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Letters of Two Brides

By: Honoré de Balzac

Mémoires de deux jeunes mariées (Letters of Two Brides) is an epistolary novel by the French writer Honoré de Balzac. It was serialized in the French newspaper La Presse in 1841 and published by Furne in 1842 as the first work in the second volume (Scènes de la vie privée, tome II or Scenes from Private Life, Volume 2) of Balzac's La Comédie humaine. It was dedicated to the French novelist George Sand. The first English translation of the novel appeared in 1902, with a preface by Henry James.

The story concerns two young French women, Louise de Chaulieu (1805–1835) and Renée de Maucombe (born 1807), who become close friends during their novitiate at the Carmelite convent of Blois. When they leave the convent, however, their lives follow two very different paths. Louise chooses a life of romance, whereas Renée takes a much more pragmatic approach; but their friendship is preserved through their correspondence, which continues for a dozen years from 1823 through 1835.


Louise is expected to sacrifice herself for her two brothers and take the veil, but the young girl refuses to submit to such a fate. Her dying grandmother intercedes on her behalf and bequeaths her her fortune, thereby rescuing her from the enclosed life of a Carmelite nun and leaving her financially independent. Free to assist her brothers financially without having to sacrifice her own ambitions, Louise settles in Paris and throws herself into a life of Italian operas, masqued balls and romantic intrigues. She falls in love with an unbecoming but noble Spaniard, Felipe Hénarez, Baron de Macumer. Banished from Spain, he lives incognito in Paris where he is forced to support himself by teaching Spanish. When he regains his fortune and noble standing, he woos Louise with a romantic fervour that finally wins her over. The pair are married in March 1825. They live a life of carefree happiness, but Louise's jealousy embitters him and leads to his physical break-down. He dies in 1829, leaving a grieving widow of twenty-four.


Renée de Maucombe's attitude to love and life are in marked contrast to those of Louise. When she leaves the convent at Blois Renée moves to Provence, where she marries an older man of little wealth or standing whom she can hardly be said to love. She bears Louis de L'Estorade three children, and over the course of the next decade she devotes herself body and soul to the happiness of her family. Gradually she grows to love her husband in her own way, and with her encouragement he makes a career for himself in local politics, which culminates in his becoming a peer of France and a grand officer of the Legion of Honour. During this time Renée is quite scathing in her criticisms of Louise, whom she sees as a selfish and self-indulgent coquette. True happiness for a woman lies in motherhood and devotion to her family.


Meanwhile, four years after the death of Felipe, Louise falls in love again. This time the object of her love is a poor poet and playwright Marie Gaston, who is several years younger than she is. As though taking a leaf out of Renée's book, Louise sells her Parisian property, moves to a chalet in Ville-d'Avray (a small village near Paris) and lives a life of seclusion with her new husband. But Renée is not fooled by this masquerade. Louise, she warns, is still living a life devoted to selfishness and self-indulgence, while true happiness lies only in self-sacrifice to one's husband and children - Louise remains childless.


After a few years of apparent bliss, Louise detects a change in her husband. He becomes solicitous about the financial success of his plays, and a large sum of money goes missing. Suspecting him of having an expensive mistress, Louise makes enquiries and comes to the shocking conclusion that he has another family in Paris – an Englishwoman known by the name Madame Gaston, and two children, who look remarkably like Marie. Louise confides her feelings of despair to Renée and announces her determination to commit suicide rather than to submit to such a fate. Renée's husband makes enquiries and discovers the truth of the situation. Madame Gaston is the widow of Marie's brother. The death of her husband has left her financially destitute and Marie has taken it upon himself to assist her and his two nephews, but he is ashamed to ask his wife for money. Reneé writes to Louise to inform her of the truth and rushes to the chalet, but she is too late. Louise has contracted consumption by lying out in the dew overnight and she dies a few days later.

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Honoré de was a French novelist and playwright. The novel sequence La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of post-Napoleonic French life, is generally viewed as his magnum opus. &...

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