Honoré de Balzac

Discussion in 'Literary Fiction' started by Bick, Mar 26, 2015.

  1. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    Great anecdote. You've doubtless read many more than I have and I second Extollager in hoping you pass on more thoughts on Balzac as you rediscover some of these books!
     
  2. GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    I was not aware Penguin had published that title before. They have just published a reprint in the UK and will be releasing it here next month. Is the translator Douglas Adamson? Penguin seem to be on a bit of a Balzac drive at the moment....interesting.
     
  3. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    If you do write an extended version of those reminiscences, I hope you will make sure everyone here who would relish it is aware of where to find it here.
     
  4. Allegra

    Allegra Well-Known Member

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    Oh I thought you meant that it would be fun (for me) to reread those books which would be like (for me) to extend the version of my recollection of those books! :D

    Well, at that time Balzac's books, like Alexandre Dumas's, were easier to our 11-13 year-old mind. Those Russian ones and Victor Hugo's were the heavy stuff, might have indeed caused us some degree of indigestion nevertheless we shrugged and pushed on. Now think about it, how much did we absorb? Not much, just fun. But we seriously shed some tears over Jane Eyre, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Gadfly. We also smuggled books out of the house to read in the classroom under the desk and swap with schoolmates, not even once I was discovered by teachers or betrayed by classmates, though my sister wasn't so lucky. I remember once I was discussing with a couple of friends at a school event about some tragic romantic storylines (Anna Karenina?) that we just read and a teacher who had an angel-like pleasant round face who's always smiling overheard us, she asked us, with a surprised smile: "How come you girls seem to know so much about grown-ups feelings?" We sort of looked at each other, like: shouldn't we? Sadly, once we were old enough to have free access to my parents bookcases, we lost interest, naturally.

    So yes, the magic name Balzac links directly to my long past childhood. It's about time to refresh! Starting from Balzac I really should be reading and rereading classics, it's a must. Just found many titles of Balzac here:
    http://www.online-literature.com/honore_de_balzac/
    I like this site more than Gutenberg. Not sure why Cousin Pons and Cousin Bette are listed under short stories, they are certainly not that short even by today's standard?
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2015
  5. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Allegra, I'm sure I and others would enjoy reading what you have to say about Balzac -- whom I haven't read yet (except for "La Grande Bretèche" in an anthology), but expect to start within a few days. But I enjoy reading accounts of youngsters exploring classic literary works, especially on their own. My wife and I have four children, all grown now, and I remember how two of my daughters took to classics from about age ten on. There wasn't the element of surreptitiousness that you mention, in their experience (unless they were reading things I still don't know about!). But it was delightful to see how they took to these things so early, without coercion; they wanted to read them. My memory is that my oldest daughter (27 now) tackled Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White as her first big book for grownups. She'd have been ten or eleven or thereabouts. After that, it wasn't long before she was reading War and Peace on her own. My wife and I didn't make a big deal about it as if she were doing something prodigious, which I think would have been discouraging to her. Once a youngster has read The Woman in White or the like, she knows that "classic" can mean "enjoyment" -- something I wish more youngsters got to discover for themselves, as you and your sister did.

    Conversely, being pushed to read classic works can put people off them for much of their lives. My youthful best friend was, as I recall, pushed by his mother to read Dickens. So, of course, he shunned Dickens.... only many years later to find that he liked Dickens for reading aloud, etc.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2015
  6. Allegra

    Allegra Well-Known Member

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    Good parenting, Extollager! Nowadays it's hard for children not to get distracted by all sort of digital games and toys, even if they do have the access to classic literature. Reading Harry Potter will be a good bet. It'll mostly depend on whether later on in life they will discover and fall in love with it, like your best friend did. The same goes with classical music which is really the greatest art creations of mankind in my opinion, unfortunately not many people were exposed or had the access to it when they were kids, so they grew up with pop music - not that I have anything against it, but unless they somehow discovered classical music, they would miss it entirely. Well I'm off topic now.

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on Balzac, Extollager. I think I'll start rereading Eugenie Grandet first.
     
  7. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    Allegra - as in the P.G. Wodehouse thread, you've surfaced as a real fan of an author I've 'discovered' for myself and subsequently set up a thread on! It seems we must have similar reading tastes outside SFF, so I'm now 'following' you... Who are your top 5 authors in SFF, and non-genre? Perhaps I should investigate your other favourite authors as well, or at least compare notes.
     
  8. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I remember that, when I was much younger than I am now, Allegra, I had a few fugitive moments of hearing bits of classical music, and liked it without knowing what it was. There are a few seconds of Bach in the Beatles' Yellow Submarine cartoon movie, for example, the whole of which, as aired on TV, I taped on my little cassette recorder, by holding the microphone up to the tv or placing it nearby. (People of A Certain Age will probably remember having done that sort of thing.) I liked that bit of Bach even though, at the time, I presumably thought it was just part of the soundtrack music, not a sample from a famous Bach Air.

