Friday, October 22, 2010

Balzac, La Vendetta (1830)

Published soon after Mérimée’s Matteo Falcone, La Vendetta is another story based on Corsican “honor” and the murder of one’s own child in adherence to that code. It's probable that the Mérimée story inspired Balzac’s.

The Balzac novella is set not in Corsica but in near-contemporary Paris. Bartholoméo Piombo, feeling with his family from a blood feud in Corsica, makes his fortune due to his friendship with Napoleon. His artistic only daughter, Ginevra attends an art class full of young, wealthy ladies. She emerges as an inspired painter among dabblers.

At the early days of the Bourbon Restoration, refugee Napoleonic officers are proscribed and threatened. The artist/teacher hides Luigi, a handsome young officer, in a side room. Ginevra sees him, helps hide him, and falls in love. When he is introduced o her parents, it turns out that he is the son of the mortal enemy of Piombo, and while the modern Luigi is innocent of any wish to continue the blood feud, he is rejected. The couple elopes, and end up living in poverty in a garret. They have a child, but Ginevra wears herself down doing small painting jobs, as the couple and child starve and freeze. The well-off Bartholoméo, obdurate refuses them any help, and when he finally relents in order to see his grandchild. It is too late, Daughter and grandson die, for lack of resources he could easily have supplied.

  • In the free and easy society of the Bourbon restoration in Paris, where others change allegiance and principle on a whim, Piombo is this reminder of the rude, unflinching code of the maquis. The young lovers are explicitly compared to Romeo and Juliet. Typically (as with Grandet), the doting father is turned into a tyrant once his daughter opposes his will.

  • This is another Balzac story that takes place in the context f the world of painting. Ginevra is that rare female artist of promise. The artist who teaches her exclaims that one of her paintings is a masterpiece reminiscent of Salvatore Rosa, the pre-Romantic Italian painter. In spite of her talent, Ginevra can only find the most humdrum, ill-paying decorative jobs, the meanest work of the artistic world.

  • In Balzac we will see this patter of loving marriages and unloving marriages. The loving ones, as in this story, in Ferragus, in La Peau de chagrin, and other stories, end up crushing the couple. The loveless marriages (Eugénie Grandet, Goriot’s daughters, and La Femme de Trente Ans) have their own torments. In other words, most (all?) marriages are pretty dismal.

  • Napoleon himself appears as a character in the anecdotic start of the novella. He is presented as sympathetic, clever, and charming, Would such a portrait be allowed during the recently ended Bourbon restoration? I doubt it. This may be one of the first of many literary portrayals of Napoleon in France, at least since Waterloo.

No comments:

Post a Comment