mme d’Éspard sets up an intimate dinner at which the princess and D’Arthèz meet. He succumbs like the majority of men. The ease of conquest distresses her so that the women plan to become rivals to test the depth of his belief in her angelic innocence.

The princess gets to work to create and sustain a love in Daniel D’Arthèz, who possesses genius and naiveness. At thirty-eight he has the simplicity and handsomeness of Bonaparte; he has talent and sociability. She is falling in love. She read the books he has written and compares them with contemporary literature. When he visits, she converses about his writing and the prince her son, his father’s expenditures, her womanly suffering, and other private confidences. She transfixes the writer and arouses his curiosity. He begins to visit during the days and evenings, and their conversation is about literature and other platonic topics. She incites him to expressiveness but holds off his advances. He compliments her and distinguishes her from the rest of womankind. The princess laughs to herself.

The confession of a pretty woman is spurred by an apparent letter from Monsieur de Cadignan her estranged husband. Though, she says, he has committed wrongs against her, she feels for his separation from native soil. She tells (invents) her life story after Daniel assures her of his trustworthiness and spiritual closeness. He kisses her hands as she weaves a web to snare his sympathy. The invented story goes that her selfish mother married her conveniently off at seventeen. She knew nothing of marriage, having been sent to a convent to be raised. Her joy after marriage became her son. Society gossiped about her amorous follies; she had to ask financial assistance from the king. Her mother finally repented the ill treatment toward Diane, but her husband belittled her, treating her like a child. She eventually lost pleasure with the world, finding solace in motherhood and solitude. She muses that Michel Chrestien, who revived hopes of love, died to save her insensitive and unloving husband. These revelations brought tears to Daniel’s eyes. She should revile men but still holds out hope for love, claiming herself a virgin and a martyr. Daniel assures her he will make up the love she has missed. She presents an aura of sacredness to him. She objects that a long time will be needed to get over her past misuse. Daniel then spends hours spelling out her particular beauty as she pretends surprise. He later reflects on what he has heard about the inhumanity of society.

A month later Mme d’Éspard visits. Diane initially keeps secret the mention of Daniel but reminds the marquise of their conversation three months ago about the love of a genius. Diane has found love, requesting her friend not to mention Daniel in society yet suspects her friend might try to take him away. Diane therefore proactively sends him to Mme d’Éspard’s to give the impression of their being like brother and sister. At this gathering, he meets Maxime de Trailles, Marquis d’Esgrignon, Rastignac, and others of society who share an inside joke about the princess. He asks Madame de Montcornet to explain it and blurts to the group that Diane might commit the immoralities that men do but she will also save her victims from disaster. All admire his forthright words, having expected sentiment or imagination of him. He managed to avenge the insult against her without defending her actions. He returns to Diane, who initially does not know what to expect of the trial until she sees him. She experiences the tremors of extreme felicity, which she recognizes to be the feeling of love for Daniel. She knows what happened before he tells her; they live happily ever after in her secluded country villa.

Read it here

Summarized by Linnet, September 2010


The Country Parson by Honoré de Balzac

Le Curé de Village
The Country Parson

Also translated as The Village Rector

The Country Parson opens with a picturesque portrait of the house in Limoges which became the Sauviat shop and home. Jerome-Baptiste Sauviat is an Auvergnat peddlar specializing in metal. In 1797, at around age fifty and tired of travelling, he married the daughter of a coppersmith named Champagnac. Madame Sauviat, also from Auvergne, was around thirty at the time of their marriage. Both were rough and strong. Though neither could read, when it came to business, both were excellent in arithmetic. Both were religious and freely gave to the parish though they were extremely frugal in their daily living.

Veronique was born in May, 1802. This beautiful little girl, the delight and joy of her parents, was called “the Little Virgin”. She was educated by a Gray Sister who was also an Auvergnate. At age eleven, Veronique contracted smallpox and for two months her life hung in the balance, only being saved by diligent nursing and care. Her looks were ravaged but not her grace.

When Veronique was about fifteen, she read to her parents in the evenings from Vie des Saints, Lettres edifiantes or other books lent by the curate of Saint-Etienne. When she was sixteen, Veronique took a fancy to an edition of Paul et Virginie by Bernardin de Sainte-Pierre and it changed her life. She now dreamed of romance, love and a young man like Paul.