    My first Balzac will probably be The Black Sheep, an interlibrary loan copy of which should appear soon.
     
  9. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    The 12th greatest novel of all time, so the Guardian newspaper informed us in 2003! Not the 11th or 13th, mind you, definitely the 12th. ;)
     
  10. GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Hi Bick.

    Sorry to push this but I recently asked you "I was not aware Penguin had published Ursule Mirouet before. They have just published a reprint in the UK and will be releasing it here next month. Is the translator Douglas Adamson?"

    I'm keen to know if you have the reprint or the older version and if Adamson was involved in both.

    Thank you.
     
  11. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    My apologies, Gollum - I completely forgot that post, my mistake. The translation is by Donald Adamson, copyright 1976. Is that the same translation as is being reprinted?
     
  12. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    Also on Adamson - he translated the black classics version of The Black Sheep that I read, also (copyright 1970).

    On the subject of Penguin black classic editions of other Balzac novels in the past no longer available - they also published Cesar Birotteau a couple of decades ago which I hope to source as well. Not sure who translated that though.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2015
  13. GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes the same as far as I know. They will probably add additional ancillary notes to the newer edition, they often do. Thanks.

    As per my other comment Penguin seem to be pushing Balzac a bit of late as per the reissues. Reading some academic commentary it appears that Balzac had a bit of a lapse in popularity in the 70's and 80's but more recently in say the last decade he has picked up again. As you would be aware Balzac got fairly hammered by some critics both during and after his death, a legacy that he has suffered from I think to this day. Interestingly speaking to my father recently who is French Swiss and who studied Balzac at the Teacher's college in the late 40's early 50's told me he was never seen as one of the superstars of French fiction by the professors teaching there.
     
  14. Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    Yes it's interesting his work is undergoing a bit of revival. It's hard for me to judge as I'm new to his work myself. I first thought about reading his work when I read a quote from Old Goriot used in the frontispiece in Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance". This made me look up Balzac and kindled some interest. I have no academic knowledge of him (or other classic French writers to be honest) so I'm only peripherally aware that he received a lot of negative criticism in times past. I find the background interesting though, so thanks for bringing it up. Sometimes I feel a bit of a Philistine, as my literary knowledge and any depth of appreciation is self taught. I should perhaps read some biographies or critical essays of the authors I find I like!
     
  15. GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Weell..I'm not exactly an expert either....:)

    What I have found is that you can really go into a deep analysis of things or simply enjoy a book for what it is..entertainment first and foremost as well as being perhaps informative. I admit I have taken an interest in various critical analyses of particular authors and literary movements I like and it does provide you with a lot greater insight but it really depends upon how much time you want to invest in something like that. Take it from me it can literally consume all of your time to the point of obsession, which is not necessarily healthy.

    If you like you can always message me and I can provide you with some recommendations on that front.

    Cheers and thanks for the chat.
     
  16. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Bick, you wrote, "Sometimes I feel a bit of a Philistine, as my literary knowledge and any depth of appreciation is self taught. I should perhaps read some biographies or critical essays of the authors I find I like!"

    To anyone who is considering such collateral reading, I would say that you may do well to avoid a great deal of the critical work published since the 1970s or so, because so much of what's been published since betrays an obsession with race, class, "gender," and the employment of jargon. Freudian psychoanalysis is dead, except in university literary departments, etc. (see Frederick Crews's Skeptical Engagements, Oxford UP), where Lacan is influential. Here is a link to an award-winning essay on King Lear. It seems to me something of a travesty, but if you like it you might be quite happy with much academic criticism of the past 30 years or so.

    http://www.english.org/sigmatd/pdf/publications/Review14.pdf

    As an English professor in a small state university, I make a point of advising my students away from grad school in English because of such stuff. The corruption seems to be fathomless. If they are going to go, the students should take off at least a year to read widely and deeply in the literary masterpieces. This should be delightful (if English is really for them), and, thus equipped, they would be better prepared, if they go to grad school, to recognize occasional flare-ups of worthwhile insights in their theory-pervaded reading then, and also to recognize how rubbishy a lot of it is. A have a colleague who has evidently had the by now traditional indoctrination in theory and I have wondered if literature has happened for her. First, has she read very many of the perennial books, but second has she really been initiated into the love of literature?

    As I said (approximately) to one of my brighter students years ago, thinking of the kind of environment universities have become: "So you now love a good book? Welcome to the underground." It is one thing to love good books, to read and reread them ever more perceptively and to experience imaginative formation; it's another to become an adapt deployer of "critical lenses" who has assimilated (rather, been assimilated by) a very familiar type of academic left-wing politics. I emphasize works from various lists of canonical books. I used to mention this to that colleague, who more than once responded not with affection for Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dante, Dickens, Dostoevsky, but with remarks about teaching the patriarchal influence on the canon or something like that. This reminds me strongly of the attitude of a hypothetical old American businessman, let's say, to Europe. He stands before some glorious, intricate cathedral, glances at a statue here, a tower there, notices how big the thing is, and muses, "Yeah, you know the Cathlic Church used to scare the poor peasants into giving their money to build these old churches." The beauty, the fascination, the capacity of the church to feed and elevate the imagination -- these remain unknown to him. He gets his picture taken by the cathedral but brings from the experience little that he didn't already think......

