Balzac, by Frederick Lawton

Chapter XVI

The Influence

Balzac’s influence during his lifetime was, with but few exceptions, exercised outside his own, novelist’s profession. The sphere in which it made itself chiefly felt was that of the cultured reading public, and the public was, first and foremost, a foreign one. History repeated itself. To Honore d’Urfe, the author of the Astree, in the sixteenth century, while living in Piedmont, a letter came announcing that twenty-nine princesses and nineteen lords of Germany had adopted the names and characters of his heroes and heroines in the Astree, and had founded an academy of true lovers. Almost the same thing occurred to the nineteenth-century Honore de Balzac. For a while, certain people in Venetian society assumed the titles and roles of his chief personages, playing the parts, in some instances, out to their utmost conclusion.

Sainte-Beuve, who, in 1850, drew attention to this curious historical analogy, went on to mention that, in Hungary, Poland, and Russia, Balzac’s novels created a fashion. The strange, rich furniture that was assembled and arranged, according to the novelist’s fancy, out of the artistic productions of many countries and epochs, became an after-reality. Numerous wealthy persons prided themselves on possessing what the author had merely imagined. The interior of their houses was adorned a la Balzac.

One evening at Vienna, says his sister, he entered a concert-room, where, as soon as his presence was perceived and bruited about, all the audience rose in his honour; and, at the end of the entertainment, a student seized his hand and kissed it, exclaiming: “I bless the hand that wrote Seraphita.” Balzac himself relates that, once travelling in Russia, he and his friends, as night was coming on, went and asked for hospitality at a castle. On their entrance, the lady of the house and some other members of the fair sex vied with each other in eagerness to serve the guests. One of the younger ladies hurried to the kitchen for refreshment. In the meantime, the novelist’s identity was revealed to the chatelaine. A lively conversation was immediately engaged in, and, when the impromptu Abigail returned with the refreshment, the first words she heard were: “Well, Monsieur Balzac, so you think —” Full of surprise and joy she started, dropped the tray she had in her hands, and everything was broken. “Glory I have known and seen,” adds the narrator; “wasn’t that glory?”

It was more. It was power wielded for good or evil, like that of every other great man, be he statesman, or priest, or artist. The conviction of possessing this power caused Balzac to complain with sincere indignation of those who charged him with being an immoral writer. “The reproach of immorality,” he said in his preface to the second edition of Pere Goriot, “which has ever been launched at the courageous author, is the last that remains to be made, when nothing else can be urged against a poet. If you are true in your portrayal, if, by dint of working night and day you succeed in writing the most difficult language in the world, the epithet immoral is cast in your face. Socrates was immoral, Jesus Christ was immoral. Both were persecuted in the name of the societies they overthrew or reformed. When the world wishes to destroy any one, it taxes him with immorality.”

This argument is beside the question. It does not settle whether the apologist’s influence upon the men and women of his generation and beyond — an influence which, in his lifetime, was incontestable, and may be deemed potent still, to judge by the extent to which his books are read — was and is good or bad. Balzac’s personality is here only indirectly involved. His individual character might have been better or worse without the conclusion to be drawn being affected. Good men’s influence is not always good, nor bad men’s influence always bad. Intention may be inoperative, and effect may be involuntary.

Balzac claimed the right to speak of all conduct, to represent all conduct in his fiction; and we shall see, farther on, that he imposed his claim upon those who followed him in literature. But, if he anticipated reality — and this is acknowledged — if he led society to imitate his fiction, if his exceptional representations tended, with him and after him, to become general or more frequent in one or another class of society, he must be considered morally responsible for the result. It has already been remarked, in the preceding chapter, that there are two ways of reproducing reality in literature and art, one of them favouring, not through didacticism but through emotion, the creation in the mind of a state of healthy feeling, thought, and effort; the other, that sort of fascination with which the serpent attracts its victims. It is certain that Balzac did not adequately take this into account, certain also that in parts of his Comedy, the secret, unconscious sympathy of the author with some of his sicklier heroes and heroines could not and did not have that dynamic moral action which he vainly desired.