In December 1822, the curate told Sauviat that he should think of marrying Veronique. Her father immediately thought of Pierre Graslin, a self-made, frugal Auvergnat who was now a wealthy banker. He is also considerably older than Veronique and very unappealing in looks, being described at length as looking like “a antique satyr”. Veronique is horrified when he is introduced to her. But when Graslin says that when he has a wife to take care of him, he’ll look a different man, Veronique remembers her own smallpox-scarred face and when Graslin sends her flowers, her impression of him is softened.

Sauviat sold the business and house and moved near Veronique’s new home. After his death, Mme Sauviat gave his estate to the Graslins in exchange for a monthly allowance of two hundred francs. The mother and daughter visited daily.

Graslin’s generosity continued during the first year of the marriage. Veronique, despondent at realizing she did not love her husband, took her religious duties even more seriously than before. She lived in her books which she read daily and found society boring and tedious. Her friend at this time was old Grossetete whose intelligence brought forth “all the treasures of her soul”.

At the end of three years, Grasslin became miserly again and cut back on expenses. He moved to the ground floor and devoted himself to business. This arrangement suited Veronique except for the fact that she had hoped to become a mother.

The local Abbes were regular visitors at Veronique’s house, bringing her reports of need in the area. Meanwhile her husband grew angry at her generosity and became more vigilant in his miserly ways. By 1828, there were no luxuries at the Hotel Graslin and this wealthy woman had no money to call her own.

A new deputy public prosecutor arrived at the end of 1828, “preceded by the ready-made reputation which awaits a Parisian on his arrival in the provinces.” When the Vicomte de Granville discovered that Veronique was the only woman in town with whom he could converse intelligently, he suggested that the nightly whist games take place in her drawing-room. The success of her salon caused jealousy among the other women of Limoges. Happiness improved Veronique’s appearance and it was said she was in love with M de Granville.

Graslin became worried about his health and returned to his wife’s rooms. Veronique became pregnant.

A miser named Pingret who lived alone in an isolated area has been murdered, apparently when he discovered a thief. Pingret’s one servant, Jeanne Malassis, was also murdered when she tried to come to his aid.

Meanwhile, Veronique has been remaining in her room, her fancies attributed to her pregnancy. She receives visitors in her bedroom. One evening, the Vicomte de Granville announces that the murderer, Jean-Francois Tascheron, has been caught. Madame Suviat, noticing Veronique is “as white as the sheets”, says she is not well enough to hear about it. A few evenings later, Veronique insists on hearing the details.

Jean-Francois Tascheron was the son of a farmer in Montegnac. The district had a very bad reputation until the arrival of a priest named Bonnet. The Tascherons were almost the only upstanding family in the town. Jean-Francois moved to Limoges to work and had an excellent reputation. His landlady mentioned that he had changed about a year prior to the murders and often stayed out all night. Tascheron was arrested as he was departing for America and this weighed heavily against him. It was decided that his motive must have been a grand passion, probably for an upper-class married woman.

The trial is a sensation and the talk of the town. Between Granville and her husband, who is on the jury, Veronique is kept up to date. She pleads to her guests that the criminal should not be put to death as “he would perhaps expiate his sins by some magnificent repentance.” Granville tells her there is no hope and the next morning, Veronique is much worse. When Granville stops by on his way to court, Veronique actually bargains with him for Tascheron’s life. She tells Granville that the day Tascheron is condemned to death will be the same day she is to give birth.

Veronique also hinted a ploy to her husband with which he swayed the jury, telling them, “If we spare the man’s life, the des Vanneaulx will recover Pingret’s money.” Seven jurors voted for acquittal, but since it was not unanimous, it was up to the court to decide. Tascheron burst out wildly upon hearing a guilty verdict.

Abbe Dutil consults with the Bishop and Gabriel de Rastignac (Eugene’s brother), the Bishop’s secretary, is dispatched to Montegnac to see M Bonnet, the curate of the village.

Montegnac sits at the foot of a hill. Just past the town is the great Forest of Montegnac and the Correze mountains. The parsonage is sturdy, but forlorn-looking. Poverty is evident at the church also, but it is clean and well-kept.

The Tascherons, being an honorable family, felt they could no longer remain in Montegnac. When told that the Bishop requests his attendance on the condemned man, M Bonnet says the Bishop has required his death as he will not be able to survive the interview and aftermath. He agrees to go and M Tascheron reluctantly allows his wife and Denise to accompany him.

