Anglo-French Relations The Cloak of Secrecy A personal voyage of detection

The Characters of Balzac's 'La Comédie Humaine': Fact or Fiction?

MY DEAR FERDINAND, If the chances of the world of literature ‘habent sua fata libelli’ should allow these lines to be an enduring record, that will still be but a trifle in return for the trouble you have taken, you, the Hozier, the Cherin, the King-at-Arms of these ‘Studies of Life’; you, to whom the Navarreins, Cadignans, Langeais, Blamont-Chauvrys, Chaulieus, Arthez, Esgrignons, Mortsaufs, Valois, the hundred noble names that form the Aristocracy of the ‘Comedie Humaine’ owe their lordly mottoes and ingenious armorial bearings. Indeed, ‘L’armorial Des Études De Moeurs’ created by Ferdinand De Gramont, gentleman, is a complete manual of French Heraldry, in which nothing is forgotten, not even the arms of the Empire, and I shall preserve it as a monument of friendship and of Benedictine patience.

What profound knowledge of the old feudal language is to be seen in the motto of the Beauseants, ‘Pulchre sedens, melius agens’!; in that of the Espards, ‘Des partem leonis’!; in that of the Vandenesses, ‘Ne se vend’! And what elegance in the thousand details of the learned symbolism which will always show how far accuracy has been carried in my work, to which you, the poet, have contributed.

Your old friend,

Ferdinand, Comte de Grammont (1812-1897) came from Villersexel in Franche-Comté, where he was a rich proprietor and master of forges. His family had a military background and his father was a Deputy for Haute-Saone, and in 1839 Ferdinand was also elected to this post. He was also a poet in his own right. I did not find a relevant link between the de Grammonts of Franche-Comté and the de Gramonts of Bearn and Bayonne.

It seemed to me that Balzac and Ferdinand had both the access to historical information, and the ability to use this when needed to embellish the characters for La Comédie Humaine.

With this in mind it seemed to me more likely that Balzac’s old d’Espard family might be relevant. I note here that I have seen original documents from 1692/1700 evidencing the use of the Despard name. This clearly pre-dates Balzac’s use which was circa 1820-40.



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