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Scenes from a Courtesan's Life   By: (1799-1850)

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By Honore De Balzac

Translated by James Waring

PREPARER'S NOTE: The story of Lucien de Rubempre begins in the Lost Illusions trilogy which consists of Two Poets, A Distinguished Provincial at Paris, and Eve and David. The action in Scenes From A Courtesan's Life commences directly after the end of Eve and David.


To His Highness Prince Alfonso Serafino di Porcia.

Allow me to place your name at the beginning of an essentially Parisian work, thought out in your house during these latter days. Is it not natural that I should offer you the flowers of rhetoric that blossomed in your garden, watered with the regrets I suffered from home sickness, which you soothed, as I wandered under the boschetti whose elms reminded me of the Champs Elysees? Thus, perchance, may I expiate the crime of having dreamed of Paris under the shadow of the Duomo, of having longed for our muddy streets on the clean and elegant flagstones of Porta Renza. When I have some book to publish which may be dedicated to a Milanese lady, I shall have the happiness of finding names already dear to your old Italian romancers among those of women whom we love, and to whose memory I would beg you to recall your sincerely affectionate

DE BALZAC. July 1838.



In 1824, at the last opera ball of the season, several masks were struck by the beauty of a youth who was wandering about the passages and greenroom with the air of a man in search of a woman kept at home by unexpected circumstances. The secret of this behavior, now dilatory and again hurried, is known only to old women and to certain experienced loungers. In this immense assembly the crowd does not trouble itself much to watch the crowd; each one's interest is impassioned, and even idlers are preoccupied.

The young dandy was so much absorbed in his anxious quest that he did not observe his own success; he did not hear, he did not see the ironical exclamations of admiration, the genuine appreciation, the biting gibes, the soft invitations of some of the masks. Though he was so handsome as to rank among those exceptional persons who come to an opera ball in search of an adventure, and who expect it as confidently as men looked for a lucky coup at roulette in Frascati's day, he seemed quite philosophically sure of his evening; he must be the hero of one of those mysteries with three actors which constitute an opera ball, and are known only to those who play a part in them; for, to young wives who come merely to say, "I have seen it," to country people, to inexperienced youths, and to foreigners, the opera house must on those nights be the palace of fatigue and dulness. To these, that black swarm, slow and serried coming, going, winding, turning, returning, mounting, descending, comparable only to ants on a pile of wood is no more intelligible than the Bourse to a Breton peasant who has never heard of the Grand livre.

With a few rare exceptions, men wear no masks in Paris; a man in a domino is thought ridiculous. In this the spirit of the nation betrays itself. Men who want to hide their good fortune can enjoy the opera ball without going there; and masks who are absolutely compelled to go in come out again at once. One of the most amusing scenes is the crush at the doors produced as soon as the dancing begins, by the rush of persons getting away and struggling with those who are pushing in. So the men who wear masks are either jealous husbands who come to watch their wives, or husbands on the loose who do not wish to be watched by them two situations equally ridiculous.

Now, our young man was followed, though he knew it not, by a man in a mask, dogging his steps, short and stout, with a rolling gait, like a barrel... Continue reading book >>

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