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Lily of the Valley Paperback – November, 1997

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers (November 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786704713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786704712
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,740,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This was Balzac's personal favorite among his writings. The novel offers the courtship of Felix and fiancee Henrietta, whose correspondence on the subject of love reveals her to be far more experienced than he thought. Romance the Balzac way.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"In reading Balzac we can still feel and almost gratify those cravings which great literature ought to allay in us." - Marcel Proust

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Guillermo Maynez on October 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
That is this book: a huge joke. Of course I won't reveal the ending, but it's definitely that. The other two reviewers on this page have noted that Balzac regarded this novel, certainly not his best, as one of his favourites, and I think that is due to the fact that throughout it he is playing with the characters and with the reader. One of the reviewers also noted the similarity with subjects treated by Stendhal and Falubert, and indeed it would be good if someone (I may do it one day) wrote an essay comparing this novel to Stendhal's "Red and Black" and Flaubert's "The Sentimental Education".

This is what literary critics call a "bildungsroman", a novel of apprenticeship -or lack of it. Apparently a Romantic novel, it can also be read from the other side of the street, as an Anti-Romantic novel. The experienced reader of Balzac is surprised that here he turns out so much corniness and cheap sentimentality, until he/she finds out why at the end.

Felix de Vandenesse is the youngest child of a noble family of Touraine, in beautiful Western Central France, whose luck has been bad under the Revolution and the Napoleonic Age. Nobody loves poor Felix, especially his horrible mother, who sends him to live first with a breast-feeder and then to cruel boarding schools where he suffers from loneliness and poverty. During his return home, he attends a party where he instantly falls in love with a married woman, older than him. In fact, he falls so in love that he kisses her shoulder, to the astonishment and rejection of the surprised lady. Felix then falls into depression and his mother sends him to the countryside with some rich friends. And... surprise surprise, the neighbor of the friends is none other than the lady and her husband and two permanently sick kids.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
Of all of Balzac's 93 odd novels this one was his personal favorite. This is the sixth book of his I've read and I think it's probably one of the worst. That's not saying it's bad, it just doesn't compare to the brilliance of Eugenie Grandet, Ursule Mirouet, Pere Goriot or Cesar Birroteau.
The plot centers around Felix, a young man who has had a difficult time growing up. One night at a prestigious ball he falls in love with Madame de Morstauf or Henriette. He then goes up to her house in Toraine in a beautiful valley and spends great lengths of time with her.
Her husband is a tyrannical type of guy, prone to violent fits but Henriette is determined to stick with the marriage. Felix and her develop an odd kind of relationship, almost like brother and sister. Felix then falls in love with an Englishwoman realizing he has no chance with Henriette. Henriette dies of jealousy.
That is a very sketchy plot outline.
The book is too long and a bit boring for Balzac. His lead male charcters are always variations on the same thing and he spends far too much time dealing with atmosphere and surroundings.
As usual Balzac uses words like "ardent", "ardour" and several others far too much and in each of his novels I've noticed that all of his characters mention at one point that they are willing to sacrifice themselves for their lovers. Of course they never do.
There are many wonderful parts to this book, especially a cutting letter describing the differences between French and English women.
A very good book, but for Balzac, my favorite, this is one of the weaker ones.
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Format: Paperback
This is the best romantic literature I've read. Better than Bronte. Better than anybody. Because it rings true. Men and women will relate to the text--if they've ever had the luxury of being truly, deeply in love as a young person for the first time.

Once, twice, more than six times and then every few sentences, I had to stop and sob while trying to read the end of the book, about the last 20 pages or so--put the book down and walk away. I thought I never would be able to finish this literary masterpiece. It's based on Balzac's real-life sweetheart, and he writes like a man in love. He calls her, "Lily in the Valley."

And then, incredibly, at the very, very end, I burst into laughter. Balzac is a master writer. And a Frenchman. France, land of legendary kings and of legendary love affairs.

--interestingly of note--the book discusses Old World manners and can suggest great insights for the modern reader.
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By Jane Stivarius on October 31, 2013
Format: Paperback
. . . . to the information given in previous reviews, I would only add that the thing to keep in mind while reading this book is that the underlying cause of Mortsauf's suffering is not bi-polar disorder but syphilis picked up on one of his low life episodes. His whole family is suffering. His children are the typically unhealthy children of syphilitics. Jacques probably has it, maybe Madeline will be spared. Mortsauf's wife anticipates her early death, probably from syphilis as her hair loss indicates, and is therefore concerned about what will be left to her children if they should survive. Because of her illness, a repressed and tortured Madame knows she cannot have a sexual relationship with stupid, naively unaware Felix, whom Balzac allows to babble egotistically until the zinger at the end of the novel. In the meantime, there's a lot of enjoyable commentary.

The French book title is "The Lily in the Valley." Appropriately, the English title change to "The Lily of the Valley" reflects her state, because she, like the plant, is tender, lovely, fragile and poisonous.

Reading this book with the understanding of what syphilis meant in the pre-penicillin age, makes this book not quite as silly as it appears to the modern reader.
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