Of the chief French novelists or litterateurs who were his contemporaries, critics are inclined to esteem his influence most evident on George Sand and Victor Hugo. Brunetiere, indeed, begins with Sainte-Beuve. But the similarities discoverable between the author of Volupte and the author of the Comedie Humaine were present in Sainte-Beuve’s work at a period when Balzac was only just issuing from obscurity, and appear, moreover, to be due to temperament. In the case of George Sand, the inference is based partly on the praise she meted out to Balzac in her reminiscences. Brunetiere specifies the Marquis de Villemer as the one proved example of imitation. But this novel was written in 1861, eleven years after Balzac’s death; and, in so far as it differs from Mauprat and the earlier books, whether La Petite Fadette or Consuelo, can be shown to be the result of a natural and independent evolution.

As regards Victor Hugo, on the contrary, there is plenty of prima facie evidence that he largely utilized Balzac’s material and method; and there is evidence also that Balzac utilized, though in a less degree, the subjects developed by Hugo. The reciprocal borrowing is easy to explain, both men, in spite of their fundamental peculiarities, having much in them that was common — imagination difficult to control, fondness for exaggeration, language prone to be verbose and turgid, research of devices to astonish the reader. Hugo’s Miserables is a monument of his fiction that owes much to Balzacian architecture. The realism of the latter author is converted without difficulty into the former’s romanticism, or, rather, the alloy of romanticism is so considerable in Balzac’s work that there is little conversion to make. Ferragus and Vautrin are prototypes of Valjean, just as Valjean’s Cosette exploited by Madame Thenardier is an adaptation of Ferragus’ daughter or Doctor Minoret’s Ursula. The prison manners and slang of the Miserables inevitably recall those of Vautrin’s Last Incarnation, while, on the other hand, Hugo’s salon ultra reappears in the Cabinet of Antiques. And the analogies present themselves continually. One might almost say that the whole of the Comedie Humaine suggested things to its future panegyrist, who wrote his greatest novel in the years consecutive to Balzac’s death. Of course, Hugo’s borrowings, being those of a man of genius, were not made use of servilely. Like Shakespeare and Moliere, the author of the Miserables metamorphosed and enhanced what he took.

Balzac’s major influence on literature began as soon as he was dead. And the men he reacted on soonest were the dramatists; not through his own plays, which figured so small in his achievement, or, if through them at all, then only as they applied the same principles as his novels. The stage, being ever en vedette, is best situated to interpret the signs of the times, and is likewise more open to the solicitations of novelty, more ready to try new methods. A noticeable defect of the French drama, in the first half of the nineteenth century, was the pronounced artificiality of its characters and plots. Whatever the kind of play exhibited, the same stereotyped noble fathers, ingenuous maidens, coquettes, and Lotharios strutted on the boards. Whatever else changed, these did not. Only their costumes differed. Moreover, the adventures in which the dramatis personae displayed themselves contained always the same sort of tricks for bringing about the denouement. Even the language had its own style, outside which nothing was appropriate. All this was classicism in its most degenerate form, an art from which original inspiration was banished to the profit of a much inferior species of skill. Be it granted that the drama, more than any other kind of literature, is liable to the encroachment and dominance of such artificiality on account of its foreshortening in perspective. Be it granted, also, that sometimes a new movement will intensify an old habit. The Romanticists, though reformers in other respects, did little or nothing to render the stage more real. Their lyricism, in front of the footlights, needed buskins and frippery, or, at any rate, fostered them, as the pieces of Hugo and de Vigny proved.

