Dedicated to classics and hits.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Illusions Perdues/Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac

Honoré de Balzac

Book Review
Illusions Perdues - Lost Illusions
by  Honoré de Balzac
published in serial form 1843

  Honoré de Balzac is the first "serious" French novelist to emerge out of the French literary scene of the mid 19th century.  The fact that Balzac's work was being published alongside the Historical Romances written by Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo makes his serious, socially minded fiction seem all the more impressive for its time.   Although split into three parts, the second and main part, explicitly deals with the market for Artistic products- i.e. Novels and Poetry, during the 1820s in Paris.  This world has much in common with Artistic markets today, and Balzac deserves credit as being the first Novelist to describe a market for Artistic output in deal.

  The meat of Illusions Perdues describes the rise and fall of Lucien Chardon, "one of Balzac's distinctive type of ambitious, talented young men" (1) in the literary market of Paris.   The main action is caused by Lucien's abandonment of "serious" Art- i.e. his historical novel that he wrote "in the manner of Sir Walter Scott" and his book of poetry, for the fast women and easy money of theater and literary criticism.

 Certainly, that last bit should be enough to elicit a guffaw from a modern day critic/blogger/writer- could anything be less remunerative then reviewing theater performances and novels?  I suppose the modern day version would be a writer who takes a job working in public relations for a publishing house.

  The narrative of the second part of Illusions Perdues is familiar to anyone who has read/seen the movie of more recent versions like Bright Lights, Big City or Less Then Zero.  It is a kind of self-consciousness that anticipates many of the themes of modernity, but Illusions Perdues is not a very modern Novel.  It shares many similarities with the Historical Romances a la Sir Walter Scott that it describes as part of the plot.  Lengthy descriptive passages reveal the serial/time pressed nature of the production of Illusions Perdues, and Hollier calls fragmentary production of books "typical" for Balzac during this period. 

    Illusions Perdues assumes that Critics and Artists are the same people, which, again, sounds pretty funny to someone reading it today.  Given the come-uppance that Lucien Chardon receives during the course of Illusions Perdues, it is fair to say that Honoré de Balzac was in sympathy with the characters of the Novel who criticize Lucien's behavior for being un-Romantic and thus not suitable behavior for an Authentic Artist.


(1)  Denis Hollier, A New History of French Literature(Harvard University Press), pg. 693.

No comments:

Blog Archive