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

Friday, March 27, 2015

"The Unknown Masterpiece" by Honore de Balzac (1831, A Short Story Component of The Human Comedy)

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"An Unknown Masterpiece" centers on a neophyte painter visiting the studio of a master artist.  In it are the deepest reflections I have yet found in Balzac about the nature of art.  Balzac clearly thought very deeply on theoretical questions about the nature of art.  The narrator of the story may have meant only the visual arts but I had to apply what was said to Balzac's fiction.  As I read more of and about Balzac I see a man driven at times to write as fast as he could, not just for the money he badly needed but by his inner demons.  I also see an artist of supreme talent who shaped the direction of the novel throughout the world.  

The conversations in "An Unknown Masterpiece" of the master painter show the intermingling of artistic creativity with sexuality. In Balzac's pre-camera era, painters of portraits could become super stars.  The master painter sees the portrait of a partially clad beautiful woman as seemingly almost sexually magnetic.  Pushed it seems there is a sexual element to creativity in Balzac's mind.  "The Unknown Masterpiece" very much depicts a male dominated theory of creativity.  The idea of a woman painter reacting to her work as the male painter does simply would not work.  We also have the deep rooted conflation of beautiful women with goodness.  I have talked about issues related to beauty in women as perceived by Balzac before and maybe I will again.

According to my post read research, this story influenced Picasso, Cezzane and new wave film directors in the 1930s.  

I have not yet included a mini bio of Balzac so here one is:

Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), one of the greatest and most influential of novelists, was born in Tours and educated at the Collège de Vendôme and the Sorbonne. He began his career as a pseudonymous writer of sensational potboilers before achieving success with a historical novel, The Chouans. Balzac then conceived his great work, La Comédie humaine, an ongoing series of novels in which he set out to offer a complete picture of contemporary society and manners. Always working under an extraordinary burden of debt, Balzac wrote some eighty-five novels in the course of his last twenty years, including such masterpieces as Père GoriotEugénie GrandetLost Illusions, and Cousin Bette. In 1850, he married Eveline Hanska, a rich Polish woman with whom he had long conducted an intimate correspondence. Three months later he died. In addition to the present collection, NYRB Classics publishes a translation of Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece and Gambara. -from the webpage of The New York Review of Books

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