Honoré de BALZAC
Les Ressources de Quinola
Hippolyte Souverain, Paris 1842, 13,5x22cm, relié.
The rare first edition.
Half caramel morocco, spine in five compartments, marbled pastedowns and endpapers, restored wrappers preserved, marbled edges.
Foxed. With an important autograph inscription signed by Honoré de Balzac to his friend Laurent-Jan, to whom Vautrin was dedicated, and the model for Bixiou, Léon de Lora and several other characters in The Human Comedy.
He was at the same time Balzac's best friend, trusted secretary, ghost writer and perhaps even... "beloved."
"...the singular phenomenon of the inventor who moved, in 16th century Barcelona, a vessel by steam past three hundred thousand spectators; that today we have no idea what became of him, denies this rage. But I've guessed the why, and that is [the basis of] my Comedy" (letter to Mme Hanska).
The Resources of Quinola is at the same time Scapin's Deceits
and The Marriage of Figaro. Balzac's ambition from the 1840s up to his death was in essence to make a name for himself comparable to that of his illustrious predecessors. A hope as futile as it was abiding, he nonetheless never doubted his imminent success despite every setback.
The author of The Human Comedy
may well have thought that the principal source of humor in the work was the hero and his scathing repartee. For Balzac in fact knew this character, this fierce and eloquent harlequin, well - his name was Laurent-Jan and he was Balzac's most faithful friend in the last years of his life.
Though most of their correspondence seems to have disappeared, it is thought that they met before 1835 (Albéric Second mentions a dinner in the rue Casini, where Balzac lived from 1829 to 1835).
An eccentric and provocative character, Laurent-Jan had pride of place in the Bohemian life that Balzac led during these years, most notably with Léon Gozlan, Charles Lassailly, Paul Gavarni and Albéric Second, according to whom the writer "was slumming it both pleasurably and profitably" (Maurice Regard, Balzac et Laurent-Jan
All of them remained silent on the "excesses" of these tumultuous years, of which some eloquent traces have nonetheless come down to us in their correspondence; like the letter in which Balzac invites Gavarni to a soirée at Laurent-Jan's to "stretch a very well dressed chotepis
a tad," signed "TicTac dit vit d'ours [TicTac, quick say bear]". Laurent-Jan was the principal organizer of these Balzacian orgies in his house at 23 rue des Martyrs, which inspired some scenes in The Human Comedy
"The seraglio, like the salon of a brothel, offered temptations for every eye and voluptuaries for every taste. There was a dancer naked under veils of silk, pretend-virgins who breathing sacral innocence, aristocratic beauties - proud and indolent, a pale and chaste Englishwoman, and young ladies starting conversations by establishing certain basic truths, such as: "Virtue we'll leave to the ugly and hunchbacked!" (cf. Hervé Manéglier, Les artistes au bordel
These crazy years coincided in Balzac's work with characters who were sexually ambivalent or clearly homosexual, like the androgynous Zambinella and Séraphita, Raphaël de Valentin, who had "a sort of effeminate grace," Louis Lambert "always gracious, like a woman in love," Lucien de Rubempré, and above all the character now considered the first homosexual in French literature: Vautrin.
Seeing this particular interest for different sexualities evidenced in The Human Comedy
between 1830 and 1836 (but not before or after, if Maurice Regard is to be believed), a number of commentators have been interested in Balzac's sexuality during this period, in which the author was 'with' almost all his young collaborators.
Thus, S. J. Bérard and P. Citron raise the question of the surprising witticisms that run through Balzac's correspondence with his young "protégés." "You, who tell me to fuck myself...you've summed up my feelings about you perfectly - so come here, then, and get yourself fucked; and be quick about it!" he writes to Latouche. Even stranger are the formulas with which he signs off his correspondence with Eugène Sue, which are a little surprising to say the least: "Yours, in the Pineal Gland," "Yours perineally," "I admire your foreskin and I remain yours," etc.
We've not found any correspondence with Laurent-Jan before 1840, at which time he writes Balzac letters commencing "Beloved," or "My darling," and ending with an explicit "I press myself against your great big chest."
According to allusions by some of his contemporaries, this dual sexuality of Balzac's seems to have been well known. Albéric Second compared his male relationships to those of Nisus and Euryale, while Roger de Beauvoir gave him the nickname "Seraphinus" and Edward Allet captioned his caricature of Balzac: "the Reverend Father don Seraphitus culus mysticus Goriot...conceives...a mass of inconceivable things and ephialtesticulary incubuses," [a reference to Ephialtes, who 'took King Leonidas from behind' at Thermopylae].
