This Is a Monomania: Balzac on Falling in Love
By Maria Popova
Honoré de Balzac (May 20, 1799–August 18, 1850) might be as well known for his literary legacy as he is for his tumultuous love life. At twenty-three, he fell for Mme. Berny, a woman nearly twice his age known as “la Dilecta,” whose creative and intellectual influence on Balzac had a profound impact on shaping his budding voice. When the two split up in 1832, he entered a troubled relationship with the Marquise de Castries, whom he later portrayed rather unflatteringly in The Duchesse of Langeais. That year, he received a fan letter from Countess Ewelina Haska, a married Polish noblewoman to whom he came to refer to as “The Foreigner.” They embarked upon an intense correspondence, which quickly escalated into a passionate bond, which lasted seventeen years. The two met twice — once in Switzerland the following year, and once in Vienna in 1835 — and the two vowed to marry once Ewelina’s husband died. Though the Count passed away in 1842, Balzac’s poor finances prevented the couple from marrying. In March of 1850, when he was already fatally ill, the two finally wed — five months before Balzac died in Paris.
Their correspondence, an exquisite and enduring paean to love and patience, is gathered in The Letters Of Honore De Balzac To Madame Hanska (public library). Here is a small but deliciously telling taste:
MY BELOVED ANGEL,
I am nearly mad about you, as much as one can be mad: I cannot bring together two ideas that you do not interpose yourself between them. I can no longer think of nothing but you. In spite of myself, my imagination carries me to you. I grasp you, I kiss you, I caress you, a thousand of the most amorous caresses take possession of me. As for my heart, there you will always be — very much so. I have a delicious sense of you there. But my God, what is to become of me, if you have deprived me of my reason? This is a monomania which, this morning, terrifies me. I rise up every moment say to myself, ‘Come, I am going there!’ Then I sit down again, moved by the sense of my obligations. There is a frightful conflict. This is not a life. I have never before been like that. You have devoured everything. I feel foolish and happy as soon as I let myself think of you. I whirl round in a delicious dream in which in one instant I live a thousand years. What a horrible situation! Overcome with love, feeling love in every pore, living only for love, and seeing oneself consumed by griefs, and caught in a thousand spiders’ threads. O, my darling Eva, you did not know it. I picked up your card. It is there before me, and I talked to you as if you were here. I see you, as I did yesterday, beautiful, astonishingly beautiful. Yesterday, during the whole evening, I said to myself ‘She is mine!’ Ah! The angels are not as happy in Paradise as I was yesterday!
This gem also appears in The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Time (public library) — the magnificent volume that gave us the breathtaking love letters of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Complement it with the love letters of Nabokov, Mozart, Beethoven, Cézanne, and Einstein.
Published July 16, 2012