Julie's Reviews > The Memoirs of Two Young Wives

The Memoirs of Two Young Wives by Honoré de Balzac
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
5210022
's review

really liked it
bookshelves: 2018, classics, e-book, cultural, historical-fiction

The Memoirs of Two Young Wives by Honoré de Balzac, (Jordan Stump translator) is a 2018 NYRB Classics publication. This book was originally published under the title Mémoires de deux jeunes mariées in 1841.

When NYRB Classics sent out an email announcing the release of this classic epistolary novel, which is not, as the title suggests, a memoir, I was intrigued enough to request a purchase of it for my Overdrive library, which they were kind enough to do.

What an interesting story! Told strictly via letters exchanged between two friends who met while attending a convent school together. They remained friends, throughout their entire lives, despite the very vast differences in the paths their lives took in adulthood.

Renee chose a traditional life, marrying for comfort and companionship, to boost her husband’s morale and confidence, and for the pleasure of motherhood. Although she loves her husband in a way, theirs is not an all consuming love affair.

Louise, lives for love, passion, society, and glamour. She is not in any way tempted by domesticity, nor does she display the slightest maternal instinct. She loves passionately, takes risks, attends social galas, and seems to love every minute of her dramatic life. But, she may pay a heavy toll for her choices.

While each wife regales the other with their ups and downs, heartaches, trials, and triumphs, often urging each other to accept or acknowledge the benefits of the life they have chosen.

The reader will see both sides clearly, and will, without much nudging from the author, decide which wife has made the best choice. Will they come to regret those decisions? Are they secretly envious of each other in big or small ways? Wistful perhaps? Which life would you choose to lead? Renee's or Louise's?


This is a variant on the ‘coming of age’ trope, and while the story is tragic, what really stands out is the bond between Renee and Louise. They often disagree, go through long periods without correspondence, but love each other, despite the obvious chasms between them.

I love my books, and really, really get involved with them on occasion, prompting me to do Google searches or ‘further reading’ if a topic interests me. In this case, I was a little afraid I might be completely out of my element, so I did a little research, and discovered some interesting facts about the book and the author, which was very helpful since I don’t ordinarily read French novels, although it seems I may be the only person on the planet unfamiliar with Balzac.

Originally, this French language epistolary, was serialized in a French newspaper. It was first translated in 1902.

It has been noted that the author did an amazing job of giving these women a voice, writing from the female perspective, with acute sensitivity for a man. He provided social commentary throughout and touched on the various forms of love, romance and marriage.

It is my understanding that compared to Balzac’s most famous work, this one barely made a blip when first published, but now, after taking it out and dusting off, it seems to be a rare and poignant discovery, even if it is not exactly what those familiar with his work are accustomed to.

As for me, with nothing else to compare it to, I was thrilled to discover this ‘lost’ classic and happy to see that is now in digital format.

It is a unique epistolary book, I am happy I took the time and extra effort to obtain. Needless to say, this has been an interesting, and pleasant learning experience for me. Although the story does end on a rather somber note, it does provoke thought and did indeed have me thinking about these two women, both of whom lived life on their own terms, for better or worse.

4 stars
73 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Memoirs of Two Young Wives.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

January 22, 2018 – Started Reading
January 22, 2018 – Shelved
January 22, 2018 – Shelved as: 2018
January 22, 2018 – Shelved as: classics
January 22, 2018 – Shelved as: e-book
January 22, 2018 – Shelved as: cultural
January 22, 2018 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
January 28, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-26 of 26 (26 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Janille (new) - added it

Janille N G This sounds truly fascinating! And I haven't read a proper epistolary novel in a long time. This is definitely a must read -- can't wait to see what you think of it! :)


Julie Janille wrote: "This sounds truly fascinating! And I haven't read a proper epistolary novel in a long time. This is definitely a must read -- can't wait to see what you think of it! :)"

Me either. This does sound very interesting. I'll keep you posted!


message 3: by Antoinette (new) - added it

Antoinette Excellent review Julie. I love books comprised of letters. Will have to definitely look into this one.


message 4: by *TUDOR^QUEEN* (new)

*TUDOR^QUEEN* Lovely review, Julie 😄😮😆💞


Julie Antoinette wrote: "Excellent review Julie. I love books comprised of letters. Will have to definitely look into this one."

Thank you, Antoinette!! I do too, but I don't come across them too often.


Julie *TUDOR^QUEEN* wrote: "Lovely review, Julie 😄😮😆💞"

Thank you, TUDOR QUEEN!!


message 7: by Ushasree (new)

Ushasree N Lovely review. I am intrigued but the book is too expensive to buy. Added it to my wish list.


Julie Ushasree wrote: "Lovely review. I am intrigued but the book is too expensive to buy. Added it to my wish list."

Thank you, Ushasree!! I completely understand. My library was able to purchase a copy, thankfully. Otherwise, I'd have to add it to my wishlist also.


message 9: by Jaline (new)

Jaline Great find, Julie! It's so exciting when that happens - and your review of this was fabulous! 😊


message 10: by Maureen (new)

Maureen Very interesting review Julie😄


message 11: by Paromjit (new)

Paromjit Julie, I adored your review....sounds so wonderful! :)


message 12: by Ali (new) - added it

Ali Great review, Julie! marking this one. i love Balzac, i think he was one of the very few who naturally captured women's perception and ways of thinking. this book definitely sounds worth reading.


Julie Jaline wrote: "Great find, Julie! It's so exciting when that happens - and your review of this was fabulous! 😊"

Thank you, Jaline!!


Julie Paromjit wrote: "Julie, I adored your review....sounds so wonderful! :)"

Thank you, Paromjit!!


Julie Ali wrote: "Great review, Julie! marking this one. i love Balzac, i think he was one of the very few who naturally captured women's perception and ways of thinking. this book definitely sounds worth reading."

Thank you, Ali!! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this one, especially since you are familiar with the author.


Julie Maureen wrote: "Very interesting review Julie😄"

Thank you, Maureen!!


message 17: by Meredith (new)

Meredith Wonderful review, Julie!


message 18: by Angela M (new)

Angela M Terrific review , Julie.


message 19: by Candi (new) - added it

Candi Excellent review, Julie! I still have not read this author and have not heard of this particular book, but I am definitely interested in reading it now! Thank you for sharing :)


message 20: by KAS (new)

KAS Beautiful, insightful review, Julie!!


Julie Meredith wrote: "Wonderful review, Julie!"

Thank you, Meredith!!


Julie Angela M wrote: "Terrific review , Julie."

Thank you, Angela!!


Julie KAS wrote: "Beautiful, insightful review, Julie!!"

Thank you, KAS!!


Julie Candi wrote: "Excellent review, Julie! I still have not read this author and have not heard of this particular book, but I am definitely interested in reading it now! Thank you for sharing :)"

Thank you very much, Candi!!


message 25: by Fran (new)

Fran Julie...loved your review!


Julie Fran wrote: "Julie...loved your review!"

Thank you, Fran!!


back to top