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Honoré de Balzac

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

  1.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    My interlibrary loan copy of The Black Sheep arrived today. The translator starts off, audaciously, with the claim: "no story in the world is more exciting than The Black Sheep"! Okay, so I will put Trollope's Orley Farm aside a bit, and launch right into this, as in I'm going to walk home for lunch with my nose in the book. If you don't hear from me again, I probably got hit by a car.
     
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  2.  
    Allegra

    Allegra Well-Known Member

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    Better equip yourself with auto pilot and radar detector! :D
     
  3.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I live in a small town in North Dakota. When I walked the six blocks from workplace to home just now, I don't suppose I was passed by more than one or two vehicles. : )
     
  4.  
    Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    Extollager - many thanks for the well considered response on the subject of reading critical essays and monographs about authors, and the risks associated with that. I'm travelling now and only able to send relatively short posts on a 'tablet' type device I find hard to use. But in time I shall want to continue that discussion at more length.

    I hope the Black Sheep measures up after all the hyperbole and discussion!
     
  5.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    I too like Extollager's take on a lot of the new fangled literary theory in particular. The reason I like to study 'modern' literary theory and criticism (including the jargon) is more to gain an understanding of what is being said so that I can then better filter out some of the nonsense spoken these days as there is still often a few gems or insights you can extract from these academic analyses. It's quite amazing actually the amount of jargon employed. Having said that I will still use some specific literary term/concept if I think it helps to illustrate a particular point I am trying to make when writing a review for example.

    Also I still think the Cambridge guides, Norton Critical Editions and introductions and ancillary notes in the Penguin editions (among other publications) can provide one with some really good and interesting insights into a particular author or literary movement.

    I find this a particularity sad statement. I'm not doubting it, rather the contrary. It also references my earlier comment that books should be read for pleasure first and foremost and that perhaps trying to make too much a science of reading can really detract from this.
     
  6.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Bick and Gollum, if you haven't read it, get hold of C. S. Lewis's An Experiment in Criticism. Coming towards the end of a lifetime of eager and perceptive reading, Lewis's short book is kind of a last testament about the specific goods of reading, and it fizzes with ideas and insights. Basically Lewis argues for a theory of literary value based on the quality of reading that a work invites, allows, or requires. This idea can, I think, help to resolve some critical issues of interest to genre readers, e.g. the achievement of Lovecraft (even though I am not certain that Lewis read Lovecraft). There's more to the book than this, too.

    I'm not opposed to reading literary criticism -- I hope that was clear. Good criticism helps one to become a better reader, whether by providing helpful background or pointing out patterns of imagery, etc. I've mentioned some Shakespearean criticism that seems well worthwhile. Helpful also can be works that let you know more about what's out there. I'm no Marxist, but the Marxist Walter Allen's book The English Novel would be an example from my own experience. George Orwell's literary essays and W. H. Auden's Forewords and Afterwords may be commended to your attention.

    One of the things I most value in reading is the opportunity to participate in outlooks (I'll use that word) prior to the establishment of the mental habits characteristic of our own. That is one reason I loathe the reign of the theorists: always they are breathing down your neck about their obsessions regarding "gender," race, class, and linguistic indeterminacy. You know what you are going to find before you read whatever it is: of course The Tempest will be all about patriarchy, colonialism, etc. Of course Heart of Darkness is fundamentally the same. Kurtz, Prospero, what's the diff. Perish forbid I should become a lackey of the Zeitgeist, but that is exactly what a lot of English instruction seems intended to accomplish. It is also blighted by academic careerism. One does get the sense of academic conferences as being analogous to a group of dogs at a playground, wandering about and sniffing each other. Feh! as characters in a fine old literary review (Mad magazine) used to say.
     
  7.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    The C.S. Lewis sounds interesting. I should try to get myself a copy.

    I understood what you meant regarding literary criticism and what you can get out of reading what one might view as good criticism. My point was merely that you can still gain insights when reading the more modern literary criticism and theory by keeping an open mind and using your instincts as to what 'makes sense' or intuitively 'rings true' whilst at the same time understanding some of the underlying politics that may be driving the particular argument. In other words don't adopt the herd mentality.

