A good challenge for any reader is to complete the large number of stories and novels by Honoré de Balzac known collectively as La Comédie humaine. If you’re interested in good writing (unfortunately, not always so good but for the most part excellent), the history of the development of fiction and the novel, or especially in a vivid and detailed depiction of life in France in the early 19th century, then La Comédie humane is for you.
For the last few years I was involved in a group read of all of Balzac’s works (and he was prolific) but ran out of steam toward the end. So now I’m gradually filling in the gaps. My latest read was the novel, A Daughter of Eve. This one was a fun read and I recommend it even if you don’t intend to read the complete Comédie.
A Daughter of Eve actually presents a fairly common narrative: the ambitious young man who has an affair with the wife of a count and uses both her and his actress girl-friend to financially support his rise to literary and journalistic success. Needless to say, the count sees and understands all the intrigue and saves the day for both his wife and her suitor. In disguise (from a mask ball) the count takes his wife and the actress girl friend to retrieve the wife’s love letters. The actress doesn’t think they exist but when the young man’s portfolio is sliced open, the letters fall out.
Now Balzac in his inimitable style focuses on an small reality of his times with this delightful observation (made by the actress when reading the letters):
“Yes, she must be a well-bred woman. It looks to me as if there were no mistakes in spelling here.”
So the difference between a well-bred woman and an actress (not an esteemed profession) is a few spelling errors? I couldn’t help laughing and if truth be told, I was forced to take remedial English in college, solely because of spelling errors. I must have been morally corrupt but it was the sixties and moral corruption was called free love back then and I survived without too much condemnation.
(Of course, when Ronald Reagan was elected governor I had to flee the state … the rest, as they say, is history).
Read Balzac! But also read Emile Zola and Gustave Flaubert and don’t forget Georges Sand.