In the carriage on the way to Limoges, M Bonnet relates to Gabriel how he was unable to work for his domineering father and joined the Church to escape and be a “tower of strength” to his family if necessary. He forgave his father when he discovered his destiny and vocation.

When his visitors arrive, they find Jean-Francois Tascheron confined in a strait-jacket and constantly spied upon in hope of obtaining a clue about his accomplice and the stolen money. M Bonnet is able to have the restraints removed.

Around midnight, M Bonnet arrives at the Bishop’s and tells the assembled company that he insisted on the restitution of the money before considering the prisoner’s repentance complete. He assures them it will be made although he knows not how or when.

The next day, Jean-Francois was executed and M Bonnet fell unconscious at the foot of the scaffold.

The following evening, Denise and Louis-Marie Tascheron arrange to meet their father and the rest of the family at Havre and they go to Limoges. The next afternoon, they meet with M Bonnet who accompanies them to the lawyer’s house. Denise offers the lawyer one thousand francs, which he doesn’t want to accept and eventually gives half to M Bonnet. The lawyer whispers to Denise to be careful of spies.

At the Bishop’s dinner-party that night, the public prosecutor spots a fire on the island in the middle of the Vienne River. He goes back inside, whispers to M de Granville and the two rush out. By the time the authorities arrived, Louis-Marie had retrieved four bundles of gold from the river and Denise had burned three of the wrappings. They snatched the fourth wrapping from her–it was a handkerchief which had belonged to Jean-Francois. When asked, Denise said the other three wrappings were a bandana handkerchief, a lawn handkerchief and a shawl. The fact of a shawl being one of the wrappings convinces everyone that a love affair was the cause of the crime.

About the time Mme Grasslin recovers from childbirth, her husband mentions that the Navarreins family house, surrounding land and the forest of Montegnac are for sale. She urges him to purchase them with the marriage settlement funds. M Bonnet tells Veronique of the good a resident landowner could do in Montegnac.

Grasslin purchases the property and immediately begins restoration but suffers financially in the commercial and financial disasters of 1830 and dies in April 1831. Grossetete takes charge of the liquidation, saving the name of Grasslin and leaving Veronique and her son financially secure. De Granville proposes marriage but Veronique refuses him, using the Church as an excuse.

As Veronique and her mother leave Limoges for their new home, Abbe Dutheil, now a bishop, realizes that Veronique hates De Granville. When the carriage nears the chateau, M Bonnet points out the road which the parishioners prepared as homage to the new lady of the manor. She is given a grand welcome with flowers and fruit. Her late husband Graslin had spent five hundred thousand francs on “Graslin’s folly”, helping the local economy and spurring growth. At the chateau, Veronique faints when she realizes the churchyard and cemetery are before her very eyes. Veronique’s mother says her daughter is suffering from severe melancholy.

M Bonnet, visits Veronique daily. One day he suggests they walk and mentions improvements which would be a legacy of pride for her grandson. Veronique begins to ride out daily with her groom and forester to familarize herself with the land. In November, while she is on the summit of Roche-Vive, a stranger warns her not to remain longer or she will risk getting lost in the dark. There is also danger from the deadly cold of the peak which has caused many deaths. Farrabesche gives his name and quickly vanishes when he discovers she is Madame Graslin. Returning to her groom and forester, Veronique is told that Farrabesche is a murderer and hears his story. His two brothers died in the army and when he was conscripted, he ran away and joined some chauffeurs. It is said that he killed some soldiers and gendarmes. He served time and is now out on parole because of Bonnet who has completely rehabilitated him. He looks after the forest on an unofficial basis.

Farraesche’s son, who is about fifteen, lives with him. Farrabesche never married the mother as he would have been captured and she (Catherine Curieux) left for Paris; no one knows what happened to her.

The next day Veronique has her groom show her Farrabesche’s dwelling. The home and surrounding land are well cared for. The boy, Benjamin, is attractive and resembles his father physically and in dress. Veronique tells Farrabesche she will have inquiries made about Catherine. She decides to hire Farrabesche as her steward and have his parole restrictions removed. They discuss the water problem of the barren area. Farrabesche is very knowledgable about the lay of the land.