    Personally W.H. Auden and George Orwell are 2 of the best critics I have ever come across. Orwell's essays are amazing.
     
  8.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Good luck with that, since inculcating a herd mentality is exactly what a lot of such teaching seems to be about.

    As for detecting what makes sense or rings true: if someone is really well read in the primary works, he or she may be able to sift some insights from a mass of dross; but how many college students are well read? I think it is a travesty that undergrads, in particular, should be required to read the theorists, when the fact is that they have have read only a few of the great works. Just when are they supposed to read the Bible, Gilgamesh, Homer, Herodotus, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, Ovid, Lucretius, Virgil, Apuleius, Augustine, Boethius, Beowulf, the Edda, Dante, Chaucer (Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Cressida), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Saga of the Volsungs, Grail romances, mystery plays, Shakespeare*, Marlowe, Webster, Milton, George Herbert, Thomas Traherne, and a host of great writers of the succeeding 350 years? Or even half of these? On their own time? Does that seem like too much ancient and medieval? All right, what would you cut and why? .... Instead they read a relatively few classic works (perhaps including, as one colleague noted, Beloved in three different courses) and Barthes, Lacan, Derrida, Kristeva, Foucault, and/or their epigones -- ?

    I teach, in part, for the future. I sincerely do not believe that, thirty years from now, my students will be saying: "Why did I read all that Shakespeare, Dickens, etc. in Prof. ----'s classes?" But I think some students, thirty years later, will feel they were cheated when they spent so much time on.... well, you can imagine.

    *At least (off the top of my head) they should read The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Winter's Tale, Tempest, 1 Henry IV, some of the Sonnets... I ask: What could be more worth their time than these?
     
  9.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Do it today. : )
     
  10.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    No, I can't do that. Both books deal with family tangles and legal hassles, I gather. Gotta finish the Trollope first.
     
  11.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    I admit I may be skating on thin ice at times by diving into modern literary theory and criticism but I've found (not wanting to sound too cocky about things) that my instincts are usually pretty good. It also helps as you say if you are relatively well read which I like to think I am...then again maybe I'm suffering from grandiose delusions....:unsure:

    Thanks for the chat.

    Good night.
     
  12.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Right. But that is not true of the majority of students entering English degree programs, so far as I can tell.

    It would be interesting to know what such students have read, as regards classic literary works, when they start college (or when they get their baccalaureate degrees).
     
  13.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    Based on what I have seen here the answer to that is not a great deal (at least not pre-20th Century except for a bit of Dickens and Austen) and Poetry appears almost non-existent.. There seems to be a real bias towards modernist texts here for students entering University, at least as far as general English goes. I'm not as up these days on what is covered in English Literature here or if we even still have that as a specific elective in High Schools?

    This link may be of some interest to you in terms of the Australian program?

    http://theconversation.com/hooked-on-the-classics-literature-in-the-english-curriculum-32871
     
  14.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I didn't think much of the opinion expressed by the author of that column.

    I'm sorry that Australia doesn't seem to be doing a whole lot better than the US, where things seem to be pretty dismal.

    On the other hand, I wouldn't want Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens to be taught by dullard, unimaginative, conformist teachers with no love for them. With teachers like that, the students might be better off with the usual fare. Perhaps some of them will discover the classics on their own and thereby join the underground, i.e. the people who love literature.
     
  15.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm sorry too. My nephews and my niece are reasonably well read but nowhere near to the level that I was at that age. They have too many other competing 'entertainment options' than when I was growing up when you had to use your imagination a lot more to keep yourself entertained. I have also noticed that a lot of the younger staff (under 30) now in bookshops would not have a clue what you are talking about if you mention names like Stendhal, Johnson, Sterne etc. and forget about the classical authors/people except for maybe Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. They are also even less familiar and perhaps not unexpectedly with authors both modern and earlier from non-English backgrounds but again I worry when I receive blank looks after mentioning names like Borges, Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann, Kafka, Flaubert etc.

    I think I may have been lucky being born into a relatively academic oriented family where reading was encouraged from an early age. My father's old study area in the family home is still surrounded by a plethora of books many of them theological as well as containing the classics. My mother was actually even more of a reader of the classics than my father. I also had a really good English teacher in high school and know for a fact that my particular final year was one of the school's most successful academically speaking. I know this is stating the obvious but I have always felt that it made a real difference being surrounded by a lot of pretty bright student friends. It helped to lift the overall standard of our group helped also by having some quite inspiring teachers and not just in English.

