Honore de Balzac
Having started in to be a "literary man-of-all-work," to borrow the phrase of Hippolyte
Auger, his collaborator on the Feuilleton des Journaux Politiques, who was closely in
touch with him in those early days, Honore de Balzac had formed relations with the
second rate papers, the publishers of novels, the promoters of all sorts of works that
might lend themselves to speculating purposes in the publishing line. It was undoubtedly
due to the chance demands of literary work that he found himself flung headlong into
business. He had reached the point where he was ready to accept any proposition of a
promising nature, in his eagerness to become free, to escape the strict surveillance of his
family and the reproaches of his mother, and furthermore he was urged into this path by a
certain Mme. de Berny, a woman who loved him and who wished to see him become a
great man, for she alone recognised his genius.
How and when had they become acquainted? Perhaps at Paris, since the de Bernys dwelt
at No. 3 Rue Portefoin, and the Balzacs at No. 17, perhaps later on at Villeparisis, as a
result of the neighbourly relations between the two families. However this may be, Mme.
de Berny exerted a profound and decisive influence upon Honore de Balzac; she was his
first love and, it should be added, the only real one, if we may judge by the length of time
that he cherished an unchanging memory of her.
Laure Antoinette Hinner was born at Versailles on May 24th, 1777; she was the daughter
of a German harpist who had been summoned from Wetzlar to the Court of France, and
her mother was Louise Guelpee de Laborde, lady-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette. She
had no less personages than the king and queen for her god-father and god-mother, and
she grew up within sound of the festivities of the Trianon, in an atmosphere of frivolity
and exaggerated refinements. Her mother, left a widow when the child was barely ten
years old, took a second husband, Francois Regnier de Jarjayes, a fervent royalist,
involved in all the plots which had for their object the deliverance of the royal family.
After the brilliant days of court life, she lived through the tragic hours of the Revolution,
in the midst of conspirators, and in an atmosphere of restlessness and anxiety. In 1793,
Laure Hinner, at the age of fifteen years and ten months, was married at Livry to Gabriel
de Berny, who was himself only twenty. The union seems to have resulted unhappily, in
spite of the fact that it was blessed with nine children; the sensibility of the wife and her
warm-hearted tenderness accorded ill with the cold and reserved character of the
When Balzac entered into his close friendship with Mme. de Berny, the latter was forty-
five years of age and a grandmother. In spite of her years and her many children, she was
still beautiful, on the order of tender and mature beauty. Balzac borrowed certain traits
from her for the noblest heroines in his works; and she served successively as model for
Mme. Firmiani, for Mme. de Mortsauf in The Lily in the Valley, and for Pauline in Louis
Lambert; and he spoke constantly of her in his correspondence with Mme. de Hanska, yet
always with a sort of reverence and passionate gratitude.