Farrabesche relates his life as a prisoner to Veronique. He was always chained to other prisoners, even at night and they ate out of a trough. His last companion was a twenty-two year old soldier named Guepin who had stolen something. They were together for four years and Farrabesche plans to send for Guepin when he is released as he is a good man and a hard worker. Farrabesche loves the rector Bonnet and gives him full credit for saving his life.

Veronique receives a letter from M Grossetete saying he has found an engineer for her named Gregoire Gerard. Grossetete encloses Gerard’s letter to him which details his academic career and how he made himself ill with study. Gerard went on to relate how he was disillusioned. He had been sent out as a surveyor, but there was really no engineering involved. His engineer-in-chief has stagnated. When blunders of the top men are noticed, they are merely gotten out of the way by being made inspectors. He would like to go to another country where his knowledge would be useful or even work for a small wage at a commercial firm while trying to solve some of the problems faced by industry and society.

In December, M Grossetete personally brings Gerard to Veronique and M Bonnet. He also brings papers stating that Farrabesche’s full rights as a citizen are restored and news that Catherine has been found, is in hospital now and will arrive in three months.

Veronique has Farrabesche accompany Gerard about the area. They estimate at least two hundred thousand francs for the project and Grossetet enables her to obtain a loan for a quarter of a million francs using the interest on her funds as security. Gerard, Grossetete and others purchase nearby land.

In April, 1832, Grossetet arrives to see his land, but really to escort Catherine to Montegnac. Veronique privately asks Catherine if she still loves Farrabesche. Catherine replies yes, but she is unable to read or write and was busy nursing an old lady who was ill when he was released and then fell ill herself. Benjamin arrives and has a joyous reunion with his mother and rushes off to find his father.

The entire village has turned out to see the first day of work on the dam project. Almost one hundred locals including women and children are digging holes, planting trees and piling up stones. Farrabesche and Catherine come to Veronique and say they appreciate her offer of the Home Farm, but are afraid that there will be jealousy and talk. They would rather have a small piece near the Gabou.

In 1838, “the stony plain, regarded as hopelessly barren by twenty generations, was verdant, productive, and well planted throughout.” The mayor retired, recommending that Gerard fulfill that office.

In 1840, Veronique wanted a tutor for her son Francis who was now eleven. Monseigneur Dutheil, now an archbishop, recommended a personable young professor of twenty-five. Ruffin fit in with the circle of friends.

By 1843, the loan has been repaid and Gerard has plans to turn the little river into a canal and connect it with the Vienne. This will provide transportation for timber and enable a thousand acres of the twenty thousand acre Forest of Montegnac to be harvested each year. This was M Graslin’s original plan.

There have long been secret allusions to Veronique’s health and her asture diet. Now in 1844, her friends see warning signs of her death.

Gerard planned a seven year project to enclose the entire forest of Montegnac so the government cannot claim the dues of unenclosed woods. Each of the three ponds, which the residents call lakes, has an island. Gerard had a summer-house/hermitage built on the largest as a surprise for Veronique’s birthday. Grossetete sent furniture for it. One day in May, her friends show the improved park and the dairy chalet to Veronique before rowing her out to the summer-house where the Grossetete party is waiting.

As the delightful day progresses, Veronique misses Francis and, going in search of him, finds him talking with a woman in mourning. Calling Francis to her, she asks what the lady said to him. Francis replies that she didn’t speak French and the only thing he understood was “My dear brother!” Veronique collapses and Gerard says he is afraid she has received a fatal wound in the heart.

A few days later, Catherine arrives and tells Veronique that when the stranger heard Veronique was ill, she asked to speak with Madame Sauviat. That evening Madame Sauviat helps her daughter go to the meeting at the chalet. While waiting inside, Veronique hears Monsieur Bonnet talking with Denise, Tascheron’s sister, who says she couldn’t stay another day in New York or the United States. Her father founded a town in Ohio and prospered but her mother died of grief. She meant no harm to Veronique. She only wishes to pray on her brother’s grave and then she will go. Veronique appears, calling to her not to go, and they leave together.

Veronique returned alone and was taken to bed where she grew worse daily. One day in June, she makes a supreme effort and goes to the chalet. She asks Gerard to row her to the summer-house and, on the way, tells him she has a bride for him. Denise has been living in the summer-house in secret with the aid of Catherine. Veronique tells them that Gerard will be her son’s guardian and the couple will live in the chateau with Francis until he is of age. She then leaves them alone to become acquainted.

