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LIBRARY

UNIVERSITY Of-

CALIFORNIA

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H. DE BALZAC



COMEDIE HUMAINE

Edited by

GEORGE SAINTSBURY



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All rights reserved



H: DE BALZAC



LA

GRANDE BRETECHE

AND OTHER STORIES

Tramlated bf

CLARA BELL

ivhk a Preface by

GEORGE SAINTSBURY




LONDON
J. M. DENT AND COMPANY

NEW YORK.: MACMILLAN &- CO. LTD.
MDCCCXCVI



Edinburgh : T. and A. Constable, Printers to Her Majesty



CONTENTS

PAGE

PREFACE ix

A STUDY OF WOMAN i

ANOTHER STUDY OF WOMAN 12

LA GRANDE BRET^CHE {Sequel to ' Atwthci Study of Woman ' ) . 56

PEACE IN THE HOUSE 80

THE IMAGINARY MISTRESS 122

ALBERT SAVARUS i8i



LIST OF ETCHINGS

' REMEMBER, IF YOU SHOULD FIND NO ONE THERE,
EVERYTHING MUST BE AT AN END BETWEEN YOU
AND ME (La Grand Bret'ec/ie) .... Frontispiece

PAGE

MALAGA ........ 154.

' SHE IS ONE OF THOSE WOMEN WHO ARE BORN TO

reign!' 286

Drawn ami Etched by T>. Murray-Smith.



PREFACE

There is a good deal of inequality in the present col-
lection, which contains work conceived in very different
manners and executed at very different times.

The story which used to come first, La Paix du
Menage^ is scarcely worthy of precedence, save as eldest.
It belongs to the time when Balzac, though he had found
his way, was not yet walking surely in it ; and besides,
it belongs to a class of work which, though he continued
to practise in it almost to the end, never was his happiest
class. The attraction which these stories of family broils
and rearrangements in 'high life' had for Balzac must
always be rather inexplicable, except to those who are
complaisant enough to allow him the knowledge of that
high life which, though constantly contested by some of
the best authorities, though more than dubious to im-
partial critics, is a sort of religion to extreme Balzacians.
In this particular case, too, the intrigue is of scanty
interest, and requires a lighter and more airy handling than
Balzac could often — perhaps than he could ever — give.
The fact is that he was too conscientious for this sort of
thing, which in the hands of ' Gyp ' would have been as
thoroughly at home as it is out of place in his.

La Fausse Maitresse is of very different value. It may
indeed be called somewhat fantastic, and the final trait,
whether false or not to nature, will provoke some critics.

in.



X Preface

But the devotion of Paz is exactly one of those things
which suited Balzac best, and which he could handle most
effectively. And perhaps the irony is not too severe,
though it represents his idol, after having been the object
of such a love as his, on the point of surrendering to a
worthless poseur like La Palferine, whom, it may be
observed in passing, Balzac never brings on the scene
except with the result, whether by deliberate purpose or
not, of dealing a covert blow at the weakness of women
and their proneness to low ideals. It ought however to
be said in fairness that he seems to have had a sort of
admiration for this raff of a Rusticoli himself. Clemen-
tine, despite her lack of steadiness, is not one of
his most iconoclastic sketches ; and Laginski, though
somewhat doubling the notion of Polish foibles — after-
wards again conveyed in Wenceslas Steinbock, and
whether from this cause or some other established to the
present day as a tradition in France — has distinct merits
and attractions.

The two Etudes de femme^ to which La Grande
Breteche is an appendix, rise gradually from an ordinary
to an extraordinary level. The adventure of Madame
de Listomere and Rastignac is slight but good ; and one
rather wishes that Balzac had oftener confined sketches
of the sort to limits so suitable for a sketch. The false
prude comes out with remarkable success; and if Rastignac
does not cut so good a figure in point of cleverness as
in some others of his numerous appearances, he is more
natural than in some of them.

The stories of the Autre Etude are called in the
Repertoire of MM. Christophe and Cerfberr ^ d^exguises
causer'ies.'' It is not certain that all readers will acquiesce



Preface



XI



in this epithet, which is used several times in the piece
by Balzac himself, though I do not remember that the
combination of it with causerle is textual. In the first
place, the discourses of Marsay and Blondet might be
called by unfriendly critics rather sermons than causerles.
In the second, though Marsay is rather less of a ' tiger '
than in some of his other performances, the coxcombry
of the exhibition exceeds its charm, while Blondet's
discussion of womankind has the unreality of all these
discussions. Montriveau's story is considerably better
than either of these ; and it leads up very well to La
Grande Breteche.

