Women in the Life of Balzac/Chapter IV/Part II
"You wish to know if I have met Foedora, if she is true? A woman
from cold Russia, the Princess Bagration, is supposed in Paris to
be the model for her. I have reached the seventy-second woman who
has had the impertinence to recognize herself in that character.
They are all of ripe age. Even Madame Recamier is willing to
foedorize herself. Not a word of all that is true. I made
Foedora out of two women whom I have known without having been
intimate with them. Observation sufficed me, besides a few
confidences. There are also some kind souls who will have it that
I have courted the handsomest of Parisian courtesans and have
concealed myself behind her curtains. These are calumnies. I have
met a Foedora; but that one I shall not paint; besides, it has
been a long time since La Peau de Chagrin was published."
Quoting Amedee Pichot and Dr. Meniere, S. de Lovenjoul states that Mademoiselle Olympe Pelissier is the woman whom Balzac used as a model for his Foedora, and that, like Raphael, he concealed himself in her bedroom. She is indeed the woman without a heart; she kept in the rue Neuve-du-Luxembourg a salon frequented by noted political people such as the Duc de Fitz-James. Being rich as well as beautiful, and having an exquisite voice, she was highly attractive to the novelist, who aspired to her hand, and who regarded her refusal with bitterness all his life. Several years later she was married to her former voice teacher, M. Rossini.
Balzac met the famous Olympe early in his literary career; he says of her:
"Two years ago, Sue quarreled with a mauvaise courtesone
celebrated for her beauty (she is the original of Vernet's
Judith). I lowered myself to reconcile them, and they gave her
to me. M. de Fitz-James, the Duc de Duras, and the old count went
to her house to talk, as on neutral ground, much as people walk in
the alley of the Tuileries to meet one another; and one expects
better conduct of me than of those gentlemen! . . . As for
Rossini, I wish him to write me a nice letter, and he has just
invited me to dine with his mistress, who happens to be that
beautiful Judith, the former mistress of Horace Vernet and of
Sue you know. . . ."
Some months after this Balzac gave a dinner to his Tigres, as he called the group occupying the same box with him at the opera. Concerning this dinner, he writes:
"Next Saturday I give a dinner to the Tigres of my opera-box, and
I am preparing sumptuosities out of all reason. I shall have
Rossini and Olympe, his cara dona, who will preside. . . . My
dinner? Why, it made a great excitement. Rossini declared he had
never seen eaten or drunk anything better among sovereigns. This
dinner was sparkling with wit. The beautiful Olympe was graceful,
sensible and perfect."
Balzac was a great admirer of Rossini, wrote the words for one of his compositions, and dedicated to him Le Contrat de Mariage.
Among the famous salons that Balzac frequented was that of Madame Recamier, who was noted even more for her distinction and grace than for her beauty. She appreciated the ability of the young writer, and invited him to read in her salon long before the world recognized his name. He admired her greatly; of one of his visits to her he writes:
"Yesterday I went to see Madame Recamier, whom I found ill but
wonderfully bright and kind. I have heard that she did much good,
and acted very nobly in being silent and making no complaint of
the ungrateful beings she has met. No doubt she saw upon my face a
reflection of what I thought of her, and without explaining to
herself this little sympathy, she was charming."
Although one would not suspect Madame Hanska of being jealous of Madame Recamier, perhaps it is because she wished to foedorize herself that Balzac writes:
"Mon Dieu! do not be jealous of any one. I have not been to see
Madame Recamier or any one else. . . . As to my relations with the
person you speak of, I never had any that were tender; I have none
now. I answered a very unimportant letter, and apropos of a
sentence, I explained myself; that was all. There are relations of
politeness due to women of a certain rank whom one has known; but
a visit to Madame Recamier is not, I suppose, relations, when
one visits her once in three months."
One of the famous women whom Balzac met soon after he began to acquire literary fame was the Duchesse de Dino, who was married to Talleyrand's nephew in 1809.
"When her husband's uncle became French Ambassador at Vienna in
1814, she went with him as mistress of the embassy. When he was
sent to London in 1830, she accompanied him in the same capacity.