As Gerard is taking Veronique home, she tells him that Denise is the sister of a man who was hanged. He remarks, “Ah! Tascheron, the murderer of old Pingret.” Gerard tells Veronique that he will still marry Denise.

Back at the chateau, Madame Sauviat weeps as she watches Veronique walk along the terrace and look out over the land. She tells Ruffin that Veronique only eats dry bread and plain vegetables as penance.

Veronique kisses her son and tells him that he must go on with her work when he is grown.

Roubaud returns from Paris with Horace Bianchon. Also in the coach are Grossetete, Archbishop Dutheil and the public prosecutor, Monsieur de Granville, whom Grossetete had previously kept from visiting. Bonnet advises Veronique to be kind to Granville and to lay aside her anger. When Roubaud announces that the end is near, Bonnet rushes to the church for prayers. The tolling of the bells brings the entire village to the service.

It is revealed that Veronique literally wore a hair shirt for fifteen years. At midnight, she asks for Archbishop Dutheil and Monsieur Bonnet. Veronique talks about how Tascheron is reviled and she is praised but most of the blame is hers. She tells them she wants to confess publicly.

The next morning, the clergy and the household are with Veronique. Her trusted friends are clustered around the door and past them, in the hall, are nearly all the villagers. Denise, in her foreign clothing, is unrecognizable except to Granville, who now begins to suspect the truth.

Veronique begins her public confession with the words that Tascheron is not as guilty as believed. They were tired of the deceit in which they lived and he only stole so she would be as little humiliated as possible. She knew nothing of the crime until it was being done. When she heard cries inside the house and entered, Tascheron was in a fit of madness. She feels he would have fled when the theft went awry and only murdered because she was nearby. Veronique cries, “Oh, heap all your reproaches upon me!” and Denise faints.

Veronique now requests that Francis be brought in and dies as she lays her hands on his head in blessing. Madame Sauviat closes and kisses her daughter’s eyes. Veronique was buried two days later beside Jean-Francois Tascheron at her mother’s request.

Veronique’s confession had not been heard in the hall, but was only audible to the household and the friends in the doorway. The words “She is a saint!” were repeated everywhere. Her will provided for the foundation of many charities.

Read it here

Summarized by Dagny, April — May 2011

Lost Illusions: A Distinguished Provincial at Paris by Honoré de Balzac

Illusions Perdues: Un Grand homme de province à Paris
Lost Illusions: A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Also translated as Lost Illusions: A Great Man of the Provinces in Paris


Mme Louise de Bargeton and Lucien travel to Paris – together, scandalously even though they are well chaperoned by the manservant Gentil and Albertine the maid. There is no real opportunity to talk since they are always in the company of others. They take rooms at an inn – Lucien in a room directly above Louise – and sleep exhaustingly (and separately) much of the day away. At 4pm Lucien stumbles out of bed, hurriedly dresses, and descends from his room to see Louise, who somehow doesn’t look so grand in the more humble surroundings of the rather shabby inn. Louise acts a bit standoffishly to Lucien, and we find that she has been paid a visit by Sixte du Chatelet, her former elderly suitor who had introduced Lucien to Louise. He has actually followed her carriage to Paris and the inn. A clever fellow! Continue reading

Massimilla Doni by Honoré de Balzac

Massimilla Doni

Emilio Cane is the last in a line of nobility of Venice. He is poor. He will be heir to some property, but as he can’t sell it and he can’t use it to generate income. All he has is a small income from a country house. Emilio is in love with Massimilla Doni, a beautiful young woman who is an heiress of the Doni of Florence and married to the rich, old Duke Cataneo. The Duke doesn’t really want Massimilla as a wife, just as his Duchess, and he is more than happy for her to find a young lover. Emilio has been staying in the Cataneo sumptuous country house in the Alps for months. He moons over Massimilla, holds hands with her, spends all his time with her, but as yet their love is unconsummated. It seems the Duchess has “fascinate[d] to stupidity a youth in whom rapture found some fresh incitement; for she had really absorbed his young soul.” Massimilla “would have been ready to consummate the love union”, but “Emilio set his mistress far too high ever to touch her.”

