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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Honorine by Honore de Balzac (1843, trans. By Clara Bell -A Novella - A Component of The Comedie Humaine)

"“A strong light casts a deep shadow, and a childish weakness that would pass unnoticed in a normal person, or would be met with a sympathetic smile, cannot but appear grotesque in the case of a man whose knowledge of the world and its ways can only be compared with that of Shakespeare” - from Balzac by Stefan Zweig 

Many book bloggers I follow could read the full Comedy in under three months.  I am near the midpoint.  I do suggest reading the full work as a tremendously worthwhile reading life experience. It will provide a panoramic look at French society from 1830 to 1845 or so and a great grounding in the history of world literature. 

"We can have as many Balzacs as we like; what we cannot really want is the entire absence of any sort of Balzac, and Barthes, in spite of his polemical flourishes, is not asking us to want it. If there is no imputable direction to a text, no chance of an encounter with a mind other than ours, we cannot read, we can only make private mental doodles on the script in front of us. Even when we assume a mind in the text, we can of course read wrongly; we can get lost. But if there is no imaginable mind in question, no set of needs or specified context, we can't even read wrongly. Or: we might be able to read in a very modest, functional sense, to unscramble a basic meaning, but not be able to act on it or take the meaning any further."

- Michael Wood, The Magician's Doubts

In the 19th century novelists of the highest status often used a device now looked down upon, the story within a story where one character tells a story, often to people he barely knows about a past experience in the teller's life.  Often this might be on a train or in tavern or at a party and the story might take hours.  Literary critics and theorists pretty much look down on this narrative method and it is seen by many as kind of a lazy way to narrate a story.  I think if we ponder a bit Michael Wood's remark on the many voices of Balzac and the difficulty of saying precisely who is speaking in Honerine we can see that this in the hands of a master liike Balzac is not a simple minded device.  

The story is narrated by a French counsel officer serving in an Italian town on the Mederatanian Sea. He is married to the daughter of the only wealthy man in the city.  Balzac generalizes about Italian women versus French, hardly politically correct but a lot of fun to read now.  In fact he starts the work by telling us the English love to travel because England is such a dreary place!  I laughed so much over this.  

At a social event he begins to tells his life story.  His parents passed living him with little money in the care of his uncle, a priest.  The uncle introduced the boy, after he studies law, to a very affluent count
hoping the man will take him on as a protege, the uncle getting on in years.  The account of his involvement with the count is very interesting and well done.  Balzac of course describes well the palatial home in which the mysterious,of course, count lives.  The young man lives there and eventually becomes like a son to the count.  The count, in his late thirties keeps totally to himself but the man senses something troubles him.  Then the first narrator begins to relay the life story of the count.  Of course it involves love gone wrong.  From this we branch into a tale narrated by the wife of the count, who left him long ago for another man.  Now the story gets complicated.  I don't want to spoil it but we go into another tale of obsessive love and high drama that does stretch credibility a trifle.

What we really have in terms of the rhetoric of fiction is one man assuming the identities of several other persons while telling us an indirect narrative.  It is if one voice is split into four or five, there is really only one central character and we see the various tales through his eyes.  We don't try to assume we are encountering a mind in this narrative directing it all we are not really reading it. There is no reason to assume the various narrators are fully perceptive.  

Honorine is half first rate Balzac, half formula Balzac which is enough to make it a very good work.


I have now begun reading Beatrice.

Mel u

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