Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Authors
Books
Features
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

See more online stores - Lost Illusions

Lost Illusions

Written by Honore De BalzacAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Honore De Balzac
Translated by Kathleen RaineAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Kathleen Raine
Introduction by Richard HowardAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Richard Howard

Lost Illusions Cover

Bookmark,
Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - Lost Illusions
  • Email this page - Lost Illusions
  • Print this page - Lost Illusions
ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Categories for this book
Tags for this book (powered by Library Thing)
fiction (123) 19th century (43) french (41) france (40)
» see more tags
» hide
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

"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.

Excerpt

At the time when this story opens, the Stanhope press and the ink-distributing roller had not yet come into use in small provincial printing- houses; and, notwithstanding its paper industry, that linked Angouleme so closely with Paris printing, wooden presses-of the kind to which the figure of speech "to make the press groan" was literally applicable-were still in use in that town. Old-fashioned printing-houses were still using leather ink-balls, with which the printers used to ink the type by hand. The movable tables for the formes of type, set ready for the sheets of paper to be applied, were still made of stone and justly called marbles. The rapid spread of machine presses has swept away all this obsolete gear to which, for all its imperfections, we owe the beautiful books printed by Elzevir, Plantin, Aldus Didot, and the rest; so that some description is necessary of the old tools to which Jerome-Nicolas Sechard was almost superstitiously attached, for they play a part in this great story of small things.

Sechard had been a journeyman printer, a "bear", according to compositor's slang. The movement to and fro, like that of a bear in a cage, of the printers coming and going from the ink-table to the press, from the press to the table, no doubt suggested the name. In revenge, the "bears" used to call the compositors "monkeys keys", because of those gentlemen's constant employment in picking out letters from the hundred and fifty-two compartments of the type cases. In the disastrous year of 1793 Sechard, who was about fifty at the time and a married man, was passed over in the great conscription which swept the bulk of the workmen of France into the army. The old pressman was the only hand left in the printing-house when the master (otherwise known as "the boss") died, leaving a widow but no children, The business seemed on the point of closing down altogether. The single-handed bear could not transform himself into a monkey, for, in his capacity as pressman, he had never learned to read or write. But, regardless of his incapacities, a Representative of the People who was in a hurry to spread the good tidings of the Decrees of the Convention issued a master-printer's licence to Sechard and requistioned the press. Citizen Sechard accepted this dangerous patent, compensated his master's widow by giving her his wife's savings, and bought up the press at half its value. But that was only the beginning; he was faced with the problem of printing, quickly and without mistakes, the Decrees of the Republic. In this dilemma, Jerome-Nicolas Sechard had the good luck to meet a nobleman from Marseilles who did not want to emigrate and lose his estate, nor, on the other hand, to be discovered and lose his head, and who in consequence had no alternative but to earn a living in in some kind of manual work. M. le Comte de Maucombe accordingly donned the jacket of a provicincial prtiner and set up read, and corrected, single-handed, he decrees that forbade citizens to harbour nobles, on pain of death. The "ber:, now "the boss", printed them off and had them posted up, so that both of them were safe and sound. By 1795 the mad fit of the Terror was over, and Nicolas Secahrd had to look for another jack-of-all trades for the job of compositor, proofreader, and foreman; and an Abbe (he became a bishop after the Restoration),who refused to take the Oath, succeeded M. Le Comte de Maucombe until the day when the First consul restored the Catholic religion. The Count and the Bishop met later when both were sitting on the same bench in the House of Peers.

Jerome-Nicolas Sechard could read no better in 1802 than he could in 1793; but by allowing a god margin for "materials" in his estimates he was able to pay a foreman. Their onetime easy-going mate had become a terror to his monkeys and bears. For avarice beings where poverty ends. From the day the printer saw the possibility of making a fortune sulfites brought out in him a covetous, suspicious, keen-eyed practical aptitude for business. His methods disdained theory. He had learned by experience to estimate at a glance the cost per page of per sheet, in every kind of type. He used to prove to his illiterate customers that big letters cost more to move than small; or if they wanted small type, that small letters were more difficult to handle. Compositing was the process in printing about which he knew nothing, and he was so frightened of cheating himself over that item that he always piled on the price. If his compositors were paid by the hour, he never took his eyes off them. If he knew that a manufacturer was in difficulties, he would buy up his paper stocks cheap and store them. He owned, besides, by this time, the premises in which the printing office had been housed from time immemorial.
Honore De Balzac|Richard Howard

About Honore De Balzac

Honore De Balzac - Lost Illusions
HONORÉ DE BALZAC was born May 20, 1799, the second son of a civil servant. He was brought up away from his family home, first in the care of a wet-nurse and then at a strict grammar school at Vendôme. Balzac then studied at the Sorbonne, before entering training to become a lawyer, like his father. At the age of twenty, to the consternation of his family, he announced his intention to abandon law and become a writer. His early literary works met with little success, and Balzac's various business ventures as a printer and publisher also foundered. In 1829, he began to conceive a grand design for a series of novels comprehensively portraying French society in the eighteenth century. Balzac's Comédie humaine became his life's work, comprising 91 separate works depicting private and public life in the town and country, in politics and the military. Masterpieces of the Comédie humaine include Eugénie Grandet, Père Goirot, The Wild Ass's Skin and The Black Sheep. Many of his novels were critically acclaimed on publication, and went on to profoundly influence authors from Marcel Proust and Gustave Flaubert to Charles Dickens and Henry James. At the age of fifty-one, Balzac was finally able to marry the recently widowed Evelina Hanska, whom he had loved for eighteen years. But by this time he was in very poor health and Balzac died only five months after his wedding, on August 18, 1850.

About Richard Howard

Richard Howard - Lost Illusions
Richard Howard is a Pultizer-Prize winning poet and translator. He has translated Baudelaire, Stendhal, and Gide, among others. He lives in New York City and teaches at Columbia University.

  • Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac
  • November 13, 2001
  • Fiction - Classics
  • Modern Library
  • $15.95
  • 9780375757907

Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: