Balzac & the Human Comedy

Balzac by Rodin

Honoré de Balzac (20 May 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 formless, clumsy, and quite without distinction; it is the writing of a man who was highly perspicacious, formidably powerful, and vulgar. But, on the other hand, he possessed one great quality which Hugo altogether lacked – the sense of the real.”*

The Varnished Culture recommends against tackling the entire oeuvre chronologically, or at all: try The Black Sheep, Cousin Bette, Cousin Pons, A Harlot High and Low, Lost Illusions and Old Goriot.

[*Lytton Strachey, Landmarks in French Literature (1912), p.137.]



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