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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"The Great Breteche" by Honore de Balzac (1830). Clifton Fadiman on Balzac

I first heard, I am almost certain, of Honore de Balzac in The Life Time Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman (1960).   I might have been twelve or so, I had no one to guide me into the reading life, no conceptions of classics and Fadiman became my guru.  He says in his introduction his book is not for scholars (which he says are often well  read only in their narrow field) or the very well read but for me it was a wonder.  The great books of the world listed with concise introductions that made me want to read them.  In his introduction Fadiman gave a lot of good advice, one was if a classic work does not resound with you, put it down and come back to it in a few years.  He says the very well read would quibble with his selections and that writers have their ups and downs in fashion.   I would include some Japanese and Indian works, and not just to be politically correct.  

In his chapter on Balzac he lists two novels, both in The Human Comedy, as elements of the life time reading plan. The books are Pére Gioriot and Eugénie Grandet.  I think I have now read  the major Balzac novels and Fadiman's recommendations seem spot on.  He says "no other novelist before him understood the world of money as did Balzac".   He then repeats what seems a common place error, that The Human Comedy consists of some 100  books.  Fadiman can be excused  his error more than modern writers as he could not easily for $2.95 download the full Comedie Humaine and see what really constitutes the work.  Fadiman says, in 1960 as of 2014 I have no clue, that Balzac is not much read in America.  This is possibly because potential readers felt overwhelmed by what they were told about the size of the collection.  Here are the facts.

25 short Stories

25 novellas

41 Novels. (At most ten novels are more than 500 pages)

(The line between novella and novel is not rigid but this is close enough).  

Many book bloggers could read through the full Comedy in under three months.  

"The Grand Breteche" (a short story component of The Human Comedy, translated by Ellen Marriage and Clara Bell) is set at the same party as is "Another Study of a Woman".  Balzac, as did many writers of his era, often used as his narrative method one person telling a story to another.  "The Grand Breteche" is a great Gothic style horror story that could have inspired the great Irish master of the form, French Hugenot descended Sheridan Le Fanu. ( I admit I did not know what a "Breteche" was so in case I am not the only one so ill educated here is a picture- it is important to the story to be able to visualize this.)

In fact the story is structured as one person telling a group of people a story a Notary (an important individual at the time who preformed numerous level services involving wills and bequests) had told him.  The story of the notary is in part the retelling of a story of one of his contacts.  The first teller was, just for curiosity, wandering around an old castle abandoned for decades.  He runs into the narrator who very politely tells him he is on private property which the owner has denied all access.  He wants to know why so the notary tells him a story.  It centers on a married couple, infidelity, and a terrible revenge with servants paid for silence.  I really don't want to spoil the ending.  This is a really fun story you can read just for enjoyment.  

It can be easily found online.


Mel u

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