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

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Melmouth Reconciled" by Honore de Balzac (1835, A Short Story, A Component of The Human Comedy)

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Melmouth the Wanderer, published in 1820 by Charles Maturin (Dublin, 1782 to 1824) was a once very influential Gothic novel centering on a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for 150 extra  years of life.  He wandered the earth in search of someone willing to take over this pact.  Balzac considered Melmouth the Wanderer the equal of Goethe's Faust or Don Juan by Lord Byron.

"Melmouth Reconciled" is an odd kind of story with mixed elements.  Parts of it are suberb, parts formula Balzac.  Part of the story centers on a retired French army colonel.  He is an habitué of Paris street prostitues.  He is not at all a bad man.  One of the strengths of Balzac is his ability to create sympathetic and interesting  imperfect people.  My guess is that Balzac was probably well acquainted with Prostituion in Paris, and not just an observer.  One day the colonel gets tired of the risk and the crapshoot side of picking up girls on the street and sees a young girl he wishes to save from the life.

"But on the brink of the gulf of prostitution in Paris, the young girl of sixteen, beautiful and pure as the Madonna, had met with Castanier. The old dragoon was too rough and homely to make his way in society, and he was tired of tramping the boulevard at night and of the kind of conquests made there by gold. For some time past he had desired to bring a certain regularity into an irregular life. He was struck by the beauty of the poor child who had drifted by chance into his arms, and his determination to rescue her from the life of the streets was half benevolent, half selfish, as some of the thoughts of the best of men are apt to be."

He soon takes up housekeeping with the girl.  She becomes used to a comfortable life style and begins to put a serious overload on Castanier's pension.  Things get worse when she finds out he is married.  Now the storyline connects to Melmouth, who in this story is English.  He gets himself in terrible financial shape speculating on stocks and such and he meets a sinister man who offers to solve all his problems, for a slight price, of course.  He is facing prison for embezzlement so he is desperate.  I thought Balzac did a great job portraying the sinister Melmouth.

"Melmouth the Wanderer" is worth reading as a stand alone work.  It is "pure Balzac".

Mel u

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