A prince of Bohemia

THE HUMAN COMEDY – Honoré de Balzac Twelfth volume of works of Honoré de Balzac edited by widow André Houssiaux, publisher, Hebert and Co, successors, 7 rue Perronet – Paris (1877) Scenes from Parisian life Image from article Un prince de la bohème


Short story written between 1939 and 1845 Signed A HEINE My dear Heine, to you this Etude, to you who represent in Paris the spirit of German poetry as in Germany you represent the lively and witty French critic, to you who know better than anyone what there can be here of criticism, jest, love and truth. De Balzac.

Analysis of the work This is one of Balzac’s most amusing short stories, and one of the most brilliant too, belonging, in both structure and style, to that gallery of portraits of which the preceding short stories offer other specimens. An essential feature of these short stories is that there is no longer any drama, but only playlets, with the portrait, the situation and the storyteller’s verve alone sustaining interest and replacing pathos. It’s a daring formula: brio of execution becomes essential, as does the storyteller’s assurance, always going a little beyond the plausible to entertain. Un prince de la bohème was published in one of the issues of Revue Parisienne in August 1840. This Revue Parisienne was Balzac’s most recent invention: a small-format monthly magazine to compete with Alphonse Karr’s Les Guêpes . The adventure didn’t last long and was therefore less disastrous than the Chronique de Paris venture, but it required as much copy as Balzac himself had to provide. Un prince de la bohème appeared under a much more accurate title, Les Fantaisies de Claudine. This change of title is crucial, as it obscures the real issue. The main character is often thought to be the brilliant Charles-Edouard Rusticoli, Comte de La Palférine, a witty seducer living in a maid’s room. In reality, Rusticoli is nothing more than an amusing and daring portrait that serves to spill anecdotes and personalize insolence. The real character is this Claudine, met by chance, seduced without intention, and in whom a courtesan’s love suddenly blossoms and develops, a love of adoration, submission and absolute devotion, a fixed idea that fills a life, a replica in the comic register of Esther’s absolute love for Lucien de Rubempré in Splendors and miseries of courtesans. This astonishing female figure is one of Balzac’s most vigorous “women’s studies”. And at the same time, let us recognize the true character of amusing scenes, comedies fantasies which La Palférine’s insolence or caprice imposes on her like so many trials, and which turn a vaudevillian husband, through Claudine’s docility, into a considered, rich, decorated man, who ends up a count and peer of France: these are sketches of these The little miseries of married life, complement to the Physiology of marriage, of which Balzac had already given several fragments to the journal The Cartoon in October-December 1839 and of which he also gave another brilliant specimen in late Beatrix, in the same period, when he painted the tranquil happiness of the Comte de Rochefide, another happy victim. It’s all magnified, mocking and, of course, unbelievable: but it’s as true as it is funny.

The story The scene takes place in the salon of the Marquise de la Baudraye, who is in the company of her friend, the poet Nathan, the story’s narrator. The young man referred to in Nathan’s account to the Marquise turns out to be Charles-Edouard Rusticoli, Comte de La Palférine. Nathan’s friend is a witty young gentleman, well-spoken but without a fortune. This young dandy is part of La Bohème. It’s under the sobriquet of la Bohème that young people of spirit and genius, artists of all kinds, the future stars of tomorrow, gather on the Boulevard des Italiens and in the salons. La Palferine meets Claudine, a woman married to the vaudevillian Sieur du Bruel de Cursy. He seduces her and makes her his current fling. Claudine’s passion for Charles-Edouard knows no bounds, and she indulges the dandy’s every whim. In the blindness of her love, she took up the most audacious challenges, such as obtaining for her husband the title of Count and the appointment of Peer de France, in order to satisfy Charles-Edouard’s request that he only enter into a serious relationship with someone worthy of his rank. La Palferine’s ferocious jokes, having so effectively controlled Claudine’s household with his whims, made this vaudevillian family a noble one.

About the de La Palférine family The Rusticoli family, who had arrived in France with Catherine de Medici, were dispossessed of a minimal sovereignty in Tuscany. Somewhat related to d’Este, they allied themselves with the Guise family. They killed many Protestants on St. Bartholomew’s Day, and Charles IX gave them the heiress to the county of Palferine, confiscated from the Duke of Savoy, and which Henri IV bought back from them while leaving them the title. This great king was foolish enough to return this fief to the Duke of Savoy. In exchange, the Counts of Palferine, who before the Medici had weapons, argent, a cross flory azure (the cross was fleurdelysed by letters patent from Charles IX), topped with a count’s crown and two peasants as supports, with IN HOC SIGNO VINCIMUS as their motto, had two Crown Charges and one government. They played their finest role under the Valois, and right up to the quasi-rule of Richelieu; then they were diminished under Louis XIV and ruined under Louis XV. Charles-Edouard’s grandfather devoured the remains of this brilliant house with Mademoiselle Laguerre, whom he made fashionable before Bouret. An officer without a fortune in 1789, Charles-Edouard’s father had the good sense, with the help of the Revolution, to call himself Rusticoli. This father, who during the Italian wars married a goddaughter of the Countess Albani, a Capponi (hence the last name La Palferine), was one of the best colonels in the army; the Emperor appointed him Commander of the Legion of Honor, and made him a Count.

The characters Milaud de la Baudraye: Noble family represented by a few ancestors and by a farmer-general who married a Castéran-la-Tour woman. Jean-Anasthase-Polydore de la Baudraye: Born in 1780, he was the son of Milaud de la Baudraye. This man in poor health married Dinah Piédefer in 1807. He is a count and peer of France. Dinah de la Baudraye: born to a Protestant family in Bourges whose father, Moïse Piédefer, died in 1819. Raoul Nathan: Writer and journalist – husband of Sophie Grignoult, commonly known as Florine. Tullia: Claudine Chaffaroux, dancer under the name Tullia. In 1829, she married Jean-François du Bruel, born in 1797, civil servant, playwright, Count and Peer of France.  

Source analysis/history: Preface (Volume XVI) compiled from the full text of the Comédie Humaine published by France Loisirs 1986 under the auspices of the Société des Amis d’Honoré de Balzac.

Character genealogy source: Félicien Marceau “Balzac et son monde” Gallimard.

No Comments
Post a Comment