Correspondence

2221.  EBB to Mary Russell Mitford

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 12, 92–94.

[London]

saturday. [21 February 1846][1]

I send you at last my dearest Miss Mitford, the Ambleside letter,[2] which you will return to me at leisure. A hundred thanks for yours in the meanwhile .. & for that part of the fragrance of it, which men call violets. For the rest, I could almost find it in my heart to defend your own friend[3] against you—but I have not the arms & ammunition of personal intimacy, & you might easily appeal to my ignorance, not to say that you might reprove my impertinence. Only I do think that there is great good in him, & not much (if any at all) “coxcombry” below the waistcoat-surface.[4] His letters, for instance, are unaffected & true. Then I lean to him for his goodnature to myself. Ah well—you are seeing just now with Mr Buckingham’s eyes– Dont see the Louvre so .. let them be ever such deaf eyes .. & broad!– I do trust you may go to France—but .. but ..

For Madme Laffarge, remember that she had to represent her situation .. which is to my mind .. most intensely painful for all its commonness .. enough to drive any woman frantic. She speaks out—had to speak out at the trial .. where that letter of hers was produced .. the dramatic letter .. in which she made (invented) a position & a lover for herself to escape the legal dishonour.[5] Oh dreadful! You must not blame her for speaking, in any wise, since others had spoken for her, poor wretch. And in writing that letter, she seemed to me to follow a blind instinct. What woman, with a sense of shame in her, would not rather go with her lover to the end of the world, .. let it be sin twenty times over, .. than give herself to a master by law, unsanctified by the testimony of her affections—? The lover not being there, she invented one. A blind instinct of her despair, it seems to me,—in a situation full of horror– God keep us from such marriages, here in England.

I hear that Dumas has been writing a romance called ‘Monte Cristo,’[6] which is as popular as ever ‘Les Mysteres de Paris’ was, .. & a little longer .. being somewhere in the fourteenth volume now. Also George Sand has published a book called ‘Le pêché de Monsieur Thomas’[7] or, some name like it. The book you name, I never heard of. For the rest, all these romances of ours are never read in Paris by unmarried women, nor by the married .. except in an aside very strictly kept .. & with a sofa-pillow close by for security!—this I heard the other day—Balzac for instance is never named in female society—his works are considered “licentious.” The women are none the more virtuous for such precautions—quite otherwise than virtuous, in fact: but vice is not talked of—the sepulcher is kept both silent & white.[8] So, in regard to the theatres .. (except the classical great theatre,—) .. “on va, mais on n’en parle pas”[9]—that is, the married women go .. in their silence .. bien entendu[10] .. but the unmarried not at all. Mademoiselle Rachel’s[11] character is trailed in all the mud of Paris—she is “devergondée”,[12] they tell me. Her lovers seem to out-number Madme Dudevant’s .. which is saying .... what, is it not saying? And thus, she who was at first received by the Faubourgh St Germains circles, among the most excluding of the exclusives, has utterly destroyed a social position which was of such peculiar brilliancy for a French actress. For the actors & actresses, as well as painters & musicians, have more difficulty in making way in Paris, than they wd have here in London .. they are not tolerated, socially speaking, except under express conditions—I am surprised to hear it. The literary artists have a social ‘status’ of their own, you are aware—but it is not so with the others.

Well—I must come to an end here. Tell me if the arrowroot is good, & if I have leave to send you more. Tell me how you are—& how your friend is. May God bless you, ever dear dear Miss Mitford. It was not good taste to adopt that bearing to Mr Lovejoy[13]—foolish & wrong! Oh, I see that!—— I am your affectionate & grateful

EBB–

Publication: EBB-MRM, III, 161–163.

Manuscript: Wellesley College.

1. Dated by the references to Chorley (not mentioned by name); EBB mentioned Miss Mitford’s “growing quite cold” about him in letter 2217 to RB.

2. Letter 2203.

3. i.e., Chorley.

4. See the penultimate paragraph of 2217.

5. For EBB’s response to Miss Mitford’s initial interest in Marie Lafarge, see letter 2206, note 12.

6. An eleven-volume edition of Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (1844–45) was published in 1846. Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris had been published in 1842–43 in five volumes.

7. Sand’s Le Péché de Monsieur Antoine was published in 1846.

8. Cf. Matthew 23:27.

9. “They go, but they don’t talk about it.”

10. “Oh, certainly!”

11. Elisabeth Félix (1821–58), famous Parisian actress known as “Rachel,” was a tragedienne acclaimed for her roles in Corneille and Racine. Some years later, as recorded in the journal of Elizabeth Clementine Kinney, née Dodge (1810–89), EBB defended her own visit with George Sand, and referred to her as one who had merely “fallen under the dominion of a sensual appetite, which she cannot control.” As for “Rachel,” Ronald A. Bosco notes that Mrs. Kinney recorded that EBB “would not visit her, for she leads a dissolute life … for money alone” (BIS, 4, 1976, 70).

12. “Licentious,” or “profligate.”

13. Probably another reference to Chorley’s bad behavior during his recent visit to Miss Mitford.

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