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Letters of Two Brides (1842)

by Honoré de Balzac

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Studies of Manners (3), Scenes from Private Life (3), The Human Comedy (3)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1824119,317 (3.39)5
Two very intelligent, very idealistic young women leave the convent school wherethey became the fastest of friends to return to their families and embark on theirnew lives. For Renee de Maucombe, this means an arranged marriage with a countrygentleman of Provence, a fine if slightly dull man for whom she feels admirationbut nothing more. Meanwhile, Louise de Chaulieu makes for her family's house inParis, intent on enjoying her freedom to the fullest- glittering balls, the opera, andabove all, she devoutly hopes, the torments and ecstasies of true love and passion.What will come of these two very different lives? Despite Balzac's title, these aren't memoirs; rather, this is an epistolary novel. Forsome ten years, these two will-enthusiastically if not always faithfully-keep uptheir correspondence, obeying their vow to tell each other every tiny detail of theirstrange new lives, comparing their destinies, defending and sometimes bemoaningtheir choices, detailing the many changes, personal and social, that they undergo. AsBalzac writes, "Renee is reason. . . Louise is wildness. . . and both will lose." Balzacbeing Balzac, he seems to argue for the virtues of one of these lives over the other;but Balzac being Balzac, that argument remains profoundly ambiguous- "I would," heonce wrote, "rather be killed by Louise than live a long life with Renee."… (more)
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Showing 4 of 4
Morris Dickstein writes, in his introduction, that this book is "not exactly a masterpiece." But really it is not even remotely a masterpiece. Balzac excels in writing about external events pushing people in directions they don't want to go. Epistolary novels are good at giving authors a way to focus, instead, on the thoughts of the people being pushed; there's a reason Richardson wrote ever-longer epistolary novels, and Fielding's masterpiece was narrated rather than epistled. Balzac should have stuck with the narration: the two young wives aren't interesting, or smart, or attractive, and that's entirely because Balzac wasn't smart, or attractive, or interesting, when he wasn't narrating the brutality of the nineteenth century in blockish, fist-smashing prose.

I wish Jordan Stump had spent his time translating a better book. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
The third book of Balzac's La Comédie Humaine, Letters of Two Brides is an epistolary tale told in the letters between two young women after leaving their convent. The correspondence between the two women details their diverging attitude and philosophies towards marriage and love, with one seeking passion and romance, and the other devoting herself to selfless familial servitude. Things don't end well for one of them.

This third story in the Scenes From a Private Life section of La Comédie Humaine, like the previous two, focuses on women seeking happiness in love and marriage. While these stories have the flavor of a morality play, Balzac doesn't feel as if he is preaching a specific virtue or moral as much as he is characterizing how life often plays out in spite of our best laid plans, and how obtaining happiness can be more complicated than most perceive. ( )
  smichaelwilson | Jan 22, 2020 |
An epistolary novel of two women educated in the same convent. one , is independently wealthy and finally gives up her society life for supporting a younger poet, who finally, exploits her for the sake of his sister in law. the other becomes a staid mother, who eventually aids a geay deal in the success of her husband's political career, and creates a stable family. both are admirable characters and the art of the contrasts is well done. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jan 18, 2020 |
Doubt is a duel fought within the soul, which causes horrid self-inflicted wounds.


This epistolary novel is often dismissed as light melodrama but I was engaged by it as a dialogue on the ambitions of marriage and maternity. The titular brides struggle in terms of maintenance and identity. This is depicted rather objectively in the letters of each protagonist.

Two best friends leave a convent and embark on quests for love and purpose. [a snide Goodreads reviewer in 2019 might scoff at such misogyny] There’s a malice at play in the letters, each questions the utility of the other’s motives. [some would snipe that this anticipates Fanon on the colonized] Should one look for security, hoping love comes later? [Solzhenitsyn by way of Tina Turner/] Should one devote oneself entirely to parenting? What about younger artists? Are they worth marrying?

Alas, it all ends in tears with characters from Lost Illusions making key cameos. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Showing 4 of 4
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» Add other authors (31 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Balzac, Honoré deAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dickstein, MorrisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stump, JordanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
To George Sand.

Your name, dear George, while casting a reflected radiance on my
book, can gain no new glory from this page. And yet it is neither
self-interest nor diffidence which has led me to place it there,
but only the wish that it should bear witness to the solid
friendship between us, which has survived our wanderings and
separations, and triumphed over the busy malice of the world. This
feeling is hardly likely now to change. The goodly company of
friendly names, which will remain attached to my works, forms an
element of pleasure in the midst of the vexation caused by their
increasing number. Each fresh book, in fact, gives rise to fresh
annoyance, were it only in the reproaches aimed at my too prolific
pen, as though it could rival in fertility the world from which I
draw my models! Would it not be a fine thing, George, if the
future antiquarian of dead literatures were to find in this
company none but great names and generous hearts, friends bound by
pure and holy ties, the illustrious figures of the century? May I
not justly pride myself on this assured possession, rather than on
a popularity necessarily unstable? For him who knows you well, it
is happiness to be able to sign himself, as I do here,

Your friend,

DE BALZAC.

PARIS, June 1840.
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Sweetheart, I too am free!
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Two very intelligent, very idealistic young women leave the convent school wherethey became the fastest of friends to return to their families and embark on theirnew lives. For Renee de Maucombe, this means an arranged marriage with a countrygentleman of Provence, a fine if slightly dull man for whom she feels admirationbut nothing more. Meanwhile, Louise de Chaulieu makes for her family's house inParis, intent on enjoying her freedom to the fullest- glittering balls, the opera, andabove all, she devoutly hopes, the torments and ecstasies of true love and passion.What will come of these two very different lives? Despite Balzac's title, these aren't memoirs; rather, this is an epistolary novel. Forsome ten years, these two will-enthusiastically if not always faithfully-keep uptheir correspondence, obeying their vow to tell each other every tiny detail of theirstrange new lives, comparing their destinies, defending and sometimes bemoaningtheir choices, detailing the many changes, personal and social, that they undergo. AsBalzac writes, "Renee is reason. . . Louise is wildness. . . and both will lose." Balzacbeing Balzac, he seems to argue for the virtues of one of these lives over the other;but Balzac being Balzac, that argument remains profoundly ambiguous- "I would," heonce wrote, "rather be killed by Louise than live a long life with Renee."

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