The younger Dumas, Emile Augier, Halevy and Becque — with a crescendo that in the last of the four is somewhat harsh — diverged from the traditional path, and in their plays put men and women whose motives and conduct were nearer to the humanity of their audience. The departure from old lines in these dramatists is patent; and, after discounting the part that may have been temperamental or contingent on some other cause, there remains the larger share to attribute to Balzac’s influence. Dumas’ Dame aux Camelias originally staged in 1852, was a timid start in the new direction. The theme, that of the courtezan in love, was a favourite one with the classical school, and much of the ancient style and tone pervades it; yet its atmosphere is a modern one, the expression of its sentiment is modern too, and the accessories are supplied with an eye to material and moral exactitude. The same author’s Question d’Argent, composed a few years later, was a more direct tribute to the modifying power of the Comedie Humaine. It was Balzac’s Mercadet the Jobber remodelled with a larger stage science. Hypnotized subsequently by the piece a these (and not to his advantage) Dumas went off at a tangent whereas Augier, once engaged in the newer manner with his Gendre de Monsieur Poirier, persisted in it with each of his succeeding pieces, flattering his model by resurrection after resurrection of the Comedy’s principal actors, Bixiou and Lousteau in Giboyer and Vernouillet, Balthazar Claes in the Desronceretz of Maitre Guerin. Ludovic Halevy apparently wished every one to perceive what he owed to the father of French realism. Finding in the Petty Bourgeois a Madame Cardinal whose comic personality and peculiar moral squint suited one of his plays, he adopted her entirely, name and all, altering only what her more recent surroundings required. Henri Becque digested Balzac rather than imitated him. One feels in reading his Corbeaux that it is a disciple’s own work. The master’s virtues and some of the disciple’s faults are everywhere present, both in the subject and in the treatment. We have the same world of money and business that shows so big throughout the Comedy, an unfaithful partner and lawyer introducing ruin into the house of the widow and orphan. The practice of legal ruse and robbery — in these things Balzac had rung the changes again and again. What Becque added were sharpness of contrast, dramatic concentration, bitterer satire, and likewise greater art.

If one may hazard a guess at the reasons that convinced the older school of playwrights of their error, there are two by which they must have been struck — the artistic possibilities of the real suggested by the Comedie Humaine, and the prescience — one might say the intuition — it exhibited of things that were destined to reveal themselves more prominently in the latter half of the nineteenth century. And in this respect Balzac in no wise contributed to what he foresaw and, so to speak, prophesied — the growing stress of the struggle for life in domains political, social, financial, industrial, the coming of uncrowned kings greater in puissance than monarchs of yore, the reign of not one despot but many, the generalization of intrigue, the replacement of ancient disorders by others of equal or increased virulence and harder to remedy, hundred-headed hydras to combat, most difficult of herculean tasks. The reflection of all this in the Comedy was calculated to impress at its hour, and the hour arrived. Men looked at the counterfeit presentment and wondered why no one had recognized these things sooner. From that moment, the reputation of the Comedie Humaine was made. Perhaps, after all, in such connection, the one or two of Balzac’s plays that went so resolutely off the old lines — the Resources of Quinola and Mercadet — may have served, in remembrance, despite their insignificance beside the novels, which were the true drama, to awaken the attention of professional dramatists, especially as one after another story of the Comedy was dramatized. But it was the fund of observation and the leaven of satire which startled, aroused, and ultimately set the stage agog. Not even the lighter forms of composition were left unaffected. Labiche, in the vaudeville style, with his Voyage de Monsieur Perrichon and La Cagnotte, gave his audience, behind his puppets, the touch of present reality, the sensation of existent follies.

