Droll Tales 24

“Bertha the Penitent” according to The Bibliophilist Society is the 24th story in Balzac’s set; The Folio Society entitle it “Magdalene Bertha”.

Bertha’s first conception, within marriage to a much older man, was not technically immaculate, but it might as well have been as she had no real idea of how it had happened, and was certainly ignorant of any sexual delights. With less suggestive wordplay than is his wont, the author relates how the very young woman was tricked into learning the joy of sex, and the inevitable consequence. Shocked to learn the truth of her behaviour, she forces herself and her lover into celibacy over the next dozen years. I will not report the eventual outcome.

Here is Mervyn Peake’s drawing for the Folio Society:

and those of Gustave Doré for the Bibliophilists

Further details of the publications are given in https://derrickjknight.com/2023/01/06/droll-tales-1/except that there are no pictures here by Jean de Bosschère as I do not have any of the third Decade by him.


  1. This certainly leaves several questions unanswered. With the addition of the Magdalene title, I was wondering if that was a Mary Magdalene reference…

    1. That puzzled me, too. Your comment prompted me to research it. Mary’s name indicates that she came from Magdala in Judea, but the etymology of the word is that it comes from a Greek word meaning strong which, of course, is what Bertha was. Thanks very much, Pat

  2. My mother had a phrase for use when it was cold outside; she would say, “Godfrey Gordon, Gustave Gore, do come in and close the door.” And I always got Gustave’s name wrong.

  3. The illustrations are quite detailed, and I agree La Fallotte looks like a tree creature. 🙂 That is some tale of the human condition, Derrick.

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