Beatrix I & II

THE HUMAN COMEDY – Honoré de Balzac Third and fourth volume of works of Honoré de Balzac edited by widow André Houssiaux, publisher, Hebert and Co, successors, 7 rue Perronet – Paris (1877)

Scenes from private life

Picture 1

Calyste and Camille Maupin


Analysis and history Béatrix is a long novel that was written and published twice. The first part was written in 1836 and serialized in Le siècle in April and May 1839, before appearing in bookshops at the end of the year under the title Béatrix ou les Amours forcées. This first part included two major divisions, the first entitled The Characters, the second The Drama, which together formed a novel. A second part, which is actually a sequel and another novel, was written six years later under the title Un adulère rétrospectif. Béatrix is one of the lesser-known of Balzac’s great novels. Perhaps this is due to its very richness, as it mixes subjects of too different and unequally endearing interests. The first part, The Characters, is a beautiful, symbolic, serious and exemplary story. It’s set in Brittany, around the old town of Guérande, in the most Breton canton of Brittany, where the last battles of Charrette’s companions took place: a century behind their time, they’re still in the time of the Chouans, and beyond that, they haven’t changed since Du Guesclin.

Picture 2

Miss de Pen Hoël

In the family of the old Baron du Guénic, the gentlemen, a young Calyste of twenty, handsome, strong, naive, a true son of noble Brittany. A few leagues away, in her château, lives a famous woman, Camille Maupin (Mademoiselle des Touches), a writer, admired, free, receiving Parisian friends, another century in its most intelligent, lively form. Calyste went to see her and was seduced by the air of Paris, the freedom and the new ideas. Calyste is loved: two women secretly vie for him, the brunette Camille Maupin and the artificially blond Béatrix de Rochefide. Calyste falls in love with the perfidious Beatrix. The second part, Drama, tells the story of two lovers. Camille Maupin is 15 years older than Calyste. The love she bears Calyste is a hopeless love, the love of a friend, of a mother, of admiration and tenderness; but a love that devours and ravages because of this fruit so sweet, so desirable that it is dangerous, foolish, mortal perhaps to savor. She knows that Calyste loves Beatrix. She wants him to be happy. She knows how much this happiness will cost her. She acts as a go-between for the two young men. Beatrix’s life is complicated: she’s done something crazy, left her husband and caused a scandal by running off with a famous musician, Gennaro Conti. She is forced to be faithful to this passion or risk losing the only excuse for her behavior, a romantic love for a “man of genius”. Conti and Béatrix are united in spite of themselves by this fault: they are “galley slaves of love”. Camille Maupin has no illusions about Beatrix; she knows she’s dry, vain, tempted by fresh flesh, but afraid to compromise an affair she’s secretly tired of, but can’t break. But this is the only way Calyste can be happy. The most beautiful token of love Camille Maupin could give him was to throw this cold, calculating woman into his arms, in spite of herself. She can’t manage it: Conti’s sudden arrival upsets everything. This liaison between Béatrix and Conti tells the story of Liszt and Mme d’Agoult: a love of illusion that crumbles and dies, the temptation of a young and true love, a devoted and perceptive friendship, the triumph of vanity in the end, because the performance must go on. Readers understood: all those who knew Parisian society, but also many others who easily recognized George Sand in Camille Maupin. Balzac made no secret of the fact: “Oui, Mlle des Touches (Camille Maupin) est bien George Sand,” he wrote to Madame Hanska, “oui, Béatrix est trop bien Mme d’Agoult”. In February 1838, Balzac spent a week with George Sand in Nohant. They had talked a lot about women, love and marriage. And George Sand recounted the denouement of a love story that all Paris knew the beginning of, the dramatic flight on May 11, 1835 of the Countess d’Agoult, whose husband had once been the Chevalier d’Honneur of the Duchesse de Berry, with the great pianist Liszt. After two years of travels, Italian lakes and Switzerland, George Sand had brought the two lovers home to Nohant, where they were beginning to tire of the grand parade of their love. And she had seen this famous love secretly unravel before her eyes, she had described to Balzac the constancy to which they were both condemned, Liszt out of seductive vanity, Mme d’Agoult because the only way to lessen her fault was to make it eternal. They didn’t love each other anymore, they knew it, but they were forbidden to say it or even let on. They were in representation, condemned to love for life, as Balzac’s original title for his novel, Les galériens ou les amours forcées, aptly puts it.