The relative slowness with which the novels of Balzac’s younger contemporaries and his successors were penetrated with realism was partly due to the lasting effect of George Sand’s idealistic fiction. As we have seen, Balzac himself was reacted upon by it to some extent; but he yielded against his will, and the result in his case was a bastard one. She whom he called his brother George survived him for more than twenty years, and continued to the last to add to her reputation, so that naturally the impetus she lent to the idealistic movement was long before it was spent, if indeed one may say that the impetus has altogether been lost. Adepts like Octave Feuillet, with his Roman d’un Jeune Homme Pauvre, and Victor Cherbuliez, with his Comte Kostia, endeavoured to perpetuate idealism or at least to recreate it in other forms. And then there were independents, like Flaubert who, with Madame Bovary, passed realism by on his way to naturalism. Yet it is worth remarking that Flaubert made a sort of volte face in 1869, and wrote his Education Sentimentale, in which, under the pressure of simple circumstance, the hero descends gradually from the soaring of youth’s hopes and ambitions to the dull, dun monotony of mature life, with nothing left him save the iron circle of his environment. Here the disillusionment is that of all Balzac’s chief dramatis personae. Moreover, the minor characters of Madame Bovary may well owe something to the Comedy. These doctors, chemists, cures, prefectoral councillors and country squires would possibly never have been depicted but for their having already existed for twenty years in the predecessor’s gallery of portraits.

There is no need to call the de Goncourts and Guy de Maupassant imitators because they bear a strong stamp of Balzac’s influence. They have greater art, a finer style, and, above all, more pathos than the earlier master was capable of. But they are true disciples, as likewise Feuillet in his later manner with Monsieur de Camors. De Maupassant’s short stories, exemplifying his severely objective treatment at his best, are Balzac’s purified of their lingering romanticism, and his Bel Ami is a modernized Lucien de Rubempre. And, if the resemblances are closer between works of the de Goncourts less known, such as Charles Demailly, or Manette Salomon and the Lost Illusions, Peter Grassou, the Muse of the County, yet the means employed by the two brothers to endow with life and form Renee Mauperin and Germinie Lacerteux, fixing a background, stamping the outlines, filling in details, adding particularities, all this was Balzacian method, insufficient forsooth, in the domain of psychology, but furnishing idiosyncrasy in plentiful variations.

When we come to Alphonse Daudet, time enough has elapsed for realism to evolve into naturalism so-called. Naturalism is realism stark-naked — the dissecting-room, and a good deal besides, which Monsieur Zola illustrated well but not wisely. Daudet, fortunately for his reputation, was a naturalist sui generis, with a delicate artistic perception altogether lacking to the author of the Rougon-Macquart series. He was also an independent, but willing to take lessons in his trade. And how much he learnt from Cousin Bette may be judged by his Numa Roumestan and Froment Jeune et Rissler aine. There are close analogies also between the best of Balzac’s fiction and the sombre realism of the Evangeliste, based on tragic facts that had come under Daudet’s personal notice. Of the two realisms Daudet’s is certainly the more genuine, with its lambent humour that glints on even the saddest of his pictures.

In neither the naturalistic school of fiction, nor the psychological, in so far as the latter is represented by Bourget, has Balzac’s influence been a gain. Bourget has borrowed Balzac’s furniture, his pompous didacticism, his occasional indecency — in fine, all that is least essential in the elder’s assets, without learning how to breathe objective life into one of his characters. Zola borrowed more, but mainly the unwholesome parts, truncating these further to suit his theory of the novel as a slice of life seen through a temperament, and travestying in the Rougon-Macquart scheme, with its burden of heredity and physiological blemish, Balzac’s cumbrous and plausible doctrine of the Comedy. Both novelists made a mistake in arrogating to themselves the role of the savant. Neither of them seemed to understand that there are limits imposed on each profession by the mode of its operation. For Zola the novel was not only an observation working upon the voluntary acts of life, it was an experiment — like that of the astrologers whom Moses met in Egypt — producing phenomena artificially, and allowing a law of necessity to be deduced from the result. And for Balzac the novel was something of the same kind — a synthesis of every human activity framed by one who, as he proudly claimed, had observed and analysed society in all its phases from top to bottom, legislations, religions, histories, and present time. What Balzac did in fiction and what he thought he did are separated by a gulf which could only have been bridged over by the long and painful study of a man surviving for centuries. His scientific knowledge was superficial in nearly every branch. It was his divination which was great. And divination is not omniscience.

