Two very intelligent, very idealistic young women leave the convent school whereathey became the fastest of friends to return to their families and embark on theiranew lives. For RenUe de Maucombe, this means an arranged marriage with a countryagentleman of Provence, a fine if slightly dull man for whom she feels admirationabut nothing more. Meanwhile, Louise de Chaulieu makes for her family's house inaParis, intent on enjoying her freedom to the fullest- glittering balls, the opera, andaabove all, she devoutly hopes, the torments and ecstasies of true love and passion.aWhat will come of these two very different lives?
Despite Balzac's title, these aren't memoirs; rather, this is an epistolary novel. Forasome ten years, these two will-enthusiastically if not always faithfully-keep upatheir correspondence, obeying their vow to tell each other every tiny detail of theirastrange new lives, comparing their destinies, defending and sometimes bemoaningatheir choices, detailing the many changes, personal and social, that they undergo. AsaBalzac writes, oRenUe is reason. . . Louise is wildness. . . and both will lose.o Balzacabeing Balzac, he seems to argue for the virtues of one of these lives over the other;abut Balzac being Balzac, that argument remains profoundly ambiguous- oI would,o heaonce wrote, orather be killed by Louise than live a long life with RenUe.o
HonorU de Balzac (1799-1850), one of the greatest and most influential of novelists,awrote some eighty-five novels in the course of his last twenty years, includingasuch masterpieces as Pore Goriot, EugUnie Grandet, Lost Illusions, and Cousin Bette.aNYRB Classics publishes The Unknown Masterpiece and The Human Comedy-aSelected Stories.
Jordan Stump is a writer, translator, and professor of French at the University ofaNebraska-Lincoln.