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Honore De Balzac - Beatrix (1839)

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

In this novel Balzac presents thinly disguised character studies of certain of his famous contemporaries. Beatrix is the Comtesse d'Agoult (1805-1876), an author who wrote under the pen-name of "Daniel Stern," and who lived ten years (from 1835 to 1845) with Franz Liszt, the Hungarian pianist and composer (1811-188. To them were born three daughters, one of whom married Von Billow, and afterward Richard Wagner. Liszt is represented in the novel as Conti. The rival of Beatrix, Camille Maupin, or Mademoiselle des Touches, is a composite study of two characters in real life: the Baroness Dudevant (1804-1876), the famous novelist known by her pseudonym of "George Sand"; and Madame de Steel (1766-1817). It is said that Madame Dudevant was immensely pleased with the story because it represented her in favorable contrast to her "friend" and fellow-author, the Comtesse d'Agoult. The lover of Mademoiselle des Touches, Claude Vignon, stands for the critic Gustave Planche, although it was with Alfred de Musset (1810-1857), the poet, and Frederic Francois Chopin (1809-1849), the musician, that the Baroness Dudevant had her most noted liaisons.

BARON DU GUENIC, of Guerande, was a true Breton. When La Vendee arose against the French Republic, he joined with the Royalists in their guerrilla warfare, and when the insurrection was put down, in 1802, he sailed for Ireland rather than accept the clemency of Napoleon.

Here, in 1813, at the age of fifty, he married Miss Fanny O'Brien, a young lady of ancient family, dowered with beauty, amiability, and good sense in lieu of fortune. In 1814, on the restoration of the Bourbons to the French throne in the person of Louis XVIII, the Guenics returned to their Breton home, bringing their newborn son, Calyste (Calixtus) by name.

No other children were born to the couple, and Calyste was the idol of the household. By the time the son had arrived at the age of manhood, though not its appearance—having inherited from his Irish mother soft, fair hair, a rosebud mouth, delicate complexion, and finely molded features, though de-riving from his father a swordlike strength and elasticity of nerve and muscle—the Baron du Guenic was a broken old man whose sole reason for clinging to life was that he might see his son married and the father of a boy that would preserve the family from extinction. "I do not want to go out of this world," he said, "without seeing my grandson, a little pink-andwhite Guenic, with a Breton hood on in his cradle."

Accordingly, in the year 1836, when Calyste was twenty-two, a council of all the Du Guenic clan was held, at which a wife for the young man was decided upon in the person of Charlotte de Kergarouet, a young girl of a family of prominence in the neighboring city of Nantes. Calyste hotly rebelled when in-formed of the disposition made of his future by the family council. "I! marry at my age?" he cried to the Baroness de Guenic with one of those looks which weaken a mother's resolution. "Am I to have no period of sweet love-madness? May I never know the beauty that is free, the fancy of the soul, the despair of attainment, the thrill of conquest? Shall I never climb to my beloved's chamber by a rotten trellis, without knowing or caring that it is breaking behind me at every upward step? Can I know nothing of woman but wifely surrender, or of the light of love but the chastened glow of the marriage-lamp? Is all my curiosity to be satiated before it is excited? Am I to live without ever feeling that fury of the heart which adds to a man's power? Do you not perceive that by following the stupid custom of the country you have fed the fire that is consuming me, and that I shall be burned up before that divinity reveals herself to me in flesh and blood whose presaging image I see wherever I turn—in the green-scarfed limbs of the waving forest, the white breasts of the foaming surge, the soft radiance of moonlight glinting from the darkling lake? Shall I never pluck the blue blossom of romance? Mother, but one such flower of womankind blooms in all Guerande, and that is you. It must be in Paris, in the conservatories of Paris, that my heart-ease is to be found. It was from Paris she came, that glorious creature I saw on the moors amid the yellow broom, whose beauty sent the blood with a rush to the heart!"

