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Lost Illusions   By: (1799-1850)

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The trilogy known as Lost Illusions consists of: Two Poets A Distinguished Provincial at Paris Eve and David

In many references parts one and three are combined under the title Lost Illusions and A Distinguished Provincial at Paris is given its individual title. Following this trilogy is a sequel, Scenes from a Courtesan's Life, which is set directly following the end of Eve and David.



The longest, without exception, of Balzac's books, and one which contains hardly any passage that is not very nearly of his best, Illusions Perdues suffers, I think, a little in point of composition from the mixture of the Angouleme scenes of its first and third parts with the purely Parisian interest of Un Grand Homme de Province . It is hardly possible to exaggerate the gain in distinctness and lucidity of arrangement derived from putting Les Deux Poetes and Eve et David (a much better title than that which has been preferred in the Edition Definitive ) together in one volume, and reserving the greatness and decadence of Lucien de Rubempre for another. It is distinctly awkward that this should be divided, as it is itself an enormous episode, a sort of Herodotean parenthesis, rather than an integral part of the story. And, as a matter of fact, it joins on much more to the Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes than to its actual companions. In fact, it is an instance of the somewhat haphazard and arbitrary way in which the actual division of the