Jim's Reviews > The Imaginary Mistress

The Imaginary Mistress by Honoré de Balzac
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's review
Dec 19, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: balzac
Read in December, 2010

During his short and frenetic life, Balzac could at times be a chameleon, tossing off works that were uncharacteristic of him, but by no means inferior to the standard classics for which we know him. For many years, he loved the Polish Countess Eveline Hanska (and eventually married her just months before he died). This is one of several of his works that was by way of a valentine to his love (Another is The Wrong Side of Paris). This novelette is about a young Parisian woman of fashion who marries a Polish Count, one Adam Laginsky. There is nothing quite so spectacular about this Laginski as his friend Paz. Acting as his steward and general factotum, Paz takes charge of Laginsky's life, his investments, his horses, his real estate -- and does it brilliantly. Why does he do this? While they were fleeing Poland after it was engulfed by Russia, Laginsky saved Paz's life twice; so Paz took it upon himself to live quietly in his friend's shadow, helping him in every way he could.

This particular story has something of the myth of Pandora's Box in it: The Countess Laginska suddenly becomes curious about this man Paz. It seems, you see, that Paz is actually in love with his friend's wife; but he wants no pary in breaking up the relationship. He does the one thing for which the Countess could not forgive him: He takes up with a circus rider named Malaga who is too infra dig for a Parisian woman of fashion to tolerate. How Paz maneuvers his way through this minefield makes this one of Balzac's few great comedies. But, alas, my lips are sealed.
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