The Bureaucrats by Honore de Balzac. Evanston. 1993. Northwestern University Press. 247 pages. paperback. Cover: Honore Daumier, ‘Le ventre Legiuslatif, from Association Mensuelle.’ Translated from the French by Charles Foulkes. Edited and with an introduction by Marco Diani. 0810109875. Originally published as Les Employés (1837 - Scènes de la vie Parisienne).





   THE BUREAUCRATS (Les Employés) stands out in Balzac’s immense oeuvre by offering a compelling analysis of an important nineteenth-century French institution: the state bureaucracy. In the nearly one hundred novels and long stories that make up THE HUMAN COMEDY, Balzac considers a broad array of personal, social, and political phenomena that were undergoing significant change and conflict; marriage and the family, money, aristocracy and the legitimation of the middle class, Paris and the provinces, obsession, ambition, and failure are recurring elements of this vast portrait. In it Balzac detailed a number of distinctive institutions - journalism and publishing, banking, the church, law - but never did he concentrate his vision so precisely and so penetratingly on a distinctive modern institution as he did in THE BUREAUCRATS. The novel portrays the state bureaucracy and its ranks of civil servants in a biting critique of the bureaucratic mentality. The plot revolves around the efforts of one man, aided by his unscrupulous wife, to reorganize and streamline the entire system. Rabourdin’s Plan, as it comes to be known in the novel, will halve the government’s size while doubling its revenue. When the plan is leaked, Rabourdin’s rival, an utter incompetent, nonetheless gains the overwhelming support of the frightened and desperate body of low-ranking employees. The novel contains recognizable themes of Balzac’s work: obsessive ambition, conspiracy and human pettiness, a melodramatic struggle between social ‘good’ and the evils of folly and stupidity. But this work is more than a typical nineteenth-century realist novel representing personal drama played out against the background of social and historical forces. It is also an unusual, dramatized analysis of a developing political institution and its role in shaping social class and mentality. Charles Foulkes’s highly readable translation of this important but neglected novel is enhanced by the introduction by Marco Diani, which demonstrates the novel’s appeal across a number of disciplines: French literature, history, political science, sociology, and applied literary and social theory. This modern translation of THE BUREAUCRATS, the first English-language version available in over sixty years, will help establish Balzac as a serious observer and critic of government and of the class of the civil servants it produces.



Balzac Honore deHonoré 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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