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BALZAC. Hardcover – 1994


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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Picador (1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330332376
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330332378
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.5 x 2.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,432,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Graham Robb, whose recent books include "The Discovery of France" and "Parisians," has published widely in French literature and history. His biographies of Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Rimbaud have won critical acclaim and were selected as New York Times Editor's Choices for best books of the year. Robb lives in Oxford, England.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on November 5, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the major accomplishments of this biography is that it will make you want to go out and read all of Balzac. This is because Mr. Robb has sprinkled a liberal number of excerpts from the novels throughout his text. Balzac was both a keen observer and a tireless researcher, with an interest in, literally, everything. He was also tremendously sensitive. When you put all of these qualities together, you get prose that has great depth.....resonating between the internal and the external. Mr. Robb is the first one to point out that not everything that Balzac wrote was great or even good. He was obsessive.....a writing machine churning out thousands of words per day. He was deeply in debt and had to write just about non-stop in an attempt to get himself out of debt. Mr. Robb maintains a nice balance. He obviously has a tremendous fondness for his subject but he doesn't let that blind him to the great man's faults and contradictions. Balzac was very open and childlike.....he wore his heart on his sleeve and talked non-stop, rarely censoring himself. On the other hand, he was cunning and manipulative, using all sorts of "dodges" to flee from his numerous creditors. He also took advantage of other writers.....creating a sort of writing factory- hiring young, admiring, ambitious writers to write novels on his behalf. He expected these "laborers" to have the same superhuman energy that he possessed and would drive them mercilessly. But, in counterpoint, Balzac never gave up trying to pay off his debts and frequently he did pay people everything he owed them. He also took a genuine interest in the young writers he had working for him.....giving them worthwhile advice and he was also financially generous when he was in a position to be able to help.Read more ›
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Michael Gunther on December 2, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
All biographers have to figure out a workable balance between exploring their subject's personal life, works, and societal context. With a man like Balzac this can be exceedingly difficult, because everything about the man - his personality, his writings, and his milieu - are so much larger than life that it seems almost impossible to do them justice.
In this life of Balzac, Graham Robb concentrates on Balzac's psychology. We are confronted with the great writer's enormous ego (he considered himself to be "the Napoleon of literature"), his astonishing output, his many love relationships with older women, and his grandiose failures in business. We see a man so driven that at one point he moved his cot into the printer's shop, keeping the presses going 24 hours a day as he corrected proofs while simultaneously writing new chapters!
Robb traces all this activity back to the roots: Balzac's innate, and nearly infinite, self-regard pouring endlessly into the emotional void induced by a disturbingly unaffectionate mother. Balzac becomes, therefore, a man who had to write, so much so that even his business failures and debts were self-inflicted, a subconscious way of spurring himself on to ever greater literary effort just to keep one step ahead of the creditors.
Throughout this biography, Robb uses extensive quotation to allow Balzac's novels to illuminate his life, and vice-versa. The resulting dialogue between the life and the works is both exciting and nuanced - indeed, so nuanced that Robb's book needs to be read carefully in places. It will also be helpful if the reader is on familiar terms with as many of Balzac's novels as possible - there are over 90 of them!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Brian Bess on February 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
One of the virtues of this biography is its repeated references to contemporary history and culture. By presenting aspects of Balzac's character with reference to the modern age, Robb makes Balzac a fully realized personality interpreted to us in our own terms. Every biographer and historian depicts events of earlier times in terms of a modern sensibility. Robb's accomplishment is in conveying Balzac to the 1990's.
He uses more of Balzac's own words to describe him than Andre Maurois' biography, the only other one that I have read. Balzac tells his own story, in a sense, and it is easier to sense the reality of the man, his drives, passions and contradictions. When Robb cannot state with certainty that something is true, he admits that he is engaging in speculation. He never presents these assumptions as undeniable historical fact.
All of the major events of Balzac's life are covered. He really does show how Balzac could have lived the lives of three or four people within fifty years. Balzac's profligacy still seems magical; it seems as though he were taking dictation from a voice inside his brain. Balzac does seem to have prophetic powers, evidenced by all the instances where his life would in some way be a reenactment of a story he had written two years earlier.
With a character like Balzac one inevitably asks for more detail. I would welcome more in depth treatment of his relationships with other writers such as George Sand, Alexander Dumas, and Victor Hugo. There are several people who are mentioned with no thorough explanation of how they came to know Balzac. In some instances, Robb is a little too vague and subtle in his conclusions.
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