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Friday, June 01, 2012

Father Goirot/Le pere Goirot by Honoré de Balzac

Honoré de Balzac

Book Review
Father Goirot "La pere Goirot"
by Honore de Balzac
p. 1835
Public Domain Books 2004
English Translation

       Balzac's witty observation of contemporary French life, circa 1835, is a stylistic breath of fresh air in the plodding, historically bound Literary scene of the early/mid 19th century.  Historic novels, Gothic novels, and historic-gothic novels had run their course after dominating the Audience for Literature for two decades.  Honoré  de Balzac was developing a style of novel that would come to fruition in the next generation of Authors, when Gustav Flaubert would revolutionize the novel with Madame Bovary.  To call Honore de Balzac is both true and misleading, every great/popular Novelist from Sir Walter Scott until Edgar Allan Poe is what you would call a "realist" relative to 18th century novels.  Being a Realist meant "being a good Novelist" back then.  What is different is the way Honoré de Balzac depicts contemporary life in a "run down boarding house" at the edge of Paris.   As far as influences go, it's a given that Honoré de Balzac was a starting point for Flaubert, and later for Marcel Proust.
       Honoré de Balzac was from a generation of writers that had witnessed the Romantic revolution in Germany and had thus absorbed the fin de sicle malaise that the German romantics of Goethe's era pioneered.   Balzac was also aware of developments in the English novel.  Father Goirot is much closer to the social concerns of Jane Austen then the historical-political themes of Sir Walter Scott.
     Father Goirot/La pere Goirot is a suitably introduction to Honoré de Balzac.  Published at the end of the period between 1831 and 1835, when Balzac published nine novels, with three in 1835 alone, there is a consciousness of the market for the novel that continues to make reading Father Goirot a pleasurable experience in 2012.   For example, one of the "bits" involved a spirited discussion involving use of the word "rama" based on the recent "invention" of the diorama- similar to the kind of jokes a comic might make today.
    Father Goirot is best summarized as a "modern" re-telling of King Lear. Some of the plot devices are a little, shall we say, Dickensian, and perhaps that makes sense- Balzac's work was serialized in a way similar to Dickens. 

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