An offshoot from the naturalistic school apparently, but derived more truly from the Comedie Humaine, is that decadent, pornographic art, of which Balzac would have been ashamed, had he lived to see the vegetation that grew up from the seeds he had sown without knowing what they would bring forth. In Zola’s novels the plant was already full grown; its earlier appearance as the slender blade was Champfleury’s vulgar satire, the Bourgeois de Molinchart. More recently the blossom has revealed its pestilential rankness so plainly that no one can be deceived as to its noxious effect.

Where Balzac’s influence is likeliest to remain potent for good is in the domain of history. He was not altogether an initiator here, having learnt from Walter Scott in the one as in the other capacity; but he developed and focussed what he had received; he added to it, and made it a factor in the historical science. After him historians began to assign a more important place in their narrations and chronicles to the manners and interests of the people, patiently seeking to assemble and situate everything that could relate them exactly to the great political and other public events which would be nothing but names without them. The de Goncourts, in their History of French Society during the Revolution and under the Directoire, applied this method with all the zeal of fresh disciples, and with hardly enough discretion. Taine’s Origins of Contemporary France abdicates none of the older historian’s role, but its background is Balzacian. Among the later writers who have taken up the historian’s pen, Masson, Lenotre, and Anatole France, illustrate the newer principles, each with a difference, but all excellently, the first in his Napoleon, the second in his Old Houses, Old Papers, the third in his Joan of Arc.

It can scarcely be disputed that an entrance of realism into French literature would have occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century, had there been no Balzac. Some other novelists or writers, themselves reacted upon by the scientific spirit, would have set the example in their own way, if not with the achievement of the author of the Comedy. On the other hand, it is certain that Balzac, had he put his hand to another treatment of fiction, would nevertheless have created a school. His tremendous force would have channelled into the future, whatever the nature of its current. As Sainte-Beuve well says, he wrote what he wrote with his blood and muscles, not merely with his thought, and such work backed by genius was sure to tell, notwithstanding its defects, the latter even to some extent aiding.

* * * * *

Having partly a bibliographic value, and partly confirming the statements above as to Balzac’s influence, the following details concerning theatrical adaptations of some of his novels may serve as a supplement to this chapter.

The first made was produced at the Vaudeville in 1832, and was based on the story of Colonel Chabert, which under another title, The Compromise, had finished as a serial in the March Artiste of the same year. In Balzac’s tale — the one of the novels that contains most real pathos — the Colonel, who is a Count of the Empire, is left for dead on the battlefield of Eylau, with wounds that disfigure him dreadfully. Rescued, and sojourning for a long while in German hospitals, he ultimately returns to France, but only to find his wife, who believes him dead, married to another nobleman. Treated as an imposter by everybody save a former non-commissioned officer of his regiment, he falls into poverty and wretchedness, and dies in a hospice, whilst his wife continues to live rich and honoured. Jacques Arago and Louis Lurine, who composed the play, altered the denouement. The husband is pensioned off by his wife, who, however, suffers for her hard-heartedness, being afterwards deserted by her second husband. A second version of the same subject was produced twenty years later at the Beaumarchais Theatre by Faulquemont, and, in 1888, a third at Brussels.

Eugenie Grandet was staged as a comedy, at the Gymnase in 1835, by Bayard and Paulin, who dealt with the plot very freely. Eugenie, happening to lay hold of the letter telling of her uncle’s intention to commit suicide, begs her father to send money enough to Paris to prevent the catastrophe. On her father’s refusing, she steals one of the old man’s strong-boxes and gives it to the son of a local notary, who hurries to the capital with it and reaches there in time to save Charles’ father from ruin and death. As Charles has also fled with his uncle’s mare on the same errand, the miser thinks he is the thief, and obtains a warrant for his arrest. But Eugenie avows everything except the name of her accomplice. Explanations occur, now that Guillaume Grandet is saved; Charles comes out of prison and marries Eugenie, whose dowry is the money that has served so good a purpose. With Bouffe in the chief role, the Miser’s Daughter, as the piece was called, had a great popularity, and was several times revived.