    I teach a Shakespeare class. Mostly, I think it's good for the students to read as many of the plays as they can manage in the semester. Reading the works themselves, whether Shakespeare or someone else, is almost always a better investment of time than reading commentary, except if there is a need to clear away misleading assumptions. If they are going to read something other than Shakespeare in a Shakespeare course, it might well be a short book about the intellectual background (such as Tillyard's Elizabethan World-Picture) or the way the plays were written and performed (such as S. L. Bethell's very fine Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition, which can be read in a couple of days). The students would do well to read standard, and readable, critical commentary such as Dover Wilson, J. Wilson Knight, Derek Traversi, E. E. Stoll, and even good old A. C. Bradley (who is now in black Penguin Classics!) before they ever attempt the raceclassandgender mavens. And if they are going to read them, they ought to be equipped with Brian Vicker's Appropriating Shakespeare and Tom McAlindon's Shakespeare Minus "Theory."

    As for Balzac... does one need more than the intro in one's old Penguin Classic? If that?

    Bick, your "self-taught" appreciation is probably a much better grounding in genuine literary knowledge and enjoyment than the rubbish emitted by most academic folks in recent times.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2015
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  17. Allegra

    Allegra Well-Known Member

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    Bick, your Wodehouse thread provided a cosy place for us to chat about the humour master, and if not for this thread I may never reopen the Balzac chapter. So I should be 'following' you to see what's the next that will strike a chord with me!

    Since I'm not a consistent reader of the genre and find very little time to read in general plus being a slow reader (unless the books were stolen ;)), I am forever lagging behind you guys. So I can only name a few dear old ones:

    Genre authors: Iain M Banks, Kurt Vonnegut, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, (The 5th yet to be discovered). Can't think of more SFF authors I read a lot and can be called a devotee. Some I read a few and liked but stopped reading more for one reason or another, such as Lovecraft, China Meiville, Philip K Dick, G R R Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb.

    Non genre's: Wodehouse, Dickens, Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins (I started reading him much, much later than your daughter, Extollager), the marvellous travel book author Bill Bryson, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón (I am a big fan of his The Cemetery of Forgotten Series books, equally excellent is his translator Lucia Graves - my Spanish is limited to 'Hola' and 'Adiós' so my judgement is solely based on if the book reads like it's written - and very well written in the translated language.
     
  18. Allegra

    Allegra Well-Known Member

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    Extollager, you are not the only one who discovered classical music through soundtracks. Some people followed up and dug more into that massive gold mine and eventually converted to serious listeners and some remained borderline listeners but enjoy it nonetheless. I know a person who started listening to Bach after watching the scene Dr Lecter listening to The Goldberg Variations in the film The Silence of The Lambs - no, he didn't start eating people. Ah, off the track again!
     
  19. Allegra

    Allegra Well-Known Member

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    you guys' discussion about reading books and critics reminded me of a book by Charles Rosen: Freedom and The Arts: Essays on Music and Literature. This is the 2nd book I read by Rosen (the 1st to be Piano Notes which I'd recommend to any classical music lover) who is a well-known American pianist and music scholar. There is a very good summary of his views expressed in the book that I can't help but to copy it here:

    Is there a moment in history when a work receives its ideal interpretation? Or is negotiation always required to preserve the past and accommodate the present? The freedom of interpretation, Charles Rosen suggests in these sparkling explorations of music and literature, exists in a delicate balance with fidelity to the identity of the original work.

    Rosen cautions us to avoid doctrinaire extremes when approaching art of the past. To understand Shakespeare only as an Elizabethan or Jacobean theatergoer would understand him, or to modernize his plays with no sense of what they bring from his age, deforms the work, making it less ambiguous and inherently less interesting. For a work to remain alive, it must change character over time while preserving a valid witness to its earliest state. When twentieth-century scholars transformed Mozart's bland, idealized nineteenth-century image into that of a modern revolutionary expressionist, they paradoxically restored the reputation he had among his eighteenth-century contemporaries. Mozart became once again a complex innovator, challenging to perform and to understand.

    Drawing on a variety of critical methods, Rosen maintains that listening or reading with intensity-for pleasure-is the one activity indispensable for full appreciation. It allows us to experience multiple possibilities in literature and music, and to avoid recognizing only the revolutionary elements of artistic production. By reviving the sense that works of art have intrinsic merits that bring pleasure, we justify their continuing existence.

    -
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/0674047524/?tag=brite-21

    Not sure how relevant it is to books than to music, but if you ask my opinion as an appreciator, enjoy it and ignore the critics.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2015
  20. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I seem to find more genuine love of books and reading at places like Chrons than I detect in English Departments.
     
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