Balzac & the Human Comedy

May 20, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Books, WRITING & LITERATURE |
Balzac by Rodin

Balzac by Rodin

Honoré de Balzac (20 March 1799 to 18 August 1850) Though he could at times play the gadabout, Balzac actually was akin to a Stakhanovite, regularly working all night and sometimes all day, fuelled by repeat pots of industrial-strength coffee. That led to work which could be rough and ready, and melodramatic in the extreme, but his colourful realism, vitality and fine feel for humanity informed that monumental, chaotic matrix of romantic novels and fragments (over 100) that make-up his collection, La Comédie Humaine. Lytton Strachey wrote: “Balzac’s style is bad; in spite of the electric vigour that runs through his writing, it is…

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The Brothers Karamazov

Karamazov

By Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1880) “We can safely say that Dostoevsky never got free from the feelings of guilt arising from his intention of murdering his father.”* In this sprawling Dickensian fable with a true Russian heart (Priestley called Dostoevsky “Dickens without comic genius but with the lid off“^) Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov poses something of a hurdle, a challenge, a provocation to his sons. There are moments in the life of old liars who have been play-acting all their lives when they are so carried away by the part they’re playing that they really do weep and tremble with excitement,…

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Happy Birthday Philip

El_Aquelarre_(1797-1798)

Philip Roth b. 19 March 1933 Though he said he’d pull the pin after his last book, Nemesis (2010), we hope that he’s tinkering with a posthumous classic (preferably something much better than The Original of Laura). We doubt it could be any funnier – or filthier – than Sabbath’s Theater (1995), that riotous and dark meeting of Mickey Sabbath (Lear/Fool) and Drenka Balich (Cordelia/Goneril/Regan), with her penchant for playing Mrs Malaprop. Roth is the grubbiest writer in centuries, a great descendant of Catullus, Rabelais and Geoffrey Chaucer.  In a thoughtful piece, James Wood comments that “Misogyny always flickers in [Roth’s]…

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Resurrection by Count Leo Tolstoy

Federation Square book sale 2016.  Image courtesy of Nick-D.

Federation Square book sale 2016. Image courtesy of Nick-D.

When in Melbourne, we of TVC attend the Saturday morning book sale at Federation Square.  There, in the dank central court, eccentric sellers of very good used books sell classics and books which have just appeared in the shops.  Amid these booksellers who know their stuff and their customers, lurk a few grim self-published authors who sell nothing and look on sadly while pretending to work on their next badly-illustrated but politically-correct slim volume for children. One of the sellers of very good books is a handsome, red-haired Russian woman of whom we at TVC are terrified. (Let us call this stern and tenacious…

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Faust

"Hey, little fella"

"Hey, little fella"

(By Johann Wolfgang Goethe) (Part I, 1808, Part II, 1832) While a student, Goethe conceived his epic poem. (The story itself is an old one, first dramatized at length by Marlowe in 1593.)  He tinkered with it through the 1770s, put out a fragment in 1790, published the first part (honouring Schiller) and then put it down – for 17 years.  He eventually finished Part II (commonly recognised as the most daring portion – it is remarkably “out there”, quite heretical in fact) and then sealed it for posterity.  It has been estimated that you’d need a day (i.e. 24…

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