Jim's Reviews > Beatrix

Beatrix by Honoré de Balzac
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's review
Feb 20, 11

bookshelves: balzac, 19th-century-lit
Read from January 11 to February 20, 2011

** spoiler alert ** The work of Honoré de Balzac is chock full of surprises. Picture to yourself a novel set in a grim little town in Brittany among a group of encrusted local nobility, the du Guenics and their friends. The son, Calyste, becomes interested in an artsy woman twice his age by the name of Felicité Des Touches who has moved into the area. Although Balzac mentions George Sand by name, Mlle Des Touches -- who calls herself Camille Maupin and smokes cigars -- is herself a novelist of note and very like George Sand.

When the Marquise Beatrix de Rochefide comes to visit Mlle Des Touches, Calyste then falls in love with her -- hard. But Beatrix is even then in a relationship with the Italian musician Gaetano Conti, and separated from her husband the Marquis Arthur de Rochefide (who has found consolation in the arms of a Mlle Aurelie Schontz). Beatrix returns to Paris, and Calyste is disconsolate. So disconsolate that he allows himself to be married to the young daughter of the Duchesse de Grandlieu, by the name of Sabine.

As one could expect, Calyste runs into Beatrix at the theater and falls in love with her anew -- and this time she is available.

Originally, Balzac ended his novel here, but he returned to it later, added several more chapters and in the process made it much better. Sabine is distraught and tearful when she finds out that Calyste has hooked up with Beatrix.

But then Mama, the Duchesse, steps in and brings in some heavy guns to bear. With the help of a connection, the Marquis d'Ajuda-Pinto, who contacts his friend Count Maxime de Trailles, a plot is set in motion. If Mlle Schontz could be persuaded to dump the old Marquis, and Beatrix could be induced to dump Calyste, then the Marquis and his estranged wife Beatrix could be reunited, if not in love or lust -- at least in respectability.

Balzac employs a deft touch here and the plot comes off perfectly.

This is not one of Balzac's better-known novels, but it deserves to be; and it also deserves to be translated into the modern idiom. The Victorian ladies and gentlemen who produced the translations at Gutenberg.Org were at the very least competent, and at best even inspired, but I feel that no one will read Beatrix if they have to wade through their at times arcane prose.


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