A letter comes from Emilio’s best friend Marco Vendramin announcing that the last elderly Cane has died and that now Emilio is a prince.  But this doesn’t matter much as it means no real money. He also tells Emilio that the famous tenor Genovese and the famous Signora Clarina Tinti are to be engaged in Venice for the season. This is far more interesting to Emilio, and he runs to tell Massimilla the news. Signora Tinti had been a servant in an inn when a nobleman was captured by her voice and brought her up to be professionally trained. Massimilla says she is perfectly certain that Signora Tinti’s nobleman is not her husband, but indeed later we find that the benefactor is indeed Duke Cataneo.

Massimilla and Emilio go to Venice for the musical season. Massimilla is riding in an elegant gondola attended by men in livery. Behind is Emilio and his one gondolier Carmagnola, a faithful old retainer who is living frugally due to Emilio’s inability to pay him much in wages. This seems strange, why is he not riding with Massimilla?

At any rate, Emilio never actually finishes reading his friend Marco’s letter but goes to his house in the city, the palazzo Memmi. As Emilio’s gondola approaches the palazzo, it is seen that all the windows are lit and there is much activity. It seems the whole house is being renovated, and Emilio wonders if Massimilla has done this for him. He walks around admiring the improvements, drinks a whole bottle of port and eats some food, and goes to bed. But a few minutes later Signora Tinti comes in and moves around as if she lives there. She is accompanied by the very old and ugly Duke Cataneo, who wants to play the violin while Clarina sings. But suddenly he sees Emilio’s trousers and starts screaming jealously. Finally it is revealed that Marco Vendramin as a friend rented out Emilio’s house to the Duke to be renovated as a fine place for Clarina to stay while she fulfills her singing engagement in Venice. The Duke asks Emilio to leave, but instead Clara throws the Duke out for his ill behavior.

Clarina is instantly attracted to Emilio, who tries to resist her. But after she starts crying, he succumbs and thus he has a consummation, but with the wrong lover. He ignores his servant Carmagnola’s attempts to page him, and finds out the next day that Carmagnola had a note from Massimilla telling him that Cataneo had rented the residence and asking him to go to his friend Vendramin’s house. Alas, too late, Emilio has already been unfaithful. He is wretched and cries out to Clarina, “Wretch, you have undone me!” And then he rushes off to see Massimilla to confess. But he doesn’t quite get around to confessing though Massimilla sees that he is not acting normally. Massimilla strives to cheer him up, “feeling that her strength lay in the absence of any sensual side to her love”…and she “could allow herself to be expansive; she boldly and confidently poured out her angelic spirit, she stripped it bare, just as during that diabolical night, la Tinti had displayed the soft lines of her body, and her firm, elastic flesh. In Emilio’s eyes there was as it were a conflict between the saintly love of this white soul and that of the vehement and muscular Sicilian.”

That evening Massimilla and Emilio attend the theatre, a major event in Venice with all the important people having their own box. All society wonders if Emilio and Massimilla are yet sleeping together. They think not because they see frustration in Emilio’s looks. Instead of la Tinti and Genovese, the tenor that Cataneo has hired to blend perfectly in music with Clarina, performing, it is announced that Genovese will perform alone as Clarina is indisposed. Genovese performs brilliantly. It is rumored he is in love with Clarina and that this is perhaps why Clarina is not performing with him, but no one really knows. Various visitors come to Massimilla’s box: an Austrian General, a French physician. Emilio sees Vendramin and asks him to cover for him as to where he spent the night last night and to confirm that he spends all his nights at Vendramin’s house.

Vendramin it seems is an opium addict, readily trading some years of his life for the ecstasy of the drug. There is much talk of Vendramin and his opium, of politics in Venice and Italy, and of music. Then as Vendramin and Emilio walk through the streets Emilio despairingly tells Vendramin about his making love to Clarina. Vendramin reassures him and promises he can deal with Massimilla for him. “This ray of hope came just in time to save Emilio from drowning himself that night; for, indeed, as he remembered the singer, he felt a horrible wish to go back to her.”

Vendramin and Emilio go to Florian’s, a center for men’s conversation and gossip. Duke Cataneo makes an appearance and bows courteously to Emilio. Also there is the eccentric Capraja, a nobleman known to Massimilla. He and Cataneo have a talk about music as only Balzac can provide it, heh. They are mad for music as Emilio is mad for Massimila and Vendramin is mad for opium. Emilio and Vendramin go to Vendramin’s palazzo, where a gondolier approaches and claims that the Duchess is in the gondola. Emilio jumps into the gondola, only to find Clarina and another night of sex.