"Oh, my dear boy!" said the melting mother, pressing his head to her bosom and kissing his fair hair, still all her own, "marry when you please, only be happy. It is not my part to torment you. Only—tell your mother about this woman you met on the moors."

It was indeed a glorious creature that Calyste had beheld amid the golden broom. Felicite des Touches was one of the score of women who, in the history of the world, have achieved greatness measured by the standards applied to the greatest of men. Demanding such a judgment, as it were, she early assumed a masculine appellation—Camille Maupin—and speedily made it shine among the foremost names in contemporary literature.

Occupied with her labors and studies, Mademoiselle des Touches had passed the age when girls of her class usually, if ever, marry. She was now forty, with the same beauty of form and face that she possessed at twenty-five, and more magnetic than ever in her attractiveness, owing to her ever-increasing insight into the minds and soul of her associates, and her ever-broadening sympathy with human passions and impulses, however weak and wayward these might seem in the eyes of the world.

Disliking to think that she might be abnormal in regard to her feelings toward the other sex, Mademoiselle des Touches, when she had passed the age of impressionable girlhood, sought a lover among men of genius in her own circle. She first selected an author, who was deeply versed in art, a subject in which she felt herself deficient, and who seemed to share in her desire for ennobling companionship. Together they went to Italy, where, after revealing to her the souls of the Old Masters, he finally laid bare his own—suddenly deserting her for an Italian woman of purely sensual charms. But for this humiliation Mademoiselle des Touches might never have be-come famous. It gave her at once and forever that scorn of mankind which was her great strength. The old Felicite was dead and "Camille Maupin" was born.

She returned to Paris in the company of Conti, the great musician, for whom she wrote the libretti of two operas. Upon the author who had deserted her she revenged herself by writing a delicious comedy on the subject of their Platonic relations.

Conti she found going the way of her first lover, and so broke with him in time—even before he realized whither he was drifting. At the time when this story opens she had become interested in Claude Vignon, a lazy, impoverished bohemian, who nevertheless was receiving from more successful men the sincere homage of fear and hatred because of his mordant criticism. Felicite chose him, evidently, in order to maintain and advance her position in the literary world. To escape criticism for this behavior, so rash and incomprehensible as it seemed to her friends, she carried him off to her "Chartreuse" in Brittany.

But in this beautiful chateau, filled though it was with the treasures of art and literature purchased with the rich gains of his mistress's pen, Vignon, a true cockney, soon became bored, and grew homesick for his beloved Paris. Here in Brittany was no artist to be plucked, no poet to be driven to despair. The varied scenery of the surrounding country pleased him even less than the chateau. So he moped within doors while Camille tramped the moors and the sand-dunes, planning how she might mold him to her purposes.

On one of these excursions she came upon Calyste lying on his back in the heather, observing in the clouds the symbols of his ideal woman. To Camille his fair flushed face and lithe form, as he sprang to his feet, seemed the impersonation of a faun, one of the ever-young and beautiful creatures of classic myth. All the immortal in her leaped forth responsive, and to him her five feet of stature towered to regal proportions, and her dark face became radiant with inner light.

"I am Felicite des Touches," she said; and he: "I am Calyste du Guenic, of Guerande."

" Our estates join on this moor where no boundary is visible. Let us clasp hands in a friendship that shall know no barriers. Come and see me, Calyste, when it pleases you, as if we had always known each other."

A few days after Calyste's understanding with his mother, Charlotte, the bride that had been selected for him without his consent, came to visit Guerande, accompanied by her mother, the Viscountess Kergarouet. By the connivance of the Baroness du Guenic, Calyste, after a formal welcome of the visitors, slipped away to Les Touches. Camille, in despair over Vignon's moodiness, greeted the boy with joy.

"Perhaps you can aid me with our homesick Parisian," she said. "I have set out to galvanize his withered heart, to save him from himself, to attach him to me, but I despair of succeeding. My love is not passionate enough, perhaps. I cannot intoxicate him into forgetfulness of his grudge against the world. You and he must get drunk together. It may make a man of him."