    P.S. Apologies in advance to Bick as I may have gone a little off topic here. I'll get back to reading my Goriot this weekend and post some thoughts next week.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2015
  16.  
    Allegra

    Allegra Well-Known Member

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    GOLLUM mentioned Stendhal, I was just thinking about The Red and The Black last night, it was another book that had significant impact on my childhood reading - one of our most beloved and talked about, the name 'Julien' is forever engraved in my braincells. This book is another MUST to reread (Bick, you really opened a can of lovely worms!:)). Come to think of it, 19 century's Europe was crowded with great talents, just imagine to time-travel to then France, you'd meet Balzac, Victor Hugo, Flaubert, Dumas, Zola, George Sand, Chopin, Liszt, Berlioz, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir... Truly one of the Sternstunden der Menschheit.

    Speaking of Zweig, I faintly remember he wrote something on Balzac, found it:
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/1149199121/?tag=brite-21
    Once I finish some rereading I may get this book. It'll be worth to read one master's critiques on the others.

    Now some lighthearted remarks on critics:
    P.G. Wodehouse: "Has anybody ever seen a drama critic in the daytime? Of course not. They come out after dark, up to no good.”
    Leonard Bernstein (one of the music greats of 20 century): “I've been all over the world and I've never seen a statue of a critic.:)
     
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    Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    A few things. Firstly, no one need ever apologise if this thread goes a bit off-track - if the thoughts being laid down are inspired by the spirit of 19th century European literature, then it's all close enough I think.

    I've enjoyed reading about how we got into these authors and the challenges of getting the current generation to read more widely from the classics lists. I'm not sure what the answer is, as, like others I've always read widely from my teen years onward. I recall borrowing Arthur Koestler, Solzhenitsin, Hardy, Dickens, Graham Greene, Orwell and so on from my parents bookshelves when I was 13 or 14. I suspect that if these kinds of things are available at an early age, it's "easy" to get into them, but if they're not, it's a tough ask.

    Thanks for the C.S. Lewis book recommendation Ext. I shall look it up for sure.

    Back more specifically on Balzac, I finished Cousin Pons today. It's a good book (Bick enjoys an understatement on occasion), and I would say I liked it more than "Bette", it's stablemate. It's a relatively simple tale ( though there's a bit more plot that Grandet), but it builds well, finishing in a satisfying reflective way. It's not perfect: it has a few lengthy digressions, which I think don't help, and today an editor would ask that they be stripped out or reduced, and certain characters tend toward caricature and it perhaps loses a little narrative power as a result. In his very finest works, Balzac's characters seem very real and without exaggeration (Goriot, Black Sheep), while here they occasionally strain belief. That said, the book is powerful, tragic, with moments of humour and the underlying message contains much wisdom and pathos. Definitely recommended for Balzac fans, though I wouldn't perhaps suggest it as an introduction to the great man's work.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2015
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    Bick

    Bick A Member of the Forum

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    Wonderful, thanks for those!
     
  19.  
    Allegra

    Allegra Well-Known Member

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    Still, teaching is most important, assuming many children today may not find a stock of classic literature books at home. As for college students, the ones who read all you required page by page most likely have already got into it, and in the future they most likely will pass on to their children. Like classical music, as long as there are ardent musicians performing it there will always be ardent audience (and ardent classical musicians are a die-hard species) - as long as there people like you teaching classic literature, there will always be ardent readers. That is the future. And who knows, at some point of the not-yet-foreseeable future, there may even be a neo-renaissance of classic literature/classical music era!
     
  20.  
    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    No problem. That's the moderator in me coming out...;) Mind you this really has indeed opened up a lovely can of worms..enter Allegra stage right.

    So you're a Zweig fan too eh? I have most of Zweig's fiction that has been translated into English including his short stories. I have a copy of Sternstunden der Menschheit interestingly translated in my excellent Pushkin Press edition as Shooting Stars. That book you reference would be a good addition to any library I think!
     
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