This latter is one of the best known of Balzac's short
stories, and may rank among the half-dozen best of all.
Contrary to a habit which, though not invariable, is too
common with him, he is not long in * getting under
way,' and he does not waste a single stroke in drawing
the actual catastrophe. Bianchon, who generally has a
good part assigned him, is here unusually lucky. Indeed,
the piece is so short and so good, that critical dwelling
on it is almost an impertinence.

Albert SavaruSy with its enshrined story of ' L'Ambi-
tieux par Amour' (something of an oddity for Balzac,
who often puts a story within a story, but less formally
than this) contains various appeals, and shows not a few
of its author's well-known interests in politics, in affairs,
in newspapers, not to mention the enumerations of dots
and fortunes which he never could refuse himself. The
affection of Savarus for the Duchesse d'Argaiolo may
interest different persons differently. It seems to me a
little fade. But the character of Rosalie de Watteville
is in a very different rank. Here only, except, perhaps.



xii Preface

in the case of Mademoiselle de Verneuil, whose unlucky
experiences had emancipated her, has Balzac depicted a
girl full of character, individuality, and life. It was
apparently necessary that Rosalie should be made not
wholly amiable in order to obtain this accession of
wits and force, and to be freed from the fatal gift of
candcur^ the curse of the French ingenue. Her creator
has also thought proper to punish her further, and cruelly,
at the end of the book. Nevertheless, though her story
may be less interesting than either of theirs, it is impos-
sible not to put her in a much higher rank as a heroine
than either Eugenie or Ursule, and not to wish that
Balzac had included the conception of her in a more
important structure of fiction.

It should, perhaps, be observed that Mademoiselle des
Touches, the hostess at whose table the three central
stories of this volume were told, and who figures else-
where, especially in Beatrix^ is one of the not very
numerous personages of the Comedie who are undoubtedly
drawn from a distinguished living original — in this case
George Sand. I must refer to the Introduction to
Beatrix itself for more about her, it being desirable not to
'double' in these short prefaces.

La Paix du Menage formed part of the Scenes de la
Vie Privee from their first appearance in 1830, and
entered with the rest into the Comedie. Then, and then
only, was the dedication to Valentine Surville, Balzac's
niece, added. At this latter period La Fausse Maitresse
made its first appearance in the same division, having
been just before (December 1841) printed serially in the
Siecle with five chapters, while in the first volume issue
it had ten. The first Etude de femme came out in La



Preface xiii

Mode in March 1830, next year at the end of the Peau
de Chagrin^ in 1835 (with a new title, Profil de Marquhe)
in the Scenes de la Vie Parisienne^ and when the Comedie
was collected, in its actual position and with its actual
title. The bibliography of the next two stories is so
complicated that it occupies fourteen of M. de Lovenjoul's
pages, and that I despair of presenting any acceptable
abstract of it in a small space. Balzac seems to have
reserved them for the most exemplary victims of his
mania for rehandling. He changed their titles ; he took
from them and inserted in them passages and episodes
afterwards removed elsewhere or omitted altogether ; he
published them in a dozen different places, connections,
and forms. Albert Savarus had a somewhat less tormented
fate, appearing in sixty headed chapters in the Steele for
May and June 1842, and then assuming its place in the
Comedie. But though left there, it also formed part of a
two volume issue by Souverain in 1844, ''^ company
with La Muse du departement. 'Rosalie' was at first
named ' Philomene.'

G. S.



A STUDY OF WOMAN

Dedicated to the Marquis 'Jean-Charles di Negro.

The Marquise de Listomere is a young woman brought
up in the spirit of the Restoration. She has principles,
she fasts in season, she takes the Sacrament, she goes
very much dressed to balls, to the BoufFons, to the Opera ;
her spiritual director allows her to combine the sacred and
the profane. Always on good terms with the Church
and the world, she is an incarnation of the present time,
and seems to have taken the word Legality for her motto.
The Marquise's conduct is marked by exactly enough
devotion to enable her, under another Maintenon, to
achieve the gloomy piety of the last days of Louis xiv.,
and enough worldliness to adopt the manners and gallantry
of the earlier years of his reign, if they ever could
return.

