- Series: Modern Library Classics
- Paperback: 752 pages
- Publisher: Modern Library (November 13, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375757902
- ISBN-13: 978-0375757907
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.5 x 8.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #351,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lost Illusions (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – November 13, 2001
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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 Angouleme 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 naive, 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, Andre 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."
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Top Customer Reviews
The translation by Kathleen Raine is also outstanding, preferable to the Penguin version by Hunt, even though he was a Balzac specialist. Possibly this is because Raine was a poet as well as a translator. And it is of interest that she chose (or was chosen?) to do the translation.
Also well worth reading is her translation of COUSIN BETTE.
Lost Illusions is a long and sometimes tedious novel about a young poet from the provinces whose name is Lucien Chardan. He is fatuous and relatively talented as a minor poet and historical novelist. He engages in a platonic affair with the wealthy Madame Bargeton resulting in the couple's flight from the village to Paris. There they are soon separated by boredom and disillusion with one another.
Lucien has an amorous affair with the showgirl Coralie who is beautiful but dumb. He becomes a newspaper reporter. Balzac shows us all the details involved in the publishing and literary world of Paris. We meet many interesting characters who populate this environment. It is clear than Lucien is like his creator for Balzac knew well the literary life in Paris. Lucien is disillusioned by the cynicism and the quest for the god MONEY which is worshipped by his friends. Art is forced to take a backseat to the pursuit of pelf. Doublecrosses, blackmail and deceit rule the Parisian desert.
Lucien's sweet sister Eve marries David Sechart. Sechart is a printer who believes he has invented a new way to produce paper cheaply. He is involved in convoluted schemes to keep the business afloat and stay out of debtor's prison.
Lucien is not an admirable figure. He is foolish and vain seeking glory and fame. Balzac continues his downfall story in later books in the Human Comedy series.
Balzac is a great writer but takes getting used to. Many of his pages are devoted to explaining complex money matters and who is cheating whom. He is wonderful on describing a scene in detail and was first class in his microscopic examination of French rural and urban society in mid nineteenth century life. Balzac does not make moral judgments on the actions of his flawed characters leaving that to the reader. In the pantheon of nineteenth century French novelists he stands alone with Victor Hugo and Gustave Flaubert at the top of the list.