Thursday, September 2, 2010

Balzac’s La Fenne abandonée (1834)

This story of passion, pursuit, abandonment, and suicide strikes me as being very unBalzacian. This novella follows the tragic course of an aristocratic love affair and seems rather conventional stylistically. Except for a humorous and well described look at provincial society in Bayeux, the novella floats in a barely described upper-class milieu, not very deeply observed. The two main characters (Baron de Neuil and Vicomtese de Beauséant) are virtually the only people in the story, and they are immensely in love, but not very interesting in their vices, virtues, or habits.

It is telling that money is never an issue in the book. Neither of the lovers has any concern about income, and they buy and sell houses, run off to Switzerland, without any concern for cash (or for social obligations). In fact when the man finals is maneuvered by his mother into marrying a very rich heiress, it’s not at the case that he is saving the family fortune or has debts to pay off. Beyond that, the vulgar business of handling money is not even mentined in the novella.

Places are sketched briefly, interiors hardly described, even the complications of society and politics are kept at bay. It is odd to see a Balzac work with so little specificity, so little particularity. Even the earlier lives and families of the protagonists are barely sketched – though we will learn much more of the earlier history of Madame de Beauséant (the heroine) in Le Père Goriot, where she gets abandoned for the first time.

Beyond that, the story is based on the affair between a younger man (in his early twenties when the novella starts) and an older woman (in her early 30s). This is similar to other Balzac works, but even more so in regard to Balzac’s own serial liaisons with older, often aristocratic woman, many of them like Mme. De Beauséant already married. The vicomtesse is afraid she will be abandoned when she reaches an age where she is no longer so attractive, and she is, much as Balzac’s mistresses were. The irony is that it is the man, the abandoner, not the abandonee that commits suicide in eth shock ending

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