balzac - old goriot - classic or dud?

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known to les francais(es) as "pere goriot" (i.e. "papa goriot")

i have never read ANY of this guy before and well, i kinda understand now why everyone says he's so great! it's incredible to me that such an old book, from such a different milieu than mine, can seem 90% fresh and recognizeable in its characters' thoughts, hesitations, motivations

his gift for physical description is remarkable

and the way he lets even his villains make the best possible argument they can really makes it strong - each character i think "ah! now balzac's REALLY telling us what he thinks" and then you realize that characters a total 4sshole

however, i was talking to someone last night that i really respect and he says he doesn't believe a word balzac says

what say you?

Tracer Hand, Thursday, 17 April 2008 16:27 (fifteen years ago) link

Yeah, "Pere Goriot" really blew me away with its evocation of a whole milieu. Paris in the early 19th century - its classes, culture, morals, manners, fashion - really seep out of every page. Balzac also has a kind of detachment from his characters which is fascinating - he brings them to life, but lets them succumb to their own foibles, or the hands of impersonal fate, or occasionally triumph - all with a knowing eye that's seen to much of life to be surprised by anything. It's also interesting how almost everyone has an angle - his pages are peopled with ambitious social climbers. "Cousin Bette" was also fascinating. I need to remind myself to read more Balzac.

o. nate, Thursday, 17 April 2008 17:12 (fifteen years ago) link

I've only read a few of his novellas and short stories, but they were great. I also want to read 'Lost Illusions', about social climbers/backstabbers in the literary world.

James Morrison, Thursday, 17 April 2008 23:00 (fifteen years ago) link

anybody who likes Balzac should go see "The Last Mistress" if you can - with Asia Argento mmmmm - for a visual and textural immersion in exactly the kind of society Balzac depicts, and actually many of the same things happen - supposedly good friends delighting in causing a scandal; the warring of people in love; the dangers of opening one's heart; the politics of seeing and being seen; the insanity and inanity of duels; the theatre of "proper" behavior; the function of gossip

Tracer Hand, Friday, 18 April 2008 10:03 (fifteen years ago) link

And Rivette's "Don't Touch The Axe", a very proper adaptation of a Balzac novella that I must get round to reading.

xyzzzz__, Saturday, 19 April 2008 11:37 (fifteen years ago) link

almost at the end of this - the speeches go on a bit too long to be realistic but jesus what an epic tale of selfishness and treachery

Tracer Hand, Thursday, 24 April 2008 14:14 (fifteen years ago) link

balzac = marx's favourite novelist (tho his favourite novel was tristram shandy)

mark s, Thursday, 24 April 2008 14:18 (fifteen years ago) link

balzac = marx's favourite novelist

I could see that, since class often seems to be destiny in Balzac - would have sat well with Marx's view of history.

o. nate, Thursday, 24 April 2008 17:29 (fifteen years ago) link

but i think he also liked em bcz they were gossipy and ruthlessly veil-lifty ("behind every fortune lies a great crime" etc)

mark s, Thursday, 24 April 2008 17:55 (fifteen years ago) link

Yeah, I guess he would have liked the fact that Balzac undercuts the bourgeois prejudice that says that the privileged classes are where they are because of moral superiority.

o. nate, Friday, 25 April 2008 15:52 (fifteen years ago) link

and the fact that his name sounds like "ball sack"

s1ocki, Friday, 25 April 2008 18:34 (fifteen years ago) link

five months pass...

if a book club was going to read some ballsack, what would be the easiest/most fun?

Jordan, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 17:59 (fifteen years ago) link

Cousin Bette is marvelous fun; he's as good with the devastating caricature as Dickens. Lost Illusions and its sequel A Harlot High and Low offer a terrific view of pre-Second Empire France, from the high and low.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 18:01 (fifteen years ago) link

Balzac is never a hard read. I'm no expert, but maybe the short, The Unknown Masterpiece, would be a good place to start? There's a nice, recent edition from nyrb

Jeff LeVine, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 18:21 (fifteen years ago) link

Ooh, that's a good one.

James Morrison, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 23:29 (fifteen years ago) link

alfred i'm going to search for those in my local (i.e. tiny selection) bookshop

Tracer Hand, Thursday, 2 October 2008 10:10 (fifteen years ago) link

if i'm going to read either cousin bette or lost illusions, which one should it be?

