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Lost Illusions (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – November 13, 2001


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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (November 13, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375757902
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375757907
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French

From the Inside Flap

"Balzac [was] the master unequalled in the art of painting humanity as it exists in modern society," wrote George Sand. "He searched and dared everything."

Written between 1837 and 1843, Lost Illusions reveals, perhaps better than any other of Balzac's ninety-two novels, the nature and scope of his genius. The story of Lucien Chardon, a young poet from Angoulême who tries desperately to make a name for himself in Paris, is a brilliantly realistic and boldly satirical portrait of provincial manners and aristocratic life. Handsome and ambitious but naïve, Lucien is patronized by the beau monde as represented by Madame de Bargeton and her cousin, the formidable Marquise d'Espard, only to be duped by them. Denied the social rank he thought would be his, Lucien discards his poetic aspirations and turns to hack journalism; his descent into Parisian low life ultimately leads to his own death.

"Balzac was both a greedy child and an indefatigable observer of a greedy age, at once a fantastic and a genius, yet possessing a simple core of common sense," noted V. S. Pritchett, one of his several biographers. Another, André Maurois, concluded: "Balzac was by turns a saint, a criminal, an honest judge, a corrupt judge, a minister, a fob, a harlot, a duchess, and always a genius."

This Modern Library edition presents the translation by Kathleen Raine.


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Customer Reviews

It is utterly spellbinding and a wonderful view of history.
Robert J. Crawford
Balzac's Lost Illusions is a massive literary undertaking, and an attempt to delve deep into the world of humanity with all its great deeds and basest desires.
Henry Martin
Lucien gets the love of one Louise de Bargeton, the "queen of Angouleme", the most cultivated and refined woman in town.
Guillermo Maynez

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on April 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
Endlessly fascinating, but what a painful experience it is to read this book. It epitomises Balzac's greatest themes: the provincial trying to make good in Paris, the wreckage in the wake of unbridled ambition, and the complexity and brutality of machinations that few come to understand. Alas, while there are more good guys in this Balzac novel than others, in the latter half of the book the vast majority of them still streak towards financial disaster and their own obscure miseries as they do in most of his novels. But what a great way to learn about what people used to do in those sumptuous chateaux you see all over France and in those splendid buildings in Paris! It is utterly spellbinding and a wonderful view of history.
If you like Balzac, and I love him, the pleasures are akin to addiction: you know what you are getting into when you uncork that bottle, but you just can't stop yourself and it's great while it lasts. Every time I crack one of these novels, my wife rolls her eyes because she knows I am going to rant about the hopelessness, foolishness, and pain of these characters over the next few weeks.
What can I say? The 19th Century was the century of the novel and this is one of its best. Balzac turns the bitterest pessimism into the highest art. Just be forewarned: you need to have a strong stomach to get through it.
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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Wordsworth on February 25, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As much as I enjoyed Pere Goriot, Lost Illusions is the kind of a literary work that lets you peer into the soul of a great mind and dwell there. Just as Lucien was Balzac, the lost poet, David Sechard, the printer, is also Balzac the craftsman in real life: he bought a print shop in Paris to print his own novels. Sechard is much like the scientist in the Quest of the Absolute, except that David ultimately finds himself through his invention and the inventor in The Quest becomes lost to his own monomania. As Balzac wrote of Lucien: "He's not a poet, this young man: he's a serial novel." And so it's time to find out what happens to Lucien after this novel in his return to Paris. The characters of his novels keep reappearing in scenes from one novel to the next, which is wonderful. However, they seem to change as one sees them through different eyes. Delightful young Rastignac in Pere Goriot becomes a rather unscrupulous mean-spirited character in Lost Illusions. Balzac has built an entire society of his characters and as varied as they are, they are all also him and show the great diversity and depth of his personality and sensitivity. Like Galsworthy, Balzac wanted to build an interconnected society of characters who are so human that it's easy to understand why they behave as they do. The realism is striking and magnificent and always rings true. Balzac works hard despite the realism to spin out of every hardship a redemption and out of every malignity a comic side that's all too human. The comedy and irony are rich in Balzac in his passionate account of life in Paris in high society and the challenges that it thrusts upon every ideal. This is the best work of Balzac that I have read so far out of four novels of his.Read more ›
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Bob Newman VINE VOICE on May 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
Balzac was one of the best writers of the 19th century, he is France's greatest novelist in my opinion, and one of the best who ever lived. LOST ILLUSIONS is perhaps his greatest work, one of the great novels of world literature. With statements like these, you better believe I'm not going to pan this book. I first read it in Thailand back in 1984---the sense of contrast between my physical and mental surroundings at the time was like sugar and chilli pepper. I recently reread it and found it just as good.
I like novels that give me a sense of time and place. Balzac, unlike many great authors, set out to give his readers exactly that. The vast sweep of French, and more particularly, Parisian society, that he depicts in "The Human Comedy"---the varied series of novels by other names that he wrote over his relatively short lifetime---cannot but amaze any reader. "Old Goriot", "Cousin Bette", "The History of the Thirteen", "Eugenie Grandet" and others are wonderful books, but I would say that this is his best. Balzac investigates everything; no detail is too unimportant. In the present work, we learn about the petty intrigues of provincial society, paper making, the printing business, the theater, journalism, Paris high society, the book trade, the legal profession, Paris styles and that's just a start. Where Tolstoy described the early 19th century Russian upper class with romance, philosophy, and general benevolence, Balzac writes with cynicism and a down-to-earth realism. We meet snobs, idiots, geniuses, knaves, priests, poets, politicians, intellectuals, misers, wastrels, whores, rogues, lechers, dandies, and ambitious businessmen of all kinds. Natasha never goes to a ball wide-eyed and innocent in Balzac.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Ian Vance on March 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
Alongside his current and future contemporaries, Victor Hugo and Marcel Proust, Honore de Balzac is considered to be the preeminent French author of the 19th century. Fabulous, larger-than-life, Balzac was a man of fertile talent and extreme contrasts, whose proficiency with the pen was matched only by his prolificacy of his appetites. A clown, a genius, a glutton and a monk: Balzac burned brightly with the Promethean Gift, and left behind an enormous body of work - some ninety-two novels - all loosely interconnected in theme and character(s). To accomplish this, he worked manic-style from the hours of midnight to six in the morning, scribbling furiously by candlelight and swilling copious amounts of black coffee, retaining the sexual urge tantric-style while cultivating a reputation as a ladies' man and legendary great lover (. . . as I said, a man of extreme contrasts). The eventually result of this effort is entitled Le Comedie Humaine [The Human Comedy], an almost-encyclopaedic opus that paints a relatively accurate portrait of Balzac's time and setting - a true French *milieu* - and easily compares to the output of his literary contemporaries, by way of both qualitative exertion and sheer talent.
*Lost Illusions* chronicles the trials and triumphs of two potential geniuses, Lucien Rubempre and David Sechard, men of steadfast friendship, common ideal and altogether differing personality. Lucien is the handsome, debonair poet-dreamer, a wordsmith-wannabe of vast ambition and dubious moral fortitude, who envisions all existence bound up in the invisible perimeters of "art" to the exclusion of pressing realities; this leads, of course, to the misery and consternation of those of his closest intimacy.
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