La Grenadière

THE HUMAN COMEDY – Honoré de Balzac Second 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

La Grenadière



Analysis of the work Short story published in October 1832 in Revue des deux mondes belongs to that series of “women’s studies” which form an almost independent division in the Scenes from private life. Indeed, it’s a simple evocation, the heroine is an unknown interviewee with her children, a mystery. She lives alone, she’s ill, she knows she’s going to die, leaving her two children, thirteen and ten, with no money, no protection, no future. This melancholy silhouette was much praised by contemporaries. Yet it’s a rather thin story, with no background, and not much better than Berquin’s touching short stories, which also featured model children and virtuous mothers. The story goes that the story was written in Frapesle, at the Carraud family home, where Balzac often went to rest overnight while they played billiards. This legend is not very reliable: but the story was written quickly. There are traces of this in his writing. La Grenadière was a pretty closier located opposite Tours, on the right bank of the Loire. The house was pleasant, the view very beautiful. Béranger had lived there. Balzac and Mme de Berny spent a month there in 1830. Throughout his life, Balzac dreamed of buying it and retiring there. His description is considered admirable. Above all, it’s prolix, dense and of little use to the story. You get the impression that the author is drawing a line in the sand. Speed is also evident in the succinct explanations given to the reader about the events that have condemned this young woman to solitude. This vagueness may be poetic, but it’s casual. In fact, Balzac was simply using a riddle that had intrigued the people of Tours. The young woman he called Mrs. Willemsens had indeed existed, but there were questions about her past about which nothing was known. The truth has only recently been discovered. It became known that she had left her husband or lived with an officer after his death for fifteen years, with whom she had two children. His real name, barely distorted by Balzac, was Villemesans. The youngest of her sons, the weak, gentle, blond boy whom she entrusted to her older brother with such recommendations, was later to become the famous Auguste de Villemessant, who took over the management of Le Figaro, and whose gentleness and shyness were not the dominant qualities. This identification robs Balzac’s short story of some of its poetic nimbus.

History The story takes place at La Grenadière, a house in Saint-Cyr not far from Tours (Touraine). It’s about a mother, Augusta Willemsens, Countess of Brandon, raising her two children. It was dishonor, it seems, that forced him into this retreat. Her husband, Earl Lord Brandon, gave up or lost his life to save his wife’s honor and life (in a duel perhaps??) – it seems the poor mother is dying of grief under the heavy weight of a terrible secret. Picture 2 It’s the stigma of banishment, the guilt, the dishonor, that forces him into this retreat. Unfortunately, we won’t know the details in the short story, as the author no doubt wishes to leave the reader’s imagination free rein. Nevertheless, based on the news item in the preface, it would seem that the starting point of this drama of existence is linked to an extramarital passion, a lover, an officer, which will not have a happy ending. This grieving mother died of illness and probably grief at the age of 36. She leaves two orphans, two children with no money, no protection, no future. These were Louis-Gaston, who embarked as a novice on a government vessel at the age of 13; his younger brother, Auguste, ten and later to become the famous Auguste de Vuillemessant, director of Le Figaro, was placed at the Collège de Tours. Ten thousand francs will provide his education. Angoulême, August 1832 It was in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire, where he had been fostered, that Honoré de Balzac situates La Grenadière, a property that actually existed and where he himself stayed with Laure de Berny in 1830. The novelist’s father owned a farm nearby. 1) Source for analysis/history: Preface (Volume IV) compiled from the complete works of the Comédie Humaine published by France Loisirs 1985 under the auspices of the Société des Amis d’Honoré de Balzac.

Genealogy of characters Brandon: English, about which we have no information. Married Marie-Augusta, whose maiden name was probably Willemsens, who died in 1820 at the age of 36. Lady Brandon has two adulterous sons, Louis Gaston and Marie Gaston. Gaston: The name borne by the two sons Louis and Marie, the result of an affair between Lady Brandon and an unspecified person. It would appear to be an officer. (According to a sentence in Père Goriot, later deleted by Balzac, the father is Franchessini).  

1) Source for analysis/history: Preface (Volume IV) compiled from the complete works 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”.

No Comments
Post a Comment