In 1835 also, was produced Pere Goriot at the Varietes, there being three collaborators in the dramatizing, Theaulon, de Comberousse, and Jaime. Their adaptation possessed the same characters as the novel, but the roles are considerably modified. Victorine Taillefer becomes Goriot’s illegitimate daughter, who is provided for by her father, yet brought up without ever seeing him and without the least inkling of her relationship to him. But Vautrin has discovered that a sum of five hundred thousand francs is deposited on her behalf with a notary; and he goes to Grenoble, where she is living, brings her back with him to Paris, and presents her to Goriot as a poor girl, his intention being to ask her in marriage at the proper moment. The retired tradesman takes her in, and she remains with him when his other daughters marry, and during the time they pass in ungratefully stripping him of his fortune. At last his sons-in-law, to salve their consciences, offer to place him in an almshouse. Goriot indignantly refuses, and tells them he has another daughter whom he has made rich, and that he will go and live with her. Now is Vautrin’s opportunity. He informs Goriot who Victorine is, and, since she had given her affections to the young Rastignac, he, like a good fellow, renounces his own matrimonial project and assists the old father in marrying the lovers happily. The part of Goriot was acted by Vernet, who did entire justice to Balzac’s great creation. Simultaneously at the Vaudeville, another and poorer version of the novel was given; and, in 1891, at the Theatre Libre, Tabarand experimented a third piece, this last being a faithful reproduction of the novel. Antoine scored a big success in the part of Goriot, rendering the death-bed scene with remarkable power and skill.

In 1836, La Grande Breteche, with its vengeful husband who walls up his wife’s lover alive, tempted Scribe and another playwright, Melesville. In their arrangement, there is a virtuous wife whose husband is a bigamist. On learning the truth, she consents to receive the visit of Lara, an admirer of hers, whom she loves; and, when the Bluebeard, Valdini, surprises his victim and proceeds to the immurement, his first wife slips in most conveniently and whisks him off, leaving Valentine free to marry Lara.

It is curious to notice how, in almost every instance, the first adapting dramatists transformed Balzac’s tragedies into comedies, softening the stern facts of life and its injustices, and meting out the juster rewards and punishments which the novelist’s realism forbade.

In Antony Beraud’s Gars, a play drawn from the Chouans and performed at the Ambigu-Comique in 1837, the hero and heroine, instead of dying, are saved by a political amnesty decreed by Napoleon; and the curtain falls to the cry of Vive l’Empereur. More than fifty years later, in 1894, the same theatre gave a close rendering of the dramatic portions of the Chouans, due to the collaboration of Berton and Blavet, the tragic ending being preserved, with all the effects properly belonging to it.

Commonplace, like the Gars, were the arrangements of the Search for the Absolute, in 1837, and Cesar Birotteau in 1838. The former was staged under the bizarre title, A+Mx=O+X, or the Dream of a Savant. The authors, Bayard and Bieville, concealed their identity under an algebraic X as well; and their piece, which made Balthazar Claes a Parisian chemist and a candidate to a vacant chair in the College de France, failed to attract at the Gymnase, in spite of Bouffe’s talent and the redemption of Balthazar.

Cesar Birotteau was performed at the Pantheon Theatre, which was demolished in 1846. The love-story of Popinot and Cesarine, which is so briefly sketched in the novel, assumed chief importance in Cormon’s adaptation, and, of course, Cesar does not die.