Calyste turned as red as a cherry.

Good God!" exclaimed Camille, "here am I thoughtlessly depraving your maiden innocence! Forgive me, Calyste! When you love, you will know that you would sacrifice all other persons in the world to attain the smallest of your purposes with the object of your passion. Only a mother's affection can compare with it. Oh, how I envy your mother! To have a Calyste of my own ! What bliss ! And you shall be my son. I will give up my romantic aspirations, unfitting my age, for the joys of motherhood, the cares of which I have not borne. I shall leave you my fortune."

"I can give you nothing in return," replied the young man, "and so shall return your fortune to your heirs."

"Child!" said Camille, in her rich tones, now trembling with emotion, "can nothing save me from myself? But I must do something for you; what shall it be?"

"Give me the chance to love!" cried Calyste, passionately; "to love where I may give of myself something in measure to what I shall receive. I dare not hope that you, so far above me, so rich in thoughts and emotions that overwhelm me with their abundance, and daze me with their mystery, shall be the beloved one. Oh, sun of womankind, are there not planets that revolve about you upon whom I may dare to gaze? I am not clever, like Monsieur Vignon, yet such a love as I desire would make me so. Then perhaps "

"Then I should be below the horizon, and the new star exalted to the zenith. Yes, I know the woman for you, and I shall bring her here, that you may win her. I have already endowed her with a lover—Conti, the musician, who for a time was my satellite. It will be a pleasure to revenge myself on the man who so willingly permitted the transfer, by seeing him supplanted in turn. Beatrix de Casteran, Marquise de Rochefide (for she has a husband whom she deserted for Conti), is a woman with a wonderful gift of apprehending everything. Hers is the beauty of the pure white rose that still can flush, oh, so delicately! in response to the warmth of adoration. Your cheek is already glowing, boy, with my description, and I know hers must be tinged in subtle sympathy, distant as she is. Are you never so bashful, she will divine your feelings toward her. Nature formed her kind to be the first love of maiden youths, although not always the last. I shall send for Beatrix at once."

Within a week young Guenic, who was hard put to it to conceal his disgust at the countrified airs of his fiancee, with whom previously he had been delighted to romp, was overjoyed to receive a note from Les Touches, saying:

"MY DEAR CALYSTE :—The fair Marquise has arrived. The honor of Brittany and of the Guenics is at stake when there is a Casteran to be welcomed. So let us meet soon.


That afternoon the young Breton walked over to Les Touches surrounded by a halo of hope through which he beheld all nature in a glow, revealing herself to him, as constantly of late, in feminine attributes. He found the whole party in the drawing-room. It was six o'clock, and the room was full of the soft gloom that women, especially those who have passed their youth, love so well. Lifting up the tapestry that curtained the door, Calyste stood for a moment surrounded by the red rays of the level sun. "Young Apollo!" he heard ejaculated in a low tone, and then, becoming used to the gloom, he saw, reclining on the divan, a white, sinuous figure, whose eyes were fixed upon him in frank admiration. In an instant the young man was possessed by a passion that filled to the full the wild longings of the past month. Lionlike he looked about to see who might dispute his right to the love that had come upon him. He saw by the side of the woman of his desire a man with a head like Lord Byron's, that he held even more proudly than was the wont of the defiant poet. Calyste divined at once that this was Conti, the musician, and cast at him a glance of challenge, a feeling he had never had for Claude Vignon. However, the well-bred man of the world did not appear to notice it.

As soon as possible Camille took the young man aside and said to him:

"My dear boy, if the Marquise falls in love with you she will pitch Conti out of the window; but you are behaving in such a way as to tighten their bonds. Command yourself."

