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The Human Comedy: Collected Short Stories by Honore de Balzac. New York. 2014. New York Review of Books. paperback. 428 pages. Cover image: Della Rocca, ‘An Embarrassment of Riches’ (detail); The Bridgeman Art Library. Cover design: Katy Homans. Newly Translated from the French by Linda Asher, Carol Cosman, and Jordan Stump. Introduction by Peter Brooks. keywords: Literature France Translated 19th Century. 9781590176641.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   AN NYRB CLASSICS ORIGINAL ‘In Balzac, every living soul is a weapon loaded to the very muzzle with will.’ - CHARLES BAUDELAIRE. Characters from every corner of society and all walks of life - lords and ladies, businessmen and military men, poor clerks, unforgiving moneylenders, aspiring politicians, artists, actresses, swindlers, misers, parasites, sexual adventurers, crackpots, and more - move through the pages of The Human Comedy, Balzac’s multivolume magnum opus, an interlinked chronicle of modernity in all its splendor and squalor. The Human Comedy includes the great roomy novels that have exercised such a sway over Balzac’s many literary inheritors, from Dostoyevsky and Henry James to Marcel Proust; it also contains an array of short fictions in which Balzac is at his most concentrated and forceful. Nine of these, all newly translated, appear in this volume, and together they provide an unequaled overview of a great writer’s obsessions and art. Here are ‘The Duchesse de Langeais,’ ‘A Passion in the Desert,’ and ‘Sarrasine’; tales of madness, illicit passion, ill-gotten gains, and crime. What unifies them, Peter Brooks points out in his introduction, is an incomparable storyteller’s fascination with the power of storytelling, while throughout we also detect what Proust so admired: the ‘mysterious circulation of blood and desire.’ ‘I have learned more [from Balzac] than from all the professional historians, economists, and statisticians put together.’ - FRIEDRICH ENGELS.

Honoré de Balzac (20 May 1799 – 18 August 1850) was a French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of short stories and novels collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the 1815 fall of Napoleon. Due to his keen observation of detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature. He is renowned for his multifaceted characters, who are complex, morally ambiguous and fully human. His writing influenced many subsequent novelists such as Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Benito Pérez Galdós, Marie Corelli, Henry James, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino, and philosophers such as Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. Many of Balzac's works have been made into or have inspired films, and they are a continuing source of inspiration for writers, filmmakers and critics. An enthusiastic reader and independent thinker as a child, Balzac had trouble adapting to the teaching style of his grammar school. His willful nature caused trouble throughout his life and frustrated his ambitions to succeed in the world of business. When he finished school, Balzac was an apprentice in a law office, but he turned his back on the study of law after wearying of its inhumanity and banal routine. Before and during his career as a writer, he attempted to be a publisher, printer, businessman, critic, and politician; he failed in all of these efforts. La Comédie humaine reflects his real-life difficulties, and includes scenes from his own experience. Balzac suffered from health problems throughout his life, possibly due to his intense writing schedule. His relationship with his family was often strained by financial and personal difficulties, and he ended several friendships over critical reviews. In 1850 he married Ewelina Hanska, his longtime love; he died five months later.

 

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