Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 7, 2010

Letters of Two Brides, by Honore de Balzac

I’m a desultory member of the Yahoo reading group which is working its way through the Comedie Humaine and at the moment we are reading Letters of Two Brides. 

Just had to share this delicious moment from Letter XII, in which a father is admonishing his daughter and reminding her of her obligations to France (and that therefore she should let her younger brother have her inheritance).

“We stand between two policies—either to found the State on the basis of the family, or to rest it on individual interest—in other words, between democracy and aristocracy, between free discussion and obedience, between Catholicism and religious indifference. I am among the few who are resolved to oppose what is called the people, and that in the people’s true interest. It is not now a question of feudal rights, as fools are told, nor of rank; it is a question of the State and of the existence of France. The country which does not rest on the foundation of paternal authority cannot be stable. That is the foot of the ladder of responsibility and subordination, which has for its summit the King. (Kindle Lines 795-800, via Project Gutenberg)

So now you know.  Next time you go to Paris and the waiters are rude to you and the museums are on strike for the whole week you are there so you can’t get in to the Louvre, blame La Revolution for all that insubordination…

Update 10.11.10

BTW If you are really interested in Balzac, you can find my assorted responses to the ones I’ve read at GoodReads because I don’t blog them here, and you can also visit La Comedie Humaine which is the blog for the Yahoo Balzac group I mention above.  (The URL link is also in the blogroll on the RHS menu of this blog).  We are gradually posting summaries and the occasional review of all the stories in La Comedie Humaine  – and there are links to places where you can download the stories for free, and other resources as well.  We’ve only been going since July 2010 and already it is a fabulous resource so do check it out.


  1. Gorgeous. Balzac still as relevant today as when he graced the planet with his physical presence.

    We have to wonder, who, if anyone, amongst today award winning authors, will still be relevant several hundred years down the track.

    Lisa, you do yourself a diservice describing yourself as a ‘desultory member’, far from it, your passion for good literature transcends epochs and genres. Respect to thee. Viva La Revolution.


  2. How much luck have you had finding Balzac in English, or do you read him in French? Whenever I look for him I discover reams of Old Goriot and Cousin Pons, and one or two others, and nothing else.


    • I find them at Project Gutenberg, and then I copy them to my Kindle. Before I had the Kindle, I just downloaded them as word documents. I’d love it if my French were up to reading Balzac, but alas, while I can get by in France, reading it is another matter altogether. Lisa


  3. Ah, thanks, I hadn’t thought of Gutenberg. French is a language I’d like to learn, but so far I haven’t got beyond single words, like Woman, Man, Horse, Baby, and AIDS (the Congolese guitarist Franco sang a song about it, then died of it — “Ho!” he sings. “La SIDA!”).


  4. I’m trying to add to my small store of tourist languages with Spanish this year, and I have a little desk calendar that teaches me a new expression each day. Tengo dos perros means I have two dogs…I’m sure that will be really handy on the Madrid Met!


  5. My superior, or team leader, in Japan, or whatever he was, used to say that the only phrase anyone needed in Japanese was, “Which way is the nearest beer vending machine?” But he was fluent. My vote for the most useful phrase in any language, after, “Hello,” and “I’m sorry, I don’t understand you,” is, “Where is the toilet?” Just deeply handy.


    • And also ‘Where can I buy a decent coffee?’


  6. “It’s inside the cans, in the coffee vending machine, next to the beer vending machine.”


    • Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!


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