Later in the evening, urged by Vignon, Conti and Camille sang together, among other duets the final one of Zingarelli's Romeo e Giulietta, which expresses the extreme of passion. Calyste was overwhelmed by Conti's genius. In spite of what Camille had told him of the man's selfish, even groveling character, the youth believed at this moment that the singer must have a beautiful soul. How was he to contend against such an artist? His heart was filled with despair. He stole from the music-room and cast himself down upon the divan where he had first seen Beatrix. Exhausted with emotion, he fell into a stupor from which he was aroused by the voices of Camille Maupin and Claude Vignon, conversing in low tones in the dark. Evidently it was late and all the rest of the party had retired.

The critic, the practised dissecter of souls, was laying bare to Camille secrets of her heart of which she herself was unconscious: "You are a coward, Camille; you love Calyste, and dare not confess it to yourself. You were appalled at the con-sequences of such a passion at your age. So you have hurled the boy at the head of another woman, and forced yourself to accept me as his substitute—me of all men to attempt to deceive ! And I must confess that for a time you succeeded in befooling me. I had hoped for a union of spirit with you, that we might soar together into the realm of infinitude. You were there, already, needing not my aid or company. And so I was deceived.

"To-morrow I go back in this misery of loneliness to the vast prison of Paris. You will remain here equally desolate. God pity us both, Camille!"

At this moment Calyste rose from the couch: "I ought to let you know that I am here," he said.

However much Calyste was affected at first by the self-sacrifice of Camille, his overwhelming passion for Beatrix soon swept from his mind all consideration of his accomplice's feelings, and the plot against the Marquise and Conti advanced apace. The young man promised blind obedience to his mentor's orders. These were to avoid the Marquise as much as possible, eluding particularly her questioning, and to pay assiduous court to Camille. "In a week," said this wily woman, "Beatrix will be crazy about you."

To the Marquise Camille made open confession of her love for her handsome young countryman, and, acknowledging his infatuation for Beatrix, threw herself on the Marquise's mercy. " Such is Calyste's humility that your disdain will preserve him to me. And I cannot bear to lose him. If I do, my determination is fixed."

"And what have you determined?" asked Beatrix, with an eagerness that, while a confirmation of Camille's view of the Marquise's character, was yet a shock to her sentiments of friendship.

"Happily," answered the elder woman, "there is no need to answer that question. I know how to win."

"And that?" queried Beatrix.

"Is my secret, my dear," answered Camille.

By Camille's contrivance, Conti was suddenly recalled to Paris, and Beatrix was left alone without a cavalier. By the end of the week the Marquise was crazy—if not with love, with the passion to possess the beloved of another that with many women supplies the place of love. Camille arranged a walking-party to the rocky shore of the Breton coast, and for the first time permitted Calyste and Beatrix to stray off together. Reaching the top of a high cliff, at the foot of which the wild sea tumbled its surges, the young lover, no longer able to re-strain his passion, declared his love in the poetic similitudes to which his solitary communings with nature inclined him:

"My love for you is like yon deep and tumultuous sea," he said. " Surging in my heart before I saw you, like those billows rolling in from the infinite distance, it has at last found its pre-destined goal

"In a rock-bound coast," completed Beatrix. "Calyste, I must be adamant to you. I love you, but I will not sacrifice my friend. Camille it is, who, like the moon to the tide, is the source of your agitation."

"Then your love is not like mine," said the ardent youth. "For you I would sacrifice my friends, my family, my name, my future life."

"Be silent!" said Beatrix, satisfied with her conquest, and thoroughly alarmed by his impetuosity. "I have done wrong enough. I forbid you to speak to me again of these matters."

"You will never be mine?" he asked, in a voice choked by a storm in his blood.

"Never, my dear; to you I can be only Beatrix—a dream." "And you will return to Conti?"

"There is no help for it."

"Then you shall never more be any man's," cried Calyste, hurling her over the precipice.

From a cleft in the rock protruded a box-tree, in which the falling woman lodged. Hardly had she reached it, when the repentant youth had followed her, slipping down the almost perpendicular side of the cliff. Beatrix was unconscious. Gathering her in his arms, as they lay in that aerial bed, Calyste implored her to open her eyes, to forgive him. Her lips quivered before her eyelids moved. Suddenly he found himself kissed with a passion more fervent than he had ever imagined in his wildest dream.

