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At Daggers Drawn
on May 10, 2015
Perfect. Or as close to perfection as Balzac gets. The opening 22-page section is a master class for any aspiring novelist in how to set the scene, introduce the characters, suggest the conflicts, reveal the theme, set a whole fictional world spinning on its axis, all with an economy of means as present here as it is absent from the exasperating PERE GORIOT.
Characters are distinct individuals and thus an unsolvable mystery to others as well as themselves. Yet each gets his or her due - even the miser whose avarice is a logical alternative to the religious fanaticism of wife and daughter. When he sings and dances a jig after cornering gold, we happily join in! Novel stands or falls, of course, with the characterization of Eugenie: it is flawless. A portrayal of a young woman besieged by passion for the first time - how it consumes her, elates her, debases her, destroys her - is rendered with such psychological accuracy, such telling detail, such delicacy of touch and subtlety of shading, even at times with such humor, that the encomiums about Balzac that sometimes puzzle us finally ring true:
"In Balzac, every living soul is a weapon loaded to the very muzzle with will."
"Balzac's great glory is that he pretended hardest."
"The nineteenth century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac's."