Picture 3

Franz Liszt

Picture 4

Marie d’Agoult and

The strength and beauty of this novel lies in Camille Maupin’s self-sacrificing love and the drama that unfolds between these two women, the stronger of whom (Camille) doubly insults the other by imposing her moral superiority and treating her like a toy to be given to the young boy she loves. Beatrix flees as her musician arrives. Calyste nearly kills Beatrix in a moment of desperation and rage: this violence upsets Beatrix, and she loves him. At this point in the novel, Calyste is not Beatrix’s lover. Conti kidnaps her at dawn one morning. Calyste’s grief was such that he remained between life and death for several weeks. The outcome is a defeat for noble Brittany. The elderly du Guénic, distraught by his son’s illness, dies of grief, begging his son to obey his will. Calyste swears to his dying father that he will marry to carry on his name. In Paris, Camille Maupin found him a wealthy heiress as noble as himself, Sabine de Grandlieu, daughter of the Duc de Grandlieu, the king’s friend and confidant. A beautiful letter from Camille Maupin, announcing his entry into religion, overwhelms Calyste and removes his last hesitation. After reading it, he signs the marriage contract that puts an end to the great love of his youth.

Genealogy of characters De Casteran (for Béatrix): “Pronounce Catéran”. Noble family from Normandy, represented by : A Casteran-la-Tour who married a Milaud de la Baudraye; Blanche de Casteran, who had a natural daughter by the Duc de Verneuil, and who became a nun; The Marquis de Casteran, who lives with his mother in Alençon and has 3 children: The Count of Casteran, probably to be identified with the Casteran, prefect in Burgundy, who married a Troisville ; A girl. Béatrix-Maximilienne-Rose, who married Arthur de Rochefide. Camille Maupin: Literary pseudonym for Félicité des Touches. De Rochefide: “Yesterday’s nobles” according to Mme de Beauséant. Family represented by : A young lady who marries Ajuda Pinto and dies quite quickly, In 1828, Arthur, brother of the previous owner, married Béatrix, Maximilienne-Rose de Castéran, born in 1808, and had a son. Des Touches: Noble family from Brittany represented by : a soldier who died in 1792, husband of a Faucombe who died in 1793, from whom one son, chevalier des Touches, killed in 1793, from whom came a daughter, Félicité, born in 1791, a woman of letters and later a nun. Du Guénic: Noble family from Brittany, represented by : Zéphirine, born in 1756, remained a daughter, Gaudebert, Calyste, Charles, baron du Guénic, brother of the above (1763-1836). Married in 1813, Fanny O’Brien, Irish, born in 1792, from whom a son, Calyste, born in 1814, married Sabine de Grandlieu, born in 1816, from whom a son and the promise of another. Pen Hoël (de): Breton noble family, represented by : Jacqueline de Pen-Hoël, born in 1780, his sister married the viscount de Kergarouët, producing 4 daughters, the eldest Charlotte. Grandlieu: Noble family represented by : Duke Ferdinand, who married an Ajuda (Portuguese), resulting in a religious daughter, Clotilde-Frédérique born 1802, Joséphine marries Ajuda, Sabine married Calyste Du Guénic, Marie-Athénaïs who married her cousin Juste : The youngest branch of this family is represented by a viscount of Grandlieu who died in 1823; He married a Born who gave birth to : Juste married his cousin Marie-Athénaïs and took over the ducal title. Camille, promised to Ernest de Restaud. We should also mention : a 17th-century Countess de Grandlieu, whose daughter married the Duc d’Hérouville. a Grandlieu who married the Marquis d’Espard, father of Marquis Andoche, a Grandlieu who married a Listomère, a Grandlieu who married the Prefect of Orne Conti: Italian-born composer, seducer of Beatrix.  

1) Source analysis/history: Preface (Tome IV) compiled from the full text of the Comédie Humaine published by France Loisirs 1985 under the auspices of the Société des Amis d’Honoré de Balzac.

2) Character genealogy source: Félicien Marceau “Balzac et son monde – Gallimard” (Balzac and his world – Gallimard)

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