Jordan, Friday, 3 October 2008 15:03 (fifteen years ago) link

Both get out of the gate fairly quickly. Cousin Bette is meaner.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Friday, 3 October 2008 15:08 (fifteen years ago) link

five months pass...

this book rules

cool app (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Monday, 16 March 2009 22:32 (fourteen years ago) link

too bad there's some blurb on the back by stefan zweig because now I see dude's books as just ripoffs of balzac's shit

cool app (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Monday, 16 March 2009 22:33 (fourteen years ago) link

Balzac rules and Père Goriot is really good. I don't think I've ever been disappointed by one of his books and I've read quite a few. I remember in school most of my friends who didn't like reading still being able to enjoy his novels. Also, almost every time I read one of his books I feel the urge to read everything he's written ... and then I realise how that amounts to a shit load of books and kind of let go. Actually, I think I'm gonna read another one of his as soon as I'm done with my current book.

As for Zweig, has anyone read his biography of Balzac and is it worth it? I think I have it somewhere at home and I guess I should read it.

Jibe, Thursday, 26 March 2009 11:07 (fourteen years ago) link

one year passes...

Happy Birthday Balzac! (actually it was last night)

also, Zweig's bio on Balzac is grate!

The masses have spoken: more zombie Roy Orbison! (Drugs A. Money), Friday, 21 May 2010 04:31 (thirteen years ago) link

balzac is the #1 reason why I regret never pursuing french after high school seriously

Face Book (dyao), Friday, 21 May 2010 04:44 (thirteen years ago) link

this is one of my favorite books in the world

Guns, Computer, The Internet (harbl), Friday, 21 May 2010 10:29 (thirteen years ago) link

what is "this"?

The masses have spoken: more zombie Roy Orbison! (Drugs A. Money), Tuesday, 25 May 2010 03:42 (thirteen years ago) link

the book in the thread title?

harbl, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 10:42 (thirteen years ago) link


The masses have spoken: more zombie Roy Orbison! (Drugs A. Money), Wednesday, 26 May 2010 13:17 (thirteen years ago) link

two years pass...

Claims and counterclaims over the interpretation of words came during closing submissions to chief magistrate Howard Riddle as the trial neared its end. At one point Riddle referenced a French novelist to point out that the argument was about the use of everyday language: "We're not talking about Balzac."

At another point, the defence claimed Terry may have misheard or misinterpreted what he thought Ferdinand had said as he made a fist pump gesture on the pitch, taunting Terry over an alleged affair with former team-mate Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend.

nakhchivan, Friday, 13 July 2012 12:31 (eleven years ago) link

What's the consensus Balzac to read after Goriot and Lost Illusions?

Lewis Apparition (Jon Lewis), Friday, 13 July 2012 16:52 (eleven years ago) link

cousin bette, i imagine.

jed_, Friday, 13 July 2012 16:57 (eleven years ago) link

I recommend The Marriage Contract, too

Ówen P., Friday, 13 July 2012 17:11 (eleven years ago) link

Any opinions re: his secret society one? (Cannot recall title...The Thirteen or somesuch?)

Lewis Apparition (Jon Lewis), Friday, 13 July 2012 17:13 (eleven years ago) link

I haven't read any of the others. When I got a Kindle I got Tolstoy and Balzac bundles, Kindle shattered halfway through "The Devil"

Ówen P., Friday, 13 July 2012 17:21 (eleven years ago) link

*crosses self, spits over left shoulder*

Lewis Apparition (Jon Lewis), Friday, 13 July 2012 17:25 (eleven years ago) link

Eugenie Grandet is a favorite.

I read the last part of The Thirteen, The Girl with the Golden Eyes, a while ago; not quite enough loopy Grand Guignol to make up for the overall thinness. A lot of Balzac just kind of sits there as a catalog of his preoccupations without building into anything more; which can be fascinating or boring depending on your own interests.

bentelec, Friday, 13 July 2012 18:44 (eleven years ago) link

^ makes me wonder if any of his novels turn into full-on cookbooks or biology textbooks, probably not though

Ówen P., Friday, 13 July 2012 18:57 (eleven years ago) link

Splendeurs et miseres des courtisanes is great

buzza, Friday, 13 July 2012 19:21 (eleven years ago) link


Et tant pis pour Byzance puisque que j´ai vu Pigalle (Michael White), Friday, 13 July 2012 19:44 (eleven years ago) link