The next night at the theatre Emilio is anxious for obvious reasons. Massimilla also looks gloomy and depressed. There is more discussion of music with the French physician, Cataneo, and Capraja. A sample of the musical discussion: “And when the clarionet gives the signal for the stretto, – ‘Voci di giubilo,’ – so brilliant and gay, was not your soul filled with the sacred pyrrhic joy of which David speaks in the Psalms, ascribing it to the hills?” Pages and pages of this stuff, heh. Oddly enough, Genovese is singing badly while Clarina is superb. There are hints that Clarina is in love and Genovese thus in bad humor.

After the opera Emilio tells Vendramin that he was not with Massimilla last night and that he cannot stand the torment of his unconsummated love for Massimilla. He will make one final effort and then kill himself. Vendramin declares him mad and makes him promise to meet him at Florian’s after he sees Massimilla home. Perhaps Massimilla has an inkling as she says to the French doctor she can cure Emilio of his melancholy. There is more opera, Rossini’s story of Moses. After the opera Emilio goes off with Massimilla. Vendramin, the French doctor, Capraja, and Genovese walk and talk. Genovese says he loves Clarina but does not recognize that he sang so poorly. He stops and belts out a magnificent air. Capraja attempts to explain why Genovese can sing so wonderfully alone but so poorly with Clarina: “When an artist is so unfortunate as to be full of the passion he wishes to express, he cannot depict it because he is the thing itself instead of its image.” All are agreed that somehow they must resolve the problem between Genovese and Massimilla to save the opera season.

The group goes back to Florian’s, where they find Emilio in despair. The French doctor says, “By my advice he [Emilio] must needs combine his sensual joys and his heavenly adoration in one woman.” Duke Cataneo invites him to supper: “You cannot refuse the poor Neapolitan whom you have robbed both of his wife and of his mistress.” Emilio goes off with the Duke, Vendramin, the French physician, and Capraja. They arrive at Emilio’s house, as you remember occupied by Clarina. Light pours out of every window, and the company is at supper. Emilio is seated by Clarina. “The transcendental vision of Massimilla was eclipsed, just as the idea of God is sometimes hidden by clouds of doubt in the consciousness of solitary thinkers.” Genovese and Clarina are bid to sing, and Genovese again brays out obscenely.

The French doctor slips away and delivers a note written by Vendramin to Massimilla. The doctor asks Massimilla if she is prepared to save Emilio’s life by slipping into Tinti’s room and pretending to be her. She smilingly agrees. The doctor returns and asks Clarina to save Emilio’s life and cure Genovese. Clarina slips off to her room, and Emilio follows. But of course we know that Massimilla is in Clarina’s room, and finally their love is consummated – perhaps without Emilio’s realizing it was Massimilla instead of Clarina? And Genovese and Clarina make love so Genovese can sing again. Only Vendramin and his opium habit remain uncured. “Love for a country that has ceased to be is a love beyond curing. The young Venetian, by dint of living in his thirteenth century republic, and in the arms of that pernicious courtesan called opium, when he found himself in the work-a-day world to which reaction brought him, succumbed, pitied and regretted by his friends.”

And, oh, yes, Massimilla is pregnant.

Read it here

Summarized by Pamela, December 2008

The Jealousies of a Country Town: The Collection of Antiquities by Honoré de Balzac

Les Rivalités: Le Cabinet des Antiques
The Jealousies of a Country Town: The Collection of Antiquities
Also translated as The Jealousies of a Country Town: The Cabinet of Antiquities

Note: The Collection of Antiquities follows The Old Maid, continuing the story of certain characters. In some editions the character of Du Bousquier in The Old Maid is called Croisier in The Collection of Antiquities. Continue reading

A Daughter of Eve, by Honoré de Balzac

Une Fille d’Ève
A Daughter of Eve

Honore de Balzac’s work bears a certain Jekyll & Hyde quality: Either he is slipshod and rushed (the classic example is A Woman of Thirty), or he is in complete command of himself and takes the time and trouble to tie up all the loose ends. Fortunately, A Daughter of Eve is one of these latter. It is unfortunate that it is not better known, as it is, to my mind, a good book to start reading The Human Comedy. Continue reading