image par mes amis Nick et Pam

image par mes amis Nick et Pam

Some of you may have seen the brutal nineteen seventies film ‘Blanche,’ (1972, Dir: Walerian Borowczyk) in which the eponymous heroine, a young and beautiful woman married to an old man, falls in love with and is seduced by the king’s servant Bartolomeo. It is a medieval tale, set in a small castle with a tiny garrison of inept men-at-arms. The king and his entourage visit, and the seduction takes place. But the lovers are surprised and the young man hides in a wardrobe – in those days an alcove in the thick walls. Rather than openly challenge his wife’s protestations of innocence, the husband has the alcove bricked up……The story has other twists and turns to follow, but it was the bricking up that sprang to mind as I read Honore de Balzac’s short story, Le Grande Breteche, for the culmination of that tale is a very similar piece of masonry work!


The tale is one in which Balzac is a present narrator, telling a first person account of a visit he makes to the Vendome. There he finds an abandoned Chateau, among the ruins of which he takes to walking to indulge his sense of mystery and melancholy. Eventually the local notary arrives to forbid him further trespass upon the estate, and Balzac winkles out of him a part of the story of the ruins. There are more, and deeper secrets though, and these are provided by the serving girl at the inn who was also party to the tragedy that was enacted there.


Balzac’s story is simpler than the storyline of Blanche, though it cold be argued that his telling is somewhat more convoluted! It is another one of the tales selected for Hammerton’s inter-war, multi-volume ‘The World’s Thousand Best Stories’. A curiosity of this anthology is that it’s sub-title refers to the stories within as the best ‘complete tales,’ which I thought an unusual choice of words.

The film, as I recall over what must now be decades since I last saw it, is very watchable, though I found Blanche herself irritatingly stupid, as well as beautiful, and couldn’t really see the attraction. The high spot for me was in a wonderful scene where the king’s bodyguard, disguised as monks, reveal that they are not as unarmed as they have appeared to be. In fact, and I surprise myself here, I find that what they have under their monkish habits is, in recollection, much more interesting than what she has under hers!