Still far prefer Zola

Et tant pis pour Byzance puisque que j´ai vu Pigalle (Michael White), Friday, 13 July 2012 19:44 (eleven years ago) link

this is a good one

the late great, Friday, 13 July 2012 19:50 (eleven years ago) link

can't believe he wrote like fifty of these comedie humaine books

i got nothing to add except you really can't go wrong with pere goriot, cousin bette and lost illusions

the late great, Friday, 13 July 2012 19:50 (eleven years ago) link

Yes agree and I also love Zola

buzza, Friday, 13 July 2012 19:53 (eleven years ago) link

I really like and would recommend Colonel Chabert.

boxall, Friday, 13 July 2012 20:47 (eleven years ago) link

also be sure not to say "cousin bette", always say KOOOZAN BET

the late great, Friday, 13 July 2012 20:48 (eleven years ago) link

two months pass...

Splendeurs et miseres des courtisanes is great

― buzza, Friday, July 13, 2012 3:21 PM (2 months ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

am reading this right now. not bad. i am not thrilled with the translation which I feel is a bit more, hmmm, opaque?, than the translation I read for Lost Illusions

alpha flighticles (Drugs A. Money), Monday, 1 October 2012 02:29 (eleven years ago) link

nine years pass...

So the film of LOST ILLUSIONS

Jimmy Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne Mary-Anne (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 14 June 2022 23:22 (one year ago) link

It's very readable in English, at least until he gets to the part where Goriot dies. His expiration is ludicrously prolonged.

I do enjoy Balzac's cynicism.

immodesty blaise (jimbeaux), Tuesday, 14 June 2022 23:25 (one year ago) link

Need to read more of him. Think I picked up a few from charity shops over last few years.
Do remember enjoying him a few decades back when i found his work in the library. Found de Maupassant at around the same time who is also good. But I may only be linking them cos they're both French writers from a while back.

Stevolende, Wednesday, 15 June 2022 10:09 (one year ago) link

I have at least A Harlot High & Low floating around teh flat. Think there may be others but don't have things organised. I'm seeing reviews saying that is a great novel now that I'm looking it up. I just know its by this guy whose name i know and wonder where it was I initially picked up the idea he was worth reading, possibly cited as an influence on Dylan or Kerouac or something. I did read at least part of Old Goriot but again may have been trying to read too many things at the same time.
So now need to read that harlot book . & see what else I have around.

Stevolende, Wednesday, 15 June 2022 10:31 (one year ago) link

Reread Pere Goriot last month. After the overstuffed start -- radical at the time -- it really gets going.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 15 June 2022 11:42 (one year ago) link

the short story sarrasine thru the lens of barthes' S/Z is grebt (also nutso)

mark s, Wednesday, 15 June 2022 12:11 (one year ago) link

Can’t remember if I’ve ever read a single thing, but really liked the film of LOST ILLUSIONS which recently opened here, so maybe it’s time.

Jimmy Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne Mary-Anne (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 15 June 2022 16:47 (one year ago) link

one month passes...

Did not know this translation existed

xyzzzz__, Friday, 15 July 2022 22:58 (one year ago) link

i have that version & haven't read it. I got scared off by the introduction that called it not some of Balzac's best.

adam t. (abanana), Tuesday, 19 July 2022 14:18 (one year ago) link

adam t. (abanana), Tuesday, 19 July 2022 14:22 (one year ago) link

the history of the thirteen is the basis for jacques rivette's out 1: noli me tangere (running time: 12 hr, 55 min)

so i shd read it and watch the movie for a second time

mark s, Tuesday, 19 July 2022 14:30 (one year ago) link

I love out 1 and assumed the source was never translated.

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 19 July 2022 15:13 (one year ago) link

basis is doing a lot of work there. the overt balzac talk, and idea of a secret society is about it. even in the stories 'the thirteen' themselves only figure very loosely. worth pointing out that rivette did do a fantastic straight adaptation of one of the stories: 'duchess de langlois'

devvvine, Tuesday, 19 July 2022 15:13 (one year ago) link

think i read the ellen marriage trans of the history of thirteen so cant speak to the one upthread; but would agree that its not peak honore

big rec for the black sheep which is my fav of course the long novels

devvvine, Tuesday, 19 July 2022 15:17 (one year ago) link

one year passes...

Started "The Quest for the Absolute". There is a genius for description of rooms here that an AI would struggle to compete with. You can really feel him having so much fun with his power.

That can also provoke some frustration. You feel this could be half of the length (even in a short book like this) but the material is so good.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 29 September 2023 10:01 (two months ago) link

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