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Balzac and Evelina in Love (and in Lviv)

Here’s a biographical sketch of the love affair between Balzac and his Polish lover Evelina. Ironically I stayed at a hotel in Lviv, Ukraine where he and his lover spent their honeymoon (see a photo). I had fond memories about my stay there. It is right across from the scenic downtown square of Lviv.

What is the secret of this strange love, which in the woman seems to be not precisely love, but something else? Balzac was always eager for her presence. She, on the other hand, seems to have been mentally more at ease when he was absent. Perhaps the explanation, if we may venture upon one, is based upon a well-known physiological fact.

Love in its completeness is made up of two great elements–first, the element that is wholly spiritual, that is capable of sympathy, and tenderness, and deep emotion. The other element is the physical, the source of passion, of creative energy, and of the truly virile qualities, whether it be in man or woman. Now, let either of these elements be lacking, and love itself cannot fully and utterly exist. The spiritual nature in one may find its mate in the spiritual nature of another; and the physical nature of one may find its mate in the physical nature of another. But into unions such as these, love does not enter in its completeness. If there is any element lacking in either of those who think that they can mate, their mating will be a sad and pitiful failure.

It is evident enough that Mme. Hanska was almost wholly spiritual, and her long years of waiting had made her understand the difference between Balzac and herself. Therefore, she shrank from his proximity, and from his physical contact, and it was perhaps better for them both that their union was so quickly broken off by death; for the great novelist died of heart disease only five months after the marriage.

If we wish to understand the mystery of Balzac’s life–or, more truly, the mystery of the life of the woman whom he married–take up and read once more the pages of Seraphita, one of his poorest novels and yet a singularly illuminating story, shedding light upon a secret of the soul.

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