Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Daughter of Eve by Honore de Balzac (1838) - a novel. A component ofThe Human Comedy)

"The Countess had longed for emotions, and now she had them, terrible, cruel and yet most precious.  She lived a deeper life in pain than pleasure". 

Translated by Katherine Prescott Wormeley

Everyone who writers about Balzac, including me, says his work deals with the impact of money and commerce on his characters and through them France and especially Paris.  I began to wonder as I near the midpoint in The Human Comedy, is "money makes the world go round" the deepest theme in Balzac?  In the lines I quoted from A Daughter of Eve I am starting to see there is much more to Balzac.  

Balzac wrote fast, he needed to earn a lot from his writings.  He knew works about the foibles and the sexual peccadillos of the upper class were popular so he wrote many of them.  Who is not so saintly to never have felt a degree of schadenfreude upon hearing someone born into great wealth has gotten themselves in a fix?  A Daughter of Eve is formula Balzac.  It is one of the better done minor novels of the comedy.

It begins with two sisters talking to each other about their marriages.  One seeks the advice of the other and thus begins a  story of one of the sister's infidelity, brought on by boredom, much like Emma Bovary. The sister is married to a count, a very good man and decent husband.  She just wanted to feel stronger emotions than bland happiness and material comfort.  

There are some very good, near as good as Proust, descriptions of grand parties.  At one the omniscient narrator tells us what type  of bosoms have gone in and out of style in Paris.  We learn what types of breasts different kings fancied.  There are great descriptions of people and places.

A Daughter of Eve is a minor work but very much worth reading.

This story was translated by Katherine Prescott Wormeley (1830 to 1908)  I was astounded when I researched her.  She immigrated from England at 18 with her wealthy family.  Her father was a Rear-Admiral in the British Navy.  They settled in Rhode Island.  She became very involved in a project helping train poor women to work in hospitals.  When the American Civil war began she channeled thousands of women into jobs as army nurses and helped organize and manage nursing staff and field hospitals during the long war.  She also worked thousands of hours as a battle hospital nurse under horrifying conditions.  She latter founded the U. S. Sanitary Commision which set standards for hospitals and nursing.  Through her countless 1000s of men, on both sided, survived.  She wrote many very moving letters describing the war.   She asked for nothing for her services.

Form 1893 to 1807 she translated for an American publisher a forty volume edition of The Comedie Humaine and this brought Balzac to American readers.  She also translated Dumas and other writers.

There are several good webpages devoted to her role in the American Civil War.  One of them is 

I read one of her civil war letters to her mother in which she talks of her work.  It is beautifully written and shows great intelligence.  

Katherine Prescott Wormely was a great person and a hero of the reading life.  I bet Balzac would have been greatly honored to have her translate his works.


Mel u

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