Scribe borrowed largely from the Comedie Humaine. His Sheriff libretto for Halevy’s music at the Opera Comique in 1839 was a transmogrification of Master Cornelius. Balzac’s Cornelius is Louis XI’s money-lender, who lives with his sister in an old mansion, next to a house with the King’s natural daughter, Marie de Sassenage, occupies with her husband, the Comte de Sainte-Vallier. The old money-lender, perceiving that his gold is disappearing, has had four of his apprentices hanged on suspicion. The like fate now threatens Marie’s lover, Georges d’Estouteville, who in order to see her more safely, has persuaded Cornelius to let him stay in his dwelling one night. Marie appeals to the King to spare her lover’s life, and Louis, on investigating the matter, discovers that Cornelius is a somnambulist, and has been robbing himself and burying his gold. On being told of this, the old money-lender has no peace of mind, fearing the King will take all his treasure, and ultimately cuts his own throat. In Scribe’s parody, for a parody the piece virtually is, the scene is laid in England. John Turnel, the Sheriff of London, is the somnambulist, and he suspects his own daughter and his cook of stealing his money. But, differing from Cornelius, he accepts the situation when the truth is revealed to him under circumstances that make him as ridiculous as the spectre of Tappington in the Ingoldsby Legends; and, as a comic opera generally ends happily, he consents to the marriage of his daughter, Camilla, and of Keat, the cook, with their respective swains.

An English setting was likewise given by Scribe to his play of Helene, suggested by Balzac’s Honorine, which was staged at the Gymnase in 1846. Helene is a young orphan who draws and paints for her living, and has the good fortune to have all her canvases bought at advantageous prices by a rich dealer named Crosby. But suddenly she learns that the dealer is acting in behalf of a certain Lord Clavering, and, fearing some underhand designs, she refuses to keep the money that has been paid her. Smitten by her disinterestedness as well as by her beauty, Lord Clavering would gladly marry her, but is bound by his word plighted to Lord Dunbar’s daughter. However, the latter elopes with another nobleman, and Clavering marries Helene. This pretty theme, developed by the actress Rose Cheri, made a huge hit.

Nearly as great was the actress’s success at the same theatre in 1849, when she played the principal role in Clairville’s Madame Marneffe a version of Cousin Bette, but very much modified, since Bette is eliminated altogether, and Valerie Marneffe, instead of being a depraved creature, is merely a clever woman of the world, who avenges her father’s ruin on the Baron Hulot and Crevel, they being mainly responsible for it. When Balzac was at Wierzchownia, on his last visit, he wrote to his mother asking her to go to the theatrical agent’s in order to receive his third of the receipts produced by the piece. These author’s royalties must have helped his purse considerably.

In the year after the novelist’s death, the applauded representation of Mercadet, at the Gymnase, stimulated other managers of theatres to go on exploiting his Comedy. In September, the Shagreen Skin, arranged by Judicis, was played at the Ambigu-Comique, with tableaux of almost literal imitation, yet bringing to life again, in the denouement, the chief dramatis personae, and making the whole drama a dream.

At the Comedie Francaise, in 1853, Barriere and de Beauplan produced a five-act prose play drawn from the Lily in the Valley. The novel was an awkward one to dramatize, there being very few elements in it capable of yielding situations for the stage. So the result was poor. A better thing was made in 1859 by de Keraniou out of the Sceaux Ball. On it he based an agreeable piece entitled Noblesse Oblige, with a delicately interpreted love scene in it which met with appreciative audiences at the Odeon.

One more example, that of Cousin Pons, may be given to close the list of these adaptation, which are fully treated in Edmond Bire’s interesting book dealing with certain aspects of Balzac’s life and work. Cousin Pons was staged at the Cluny Theatre in 1873. Alphonse de Launay, the author of the play, keeps to his text fairly well; but he adds a love episode which thrusts the friendship of the two musicians into the second place. Moreover, after the death of Pons, Schmucke lives to inherit his fortune and the Camusots are checkmated.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31