Recently I read in The Biography of the Novel, a brand new book by Michael Scmidt (published by Harvard University Press) the chapter devoted to Balzac, Flaubert, Zola and Proust. Schmidt states some interesting things but he asserts something thing that disturbed me a lot and made me wonder about the depth of his research. Here it is
This is simply wrong and the presiistence of this error in secondary sources keeps people from reading Balzac. Anyone who says anything like this has for sure not read The Human Comedy in full or even looked at the full edition in an E Book (cost $2.95). If consists of 41 novels, 25 short stories and 25 novellas. At most 10 of the novels are more than 500 pages. Once you see that it is not 95 full length completed volumes or what ever made up number an authority suggests, reading it in full, which is one of my reading life goals, is very feasible. Many book bloggers could easily read it in three months.
The Chouans is set in around 1793 in the Brittany region of France. There was a lot of sentiment in favor of the dethroned by the Revolution Bourbons and Jean Chouans formed a militia to fight the armies of the republic. Brittany is treated as a very "country" region in contrast to Paris. His group was known as The Chouans. Said to be heavily influenced by Sir Walter Scott and Maria Edgeworth in using real figures and history as the basis for fiction, The Chouans focuses on the attempted but ultimately futile rebellion. There are some very good battle scenes and discussions of military strategy. In terms of people, it is centered on two brothers, one a Chouan and one an advocate of The Republic and their common love of a woman. There is lots of deceptions and trickery in the plot and I never really got interested in the romances in the novel. A lot turned on who was or was not an aristocrat. A lot of the fiction of the period turns on someone pretending to be a commoner who really is a noble and secretly rich. The discovery of this then paved the way for a marriage which ends the novel.
It is hard to see if Balzac favored the Royalists or Republicans.
I found the military portions of the novel, the physical descriptions of peoples faces, housing, food and clothing were really good, the account of the landscape of Brittany was masterful. The romance kind of left me uninterested.
I am suggesting this novel is for those reading all of The Human Comedy and to those who wish to see the development of the historical novel on the model of Sir Walter Scott in Europe.
I am now reading a very interesting epistolary novel, Letters From Two Brides.
22 of 91.