Camille, walking on the shore below, had been a spectator of this scene. Taking a coil of rope from a boat drawn up on the beach, she leaped like an Amazon (for she wore Turkish trousers) up the less precipitous slope of the cliff and was soon at its summit. First she drew up the light and agile Calyste, and then by his help rescued the Marquise.

To melt, to vitrify flinty hearts, a thunderbolt is needed. On Beatrix this thunderbolt had fallen in Calyste's passion and his attempt on her life. She now looked at love on its loftiest side. She saw herself in Calyste's eyes the supreme woman. "Dear boy," she said to him, "the love I have been so happy to inspire you with has elevated me in my own eyes. If ever you desire to throw me down from this moral height, do not repent your resolution; after your love; death!"

Then, even as she was saying these tender words, while she and Calyste were walking one evening through the garden of Les Touches, with arms encircling each other, they came upon Camille and Conti, seated on a bench, talking in low tones with heads close together. Conti sprang to his feet laughing. "You did not expect me back from Paris so soon, I suppose. Thank you, Monsieur du Guenic, for so satisfactorily filling my place." And, placing his arm around the waist from which Calyste's had just dropped in confusion, he walked away with Beatrix, continuing his laughter.

"He is mocking her!" cried Calyste to Camille, vehemently.

"Keep calm," said Camille, "or you will lose the few chances that remain. If he wounds Beatrix's vanity too much, she will trample him under foot like a worm. But he is astute. He will no doubt speak of you as a boy bewitched by the notion of ruling the destinies of two famous women. Beatrix, unable to admit me as a rival, will entangle herself in false denials, and he will come away master of the situation."

"Oh, why did he return?" moaned the heart-broken youth. " One day more, and we should have been safely on our way to Ireland! What brought him back?"

"The failure of his opera, and the taunt of Vignon that it was hard to lose both reputation and mistress," said Camille.

That evening Beatrix sought Camille in her chamber. "I am lost!" she cried. "The convict in the galleys is at the mercy of the man he is chained to. I must go back to the hulks of love! At last I recognize your infernal plotting. It was you who brought Conti back!"

The Marquise's features were distorted with rage, while Camille tried to conceal her triumph under an expression of regret.

"I leave you Calyste," said Beatrix, piercing beneath her rival's mask, "but I am fixed forever in his heart."

Camille retorted by quoting the famous speech of Mazarin's niece to Louis XIV: "You reign, you love him, and you are going."

In the meantime, the musician, left alone with Calyste, was playing with the young Breton.

"I foresaw that you would love Beatrix; I left her in a

situation in which she must needs flirt with you without abdicating her sacred majesty, were it only to annoy her dear friend Camille Maupin. Well, my dear fellow, love her. You will be doing me a service. I am at this moment in love with my newest singer, Mademoiselle Falcon. When you come to Paris you will say I have exchanged a marquise for a queen!"

Joy shed its glory on Calyste's face. This was all that Conti wanted.

Returning homeward the young lover trod on air. By the time he had reached Guerande, Conti and the Marquise were on their way to Paris.

The next day Calyste set out early for Les Touches. Camille met him at the gate.

"Gone!" she exclaimed.

"Beatrix?" cried Calyste, stunned.

"You were duped by Conti. You told me nothing; I could do nothing."

In her wisdom Camille knew it was useless to talk of Beatrix's unworthiness to the heart-broken young man. He alarmed her by the calmness of his despair. He asked to see Beatrix's room. Hiding his face in the pillow where her head had rested, to Camille's great relief he burst into a torrent of tears.

Returning home, he found the family and their guests playing cards. Having heard of the departure of the woman with whom he was infatuated, each of them watched him by stealth, and all but his mother observed with gratification his calmness. She alone suspected what the death of a first love must be to a heart so true and artless.

Taking her aside, "Mother," he said, "another has plucked my flower of romance. Tell them I will marry whom and when they please."

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