Monday, November 26, 2007

Lost Illusions by Honore de Balzac

Lost Illusions by Balzac is one of the most famous novels out of the ninety two he wrote in his lifetime and maybe also among a million his admirers have written in 175 years since his first novel was published.

Balzac choses Lucien as a romantic, good-looking dreamy poet. We are first thrust into his provincial life, with details about his ordinary life and extraordinary ambitions that he has no means of realizing. Except patronage by an older woman! She leads him to Paris, only to abandon him to fight his way into the high society. How Lucien rises and falls in the glamorous, amorous, corrupt and vicious life as a journalist in Paris is picturized through a narrative that is bathed in realism, and yet proceeds through both suspense and wit, in the spirit of the pace at which Balzac could conjure up such novels.

In the provinces, Lucien has a friend, David, who likewise is somewhat lacking in social and economic acumen, and is a hard working inventor. David own father ruins him by extracting an unreasonable price for the printing press that he leaves or sells to his own son. Crafty competitors take advantage of David's credulous character. David endures both provincial small mindedness and economic setbacks suffered to keep Lucien afloat. Balzac displays his knowledge of these disparate characters with remarkable attention to detail. He weaves an undercurrent, of what could have passes as a dissertation, on the art and science of paper making.

Balzac creates in his one book, a saga that unravels friendship, love, jealousy, lust, ambition, vanity, greed and absurdity that lurk in our beings and in our relationships. By using two main pillars, Lucien and David, Balzac erects a bridge into the two worlds of poetry and science. He shuns hint of any romance of either worlds, and shows how much character, how many hardships and set-backs, how much devotion and labor are required for a man to become a known poet or a scientist.

I am quoting an example from this translation (carried out by Katharine Prescott Wormeley):

"No one can be a great man cheaply," said d'Arthez in his gentle voice. "Genius waters her work with tears.Talent is a moral being which, like all other beings, is subject to the maladies of childhood. Society rejects undeveloped talent just as nature removes her feeble or deformed creations. Whoever wishes to rise above his fellows must be prepared to struggle, and not recoil at difficulty. A great writer is a martyr who does not die - that's the whole of it!"

Besides the two pillars, the book has an interesting array of characters. Actresses, society women, editors and publishers, lawyers, struggling writers, dandies - all appear with their human failings and foibles as part of a drama that unfolds with an enrapturing narrative. Be it history, economics, alchemy, or psychology, or any topic under the sun, Balzac ushers in his great knowledge, suspending and supporting the story with able and apt pointers, tresses and metaphors.

Balzac's Lost Illusions is undoubtedly a classic everyone can enjoy and must read at some point in their lives. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

Physical Therapy Supplies said...

Nice post. Interesting blog.