She lived with him till his death in 1838, entirely devoted to his
welfare, and she had given us in these pages a picture of the old
Talleyrand which is among the masterpieces of memoir-writing. From
this connection she was naturally for many years in the very heart
of political affairs, as no one was, save perhaps that other
Dorothea of the Baltic, the Princess de Lieven. To great beauty
and spirit she added unusual talents, and in the best sense was a
great lady of the haute politique."
Balzac had met her in the salon of Madame Appony, but had never visited her in her home until 1836, when he went to Rochecotte to see the famous Prince de Talleyrand, having a great desire to have a view of the "witty turkeys who plucked the eagle and made it tumble into the ditch of the house of Austria." Several years later, on his return from St. Petersburg, he stopped in Berlin, where he was invited to a grand dinner at the home of the Count and Countess Bresson. He gave his arm to the Duchesse de Talleyrand (ex-Dino), whom he thought the most beautiful lady present, although she was fifty-two years of age.
The Duchesse has left this appreciation of the novelist: ". . . his face and bearing are vulgar, and I imagine his ideas are equally so. Undoubtedly, he is a very clever man, but his conversation is neither easy nor light, but on the contrary, very dull. He watched and examined all of us most minutely."
Notwithstanding that the beautiful Dorothea did not admire Balzac, he was sincere in his appreciation of her. A novel recently brought to light, L'Amour Masque, or as the author first called it, Imprudence et Bonheur, was written for her. Balzac had been her guest repeatedly; he had recognized in her one of the rare women, who by their intelligence and, as it were, instinctive appreciation of genius can compensate to a great incompris like Balzac for the lack of recognition on the part of his contemporaries; one of those women near whom, thanks to tactful treatment, a depressed man will regain confidence in himself and courage to go on.
Of the distinguished houses which were open to Balzac, that of the Comte Appony was one of the most beautiful. This protege of the Prince of Metternich, having had the rare good fortune to please both governments, was retained by Louis-Philippe, and was as well liked and appreciated in the role of ambassador and diplomat as in that of man of the world. The Countess Appony possessed a very peculiar charm, and was a type of feminine distinction. Balls and receptions were given frequently in her home, where all was of a supreme elegance.
Balzac visited the Count and Countess frequently, often having a letter or a message to deliver for the Comtesse Marie Potocka. He realized that it would be of advantage to be friendly toward the Ambassador of Austria, and he doubtless enjoyed the society of his charming wife. He writes of one of these visits:
"Alas! your moujik also has been un poco in that market of
false smiles and charming toilets; he has made his debut at Madame
Appony's,—for the house of Balzac must live on good terms with
the house of Austria,—and your moujik had some success. He was
examined with the curiosity felt for animals from distant regions.
There were presentations on presentations, which bored him so that
he placed himself in a corner with some Russians and Poles. But
their names are so difficult to pronounce that he cannot tell you
anything about them, further than that one was a very ugly lady,
friend of Madame Hahn, and a Countess Schouwalof, sister of Madame
Jeroslas. . . . Is that right? The moujik will go there every
two weeks, if his lady permits him."
The novelist met many prominent people at these receptions, among them Prince Esterhazy; he went to the beautiful soirees of Madame Appony while refusing to go elsewhere, even to the opera.
Several women Balzac probably met through his intimacy with their husbands. Among these were Madame de Bernard, whose name was Clementine, but whom he called "Mentine" and "La Fosseuse," this character being the frail nervous young girl in Le Medecin de Campagne. In August, 1831, M. Charles de Bernard wrote a very favorable article about La Peau de Chagrin in the Gazette de Franche-Comte, which he was editing at that time. This naturally pleased the novelist; their friendship continued through many years, and in 1844, Balzac dedicated to him Sarrazine, written in 1830.
Early in his literary career Balzac knew Baron Gerard, and in writing to the painter, sent greetings to Madame Gerard. Much later in life, while posing for his bust, made by David d'Angers, he saw Madame David frequently, and learned to like her. He felt flattered that she thought he looked so much younger than he really was. On his return from St. Petersburg, in 1843, he brought her a pound of Russian tea, which, as he explained, had no other merit than the exceeding difficulties it had encountered in passing through twenty custom-houses.
- The present writer has not been able to find any date that would prove positively that Balzac knew Madame Rossini before writing La Peau de Chagrin which appeared in 1830-1831.