Just now she is virtuous from interest, or, perhaps, by
taste. Married some seven years since to the Marquis de
Listomere, a deputy who expects a peerage, she perhaps
thinks that her conduct may promote the ambitions of
the family. Some women wait to pass judgment on her
till Monsieur de Listomere is made Pair de France, and
till she is six-and-thirty — a time of life when most
women discover that they are the dupes of social laws.

The Marquis is an insignificant personage ; he is in
favour at Court; his good qualities, like his faults, are nega-
tive ; the former can no more give him a reputation for

A



2 A Study of Woman

virtue than the latter can give him the sort of brilh'ancy
bestowed by vice. As a deputy he never speaks, but he
votes 'straight'; and at home, he behaves as he does in
the Chamber. He is considered the best husband in
France. Though he is incapable of enthusiasms, he
never scolds, unless he is kept waiting. His friends
nickname him 'Cloudy weather 'j and, in fact, there is
in him no excessively bright light, and no utter darkness.
He is exactly like all the Ministers that have succeeded
each other in France since the Charter.

A woman with principles could hardly have fallen into
better hands. Is it not a great thing for a virtuous
woman to have married a man incapable of a folly ?
Dandies have been known to venture on the impertinence
of slightly pressing the Marquise's hand when dancing
with her ; they met only looks of scorn, and all have
experienced that insulting indifference which, like spring
frosts, chills the germs of the fairest hopes. Handsome
men, witty men, coxcombs, sentimental men who derive
nourishment from sucking the knob of their walking-
sticks, men of name and men of fame, men of high birth
and of low, all have blenched before her. She has won
the right of talking as long and as often as she pleases
with men whom she thinks intelligent, without being
entered in the calendar of scandal. Some coquettes are
capable of pursuing this plan for seven years on end, to
gratify their fancy at last ; but to ascribe such a covert
motive to Madame de Listomere would be to calumniate
her. I had been so happy as to meet this Phoenix of
a Marquise ; she talks well, I am a good listener. I
pleased her, and I go to her evening parties. This was
the object of my ambition.

Neither plain nor pretty, Madame de Listomere has
white teeth, a brilliant complexion, and very red lips ;
she is tall and well made, has a small, slender foot, which
she does not display ; her eyes, far from being dulled, as
most eyes are in Paris, have a soft gleam which becomes



A Study of Woman 3

magical when by chance she is animated. You feel there
is a soul under this ill-defined personality. When she is
interested in the conversation, she reveals the grace that
lies buried under the prudery of cold demeanour, and
then she is charming. She does not crave for success,
and she gets it. We alw^ays find the thing we do not
seek. This statement is too often true not to become a
proverb one day. It will be the moral of this tale, which
I should not allow myself to relate if it were not at this
moment the talk of every drawing-room in Paris.

One evening, about a month since, the Marquise de
Listomere danced with a young man as modest as he is
heedless, full of good qualities, but showing only his bad
ones ; he is impassioned, and laughs at passion ; he has
talent, and hides it ; he assumes the savant with aristo-
crats, and affects to be aristocratic with savants.

Eugene de Rastignac is one of those very sensible young
men who try everything, and seem to sound other men to
discover what the future will bring forth. Pending the
age when he will be ambitious, he laughs at everything ;
he has grace and originality — two qualities which are
rare, because they exclude each other. Without aiming
at success, he talked to Madame de Listomere for about
half an hour. While following the deviations of a
conversation which, beginning with William Tell^ went
on to the duties of woman, he looked at the Marquise
more than once in a way to embarrass her j then he left
her, and spoke to her no more all the evening. He
danced, sat down to ecarte^ lost a little money, and went
home to bed. I have the honour of assuring you that
this is exactly what happened. I have added, I have
omitted nothing.

The next morning Rastignac woke late, remained in
bed, where he gave himself up, no doubt, to some of
those morning day-dreams in which a young man glides,
like a sylph, behind more than one curtain of silk, wool,
or cotton. At such moments, the heavier the body is



4 A Study of Woman

with sleep, the more nimble is the fancy. Finally
Rastignac got up without yawning too much, as so
many ill-bred people do, rang for his man-servant, ordered
some tea, and drank of it immoderately — which will not
seem strange to those who like tea ; but, to account for
this to those persons who only regard tea as a panacea for
indigestion, I will add that Eugene was writing ; he sat
at his ease, and his feet were more often on the fire-dogs
than in his foot-muff.

Oh ! to sit with your feet on the polished bar that
rests on the two brackets of a fender, and dream of your
love affairs while wrapped in your dressing-gown, is so
delightful a thing, that I deeply regret having no mistress,
no fire-dogs, and no dressing-gown. When I shall have
all those good things, I shall not write my experiences, I
shall take the benefit of them.

The first letter Eugene had to write was finished in a
quarter of an hour. He folded it, sealed it, and left it
lying in front of him without any address. The second
letter, begun at eleven o'clock, was not finished till noon.
The four pages were written all over.

' That woman runs in my head,' said he to himself as
he folded the second missive, leaving it there, and intend-
ing to address it after ending his involuntary reverie.
He crossed the fronts of his flowered dressing-gown, put
his feet on a stool, stuffed his hands into the pockets of
his red cashmere trousers, and threw himself back in a
delicious armchair with deep ears, of which the seat and
back were set at the comfortable angle of a hundred and
twenty degrees. He drank no more tea, but remained
passive, his eyes fixed on the little gilt fist which formed
the knob of his fire-shovel, without seeing the shovel, or
the hand, or the gilding. He did not even make up the
fire. This was a great mistake ! Is it not an intense
pleasure to fidget with the fire when dreaming of women ?
Our fancy lends speech to the little blue tongues which
suddenly burst up and babble on the hearth. We can



A Study of Woman ^

find a meaning in the sudden and noisy language of a

bourguignon.

At this word I must pause and insert, for the benefit
of the ignorant, an explanation vouchsafed by a very-
distinguished etymologist, who wishes to remain anony-
mous. Bourguignon is the popular and symbolical name
given, ever since the reign of Charles vi., to the loud
explosions which result in the ejection on to a rug
or a dress of a fragment of charcoal, the germ of a
conflagration. The heat, it is said, explodes a bubble of
air remaining in the heart of the wood, in the trail or
some gnawing grub. Inde arnor^ inde Burgundus. We
quake as we see the charred pieces coming down like an
avalanche when we had balanced them so industriously
between two blazing logs. Oh ! making up a wood-fire
when you are in love is the material expression of your
sentiments.

It was at this moment that I entered Eugene's room ;
he started violently, and said —

' So there you are, my dear Horace. How long have
you been here ? '

' I have this moment come.'

' Ah ! '

He took the two letters, addressed them, and rang for
his servant.

' Take these two notes.'

And Joseph went without a remark. Excellent
servant !

And we proceeded to discuss the expedition to the
Morea, in which I wanted to be employed as surgeon.
Eugene pointed out that I should lose much by leaving
Paris, and we then talked of indifferent things. I do not
think I shall be blamed for omitting our conversation.

When Madame de Listomere rose at about two in the
afternoon, her maid Caroline handed her a letter, which
she read while Caroline was dressing her hair, (An



6 A Study of Woman

imprudence committed by a great many young
wives.)

' Ah, dear angel of love, my treasure of life and
happiness ! ' — on reading these words, the Marquise was
going to throw the letter into the fire ; but a fancy
flashed through her head, which any virtuous woman
will understand to a marvel, namely, to see how a man
might end who began in this strain. She read on.
When she turned her fourth page, she dropped her arms
like a person who is tired.

' Caroline,' said she, ' go and find out who left this
letter for me.'

' Madame, I took it from M. le Baron de Rastignac's
man-servant.'

There was a long silence.

' Will Madame dress now ? '

'No.'

*" He must be excessively impertinent ! ' thought the
Marquise. — I may ask any woman to make her own
commentary.

Madame de Listomere closed hers with a formal
resolution to shut her door on Monsieur Eugene, and, if
she should meet him in company, to treat him with more
than contempt ; for his audacity was not to be compared
with any of the other instances which the Marquise had
at last forgiven. At first she thought she would keep the
letter, but, on due reflection, she burned it.

'Madame has just received such a flaming love-letter,
and she read it ! ' said Caroline to the housemaid.

' I never should have thought it of Madame,' said the
old woman, quite astonished.

That evening the Marquise was at the house of the
Marquis de Beauseant, where she would probably meet
Rastignac. It was a Saturday. The Marquis de
Beauseant was distantly related to Monsieur de Ras-
tignac, so the young man could not fail to appear in the
course of the evening. At two in the morning,



A Study of Woman 7

Madame de Listomere, who had stayed so late solely, to
crush Eugene by her coldness, had waited in vain. A
witty writer, Stendahl, has given the whimsical name of
crystallisation to the process worked out by the Mar-
quise's mind before, during, and after this evening.

Four days later Eugene was scolding his man-servant.

'Look here, Joseph; I shall be obliged to get rid of
you, my good fellow.'

' I beg your pardon, sir ? '

' You do nothing but blunder. Where did you take
the two letters I gave you on Friday ? '

Joseph was bewildered. Like a statue in a cathedral
porch he stood motionless, wholly absorbed in the travail
of his ideas. Suddenly he smiled foolishly, and said —

' Monsieur, one was for Madame la Marquise de
Listomere, Rue Saint-Dominique, and the other was for
Monsieur's lawyer '

' Are you sure of what you say ? '

Joseph stood dumbfounded. I must evidently inter-
fere — happening to be present at the moment.

'Joseph is right,' said L Eugene turned round to me.
' I read the addresses quite involuntarily, and '

' And,' said Eugene, interrupting me, ' was not one of
them for Madame de Nucingen ? '

' No, by all the devils ! And so I supposed, my dear
boy, that your heart had pirouetted from the Rue Saint-
Lazare to the Rue Saint-Dominique.'

Eugene struck his forehead with the palm of his hand,
and began to smile. Joseph saw plainly that the fault
was none of his.

Now, there are certain moral reflections on which all
young men should meditate ? Mistake the first : Eugene
thought it amusing to have made Madame de Listomere
laugh at the blunder that had put her in possession of a
love-letter which was not intended for her. Mistake the
second : He did not go to see Madame de Listomere
till four days after the misadventure, thus giving the



8 A Study of Woman

thoughts of a virtuous young woman time to crystallise.
And there were a dozen more mistakes which must
be passed over in silence to give ladies ex professo the
pleasure of deducing them for the benefit of those who
cannot guess them.

Eugene arrived at the Marquise's door ; but as he was
going in, the porter stopped him, and told him that
Madame de Listomere was out. As he was getting into
his carriage again, the Marquis came in.

' Come up, Eugene,' said he j ' my wife is at home.'

Oh ! forgive the Marquis. A husband, however
admirable, scarcely ever attains to perfection.

Rastignac as he went upstairs discerned the ten
fallacies in worldly logic which stood on this page of the
fair book of his life.

When Madame de Listomere saw her husband come
in with Eugene, she could not help colouring. The
young Baron observed the sudden flush. If the most
modest of men never quite loses some little dregs of
conceit, which he can no more get rid of than a woman
can throw off her inevitable vanities, who can blame
Eugene for saying to himself, 'What! this stronghold
too ? ' — and he settled his head in his cravat. Though
young men are not very avaricious, they all love to add a
head to their collection of medals.

Monsieur de Listomere seized on the Gazette de France^
which he saw in a corner by the fireplace, and went to
the window to form, by the help of the newspaper, an
opinion of his own as to the state of France. No woman,
not even a prude, is long in embarrassment even in the
most difficult situation in which she can find herself;
she seems always to carry in her hand the fig-leaf given
to her by our mother Eve. And so, when Eugene,
having interpreted the orders given to the porter in a
sense flattering to his vanity, made his bow to Madame
de Listomere with a tolerably deliberate air, she was
able to conceal all her thoughts behind one of those



A Study of Woman 9

feminine smiles, which are more impenetrable than a
King's speech.

' Are you unwell, Madame ? You had closed your
door.'

' No, Monsieur.'

* You were going out perhaps ? '
' Not at all.'

' You are expecting somebody ? '

' Nobody.'

' If my visit is ill timed, you have only the Marquis to
blame. I was obeying your mysterious orders when he
himself invited me into the sanctuary.'

* Monsieur de Listomere was not in my confidence.
There are certain secrets which it is not always prudent
to share with one's husband.'

The firm, mild tone in which the Marquise spoke
these words, and the imposing dignity of her glance, were
enough to make Rastignac feel that he had been in too
much haste to plume himself.

' I understand, Madame,' said he, laughing ; ' I must
therefore congratulate myself all the more on having
met Monsieur le Marquis ; he has procured me an
opportunity for offlsring you an explanation, which would
be fraught with danger, but that you are kindness
itself.'

The Marquise looked at the young Baron with con-
siderable astonishment, but she replied with dignity.

'On your part. Monsieur, silence will be the best
excuse. On my side I promise you to forget entirely —
a forgiveness you scarcely merit.'

' Forgiveness is needless, Madame, when there has been
no offence. — The letter you received,' he added in an



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