"Balzac has invented everything. —COLETTE, The Evening Star"
Balzac Takes us Inside the Paris Justice System in 1830
A post by Ambrosia Boussweau,European Correspondent of The Reading Life
Paris in July # 6. , hosted by Tamarra of Thyme for Tea, a blog I have followed for years, is one of my favorite book blog events. It covers much more than literature and there are lots of wonderful participant posts online.
Paris in July # 6. has motivated me to read some very interesting works.
1. "Baum, Gabriel, 1935" by Mavis Gilbert - A wonderful set in Paris short story
2. "Two Friends" by Guy de Maupassant- Paris in July # 6. Requires reading de Maupassant!
3. "Mildred Larson" by George Moore- What Paris Meant to the Irish
4. "The Parisian Stage" by Henry James - an illuminating essay
5. "The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls" by Marcel Aymé- a new to me writer I will return to
6. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932 by Francine Prose - interesting
7. Shocking Paris Soutine, Chagall and the Outlaw Art of Montaparrne by Stanley Meisler-a
Well done account of Yiddish emigre artists in Paris
8. Short Stories about Cats by Three Classic French authors
9. Suite Francaise by Iréne Némirovsky- a true masterwork. Paris under the Germans
Honore de Balzac is not just the king of Parisian chroniclers, he is the Emperor. Stefan Zweig in his great book on Balzac ranked him just below Shakespeare. His influence on French literature is all powerful and his impact on world literature is so pervasive it is hard to see. Sometime ago I decided to read through Balzac's cycle of works, The Comedie Humaine. Balzac intended this to present a complete picture of French life. There is a lot of disinformation on the size of this work. I have found numerous claims by distinguished literary pedagogical professionals that it consists of "over 100 full volumes". It in fact consists of 41 novels, 25 short stories, and 25 novellas. Many book bloggers read more than this in just three months.
As I read on in Balzac, he has for sure his ups and downs, I feel him very much coming to life when he describes the dark side of Paris, sinister mysterious characters, dangerous streets, murderous plots, greed driven children and cheat spouses. A lot of his work is set among aristocratic characters. I guess just as now nothing sells like a scandal about a celebrity. Henry James said Balzac is at his very best describing ordinary people in Paris. The Human Comedy is a time traveling machine, as close to a trip to Paris 1830 or so as you can take.
The End of Evil Ways is part three of The Loves of a Courtesan. (The translation is attributed to James Waring but it was really done by Ellen Marriage. She used this name in translating the "racier" parts of Balzac). Balzac makes use of recurring characters. One of the most important of his creations is Lucien de Rumempre. We first meet him as an aspiring young poet moved to Paris from the provinces to ply his craft in the ultimate place for literature in the world. He also appears in the trilogy, Lost Illusions. As we follow the rise, loves, and travails of Lucien we transverse Paris.
The End of Evil Ways begins with a very detailed Balzac really on a roll description of a police van used to transport convicts. Balzac goes into great detail describing these vehicles. We ride along as a luckless convict is transported to the guilitine. Lucien has been arrested for murder. We learn a lot about the justice system and life in prison. The plot is very melodramatic and complicated. The story is really like a mini course on French Justice circa 1830.
Balzac created over 2000 characters. One very fascinating character mentioned just in passing in The End of Evil Ways is Jacques Collin. He rules the lives of released convicts of Paris, making them loans and directing their enterprises.
I know it sounds a bit much, but I think literary autodidacts will be very well rewarded by reading the full Comedie Humaine. This project is really only practical through an E Book.