The Lily of the Valley (Le Lys dans la Vallée) is a long confession of a passionate love of a young man, Félix de Vandenesse, for a mature woman, Madame de Mortsauf. Unlike many others novels from La Comédie humaine that serve as a critique of social, political and moral conditions of his time, The Lily of the Valley depicts a timeless private theme of first love and its agony.
In Henriette de Mortsauf’s tyrannical husband Balzac paints the portrait of a decadent aristocracy: heirs of their father’s illness, his children are condemned to a feverish life and Madame de Mortsauf sacrifices her happiness to keep them alive. Félix has never known true maternal love: attracted by the devotion of this mother, he ties himself to her with a strange and morbid eroticism. Félix and Henriette, two suffering beings, unite to oppose the violence of the world and search refuge in an impossible relationship.
An unexpected closure of the novel brings liberating irony and authenticity to this masterpiece in which Balzac honoured the first woman of his life, Madame de Berny.