For contemporary critics, however, the question of what Pierre Citron terms Balzac's "ambisexuality" remains open. Among the theories advanced by Citron, S. J. Bérard, and P. Berthier is that Balzac's relationship with Laurent-Jan (for whom we are not aware of any escapades with women) fits with a hypothesis of active or imagined homosexuality on Balzac's part.
If we add that the play Vautrin
is dedicated to Laurent-Jan, to thank him - Gautier writes - for having "really rolled up his sleeves", Laurent-Jan appears as one of the principal figures tied to the "shadowy areas of Balzac's psychology," (the title of Pierre Citron's study of the subject).
From 1841 on, the correspondence between Balzac and Laurent-Jan is distinctly less ambiguous and their extravagant language gives way to professions of friendship and mutual admiration right up to the Master's death on the 18th August 1850; Laurent-Jan signed his death certificate.
During these final ten years, the man whom Gozlan considers "Balzac's best friend" and Philibert Audebrant "the right hand of the author of The Human Comedy
," was more specifically Balzac's principal partner in his great theatrical adventure, a passion that was to consume the debt-stricken novelist in search of recognition and financial success.
Théophile Gautier tells us that in 1840, when Balzac urged Laurent-Jan, Ourliac and de Belloy to write the play Vautrin
, which he had already sold to the Porte-Saint-Martin Theatre but not as yet written, only Laurent-Jan was willing: "Balzac started out by saying, when referring to Vautrin
, your piece, then little by little, our piece and eventually...my piece."
Laurent-Jan nonetheless got a prestigious dedication in print, an honor he shares with a handful of illustrious contemporaries like Victor Hugo, George Sand and Eveline Hanska, to whom Balzac also dedicated works.
The banning of the piece did not discourage Balzac, who persisted in his dream of making his fortune in theatre with the active and enthusiastic co-operation of Laurent-Jan, to whom the Master entrusted the writing, correction or re-writing of numerous plays and works: Lecamus
, Monographie de la presse parisienne [A Monograph of the Parisian Press], Le Roi des mendiants [The Beggar King]
("a superb basis for a two-man play"), etc.
"Also, you'll be getting several scripts to fill your spare time, because I want your help," Balzac wrote him from Wierzchownia in 1849.
One year earlier, before leaving for Poland, Balzac made this collaboration official by means of a power of attorney for literary affairs to Lauren-Jan, dated the 19th September 1848. "I declare that I have invested Monsieur Laurent-Jan with all my powers in everything relating to literary matters...he can make additions or cuts, and any necessary changes;...in fact, he shall represent me entirely."
Laurent-Jan took his task very seriously, as his many exchanges with the unhappy demiurge show. Balzac would never live to see the success he craved, as opposed to his friends Dumas and Hugo, to whom he compared himself, even during his failures. Thus, after the Resources of Quinola
flopped, he wrote to Mme Hanska:
"Quinola was the subject of a memorable battle, comparable to Hernani
." Duly noted!
On the 10th December 1849, more or less at death's door, Balzac still ties Laurent-Jan to all his projects in a letter that is admirable for its courage and hope: "Come, my friend, a little courage, and we shall board the ship of drama, good subjects in hand, to sail to the lands of Marivaux, New-Beaumarchais and New Comedy."
It is more than likely that the character of Quinola was partly inspired by this faithful friend, admired by Balzac, who signed his letters "a thousand times your friend," or "my heart is all yours," or "your respectful master, all proud of his pretend valet," (reflecting on the title Laurent-Jan gave himself).
Laurent Jan, as brilliant as he was vain, never produced any work worthy of this title, but was nonetheless undoubtedly a significant source of inspiration for Balzac, who owed him a number of 'bon mots' peppering his works. In The Human Comedy
, it is Bixiou and Léon de Lora above all who are directly inspired by this eccentric bohemian, but beyond these two characters (writes Maurice Regard) "many of Balzac's shadows accompany this ancient, hunched and wrinkled form: Schinner, Steinbock, Gendrin" owe him "a little bit of themselves [and] much of their spirit."
Balzac never stopped telling those who were close to him of the indefatigable affection he cherished for his "unrepentant misanthrope," who did not always enjoy a good reputation. "He's better than he seems. I, for one, love him seriously and well," (letter to Laure de Surville).
A few days before the death of her husband, Eve de Balzac recounted to his niece Sophie de Surville the transformative effects of the visits from his beloved.
"Your uncle is really much better, he's very cheerful and animated all day, and I attribute this to a good visit from our friend Laurent-Jan, who was more dazzling than ever yesterday evening - he was really fascinating and my dear patient kept repeating both yesterday and today: 'admit that no one is more spirited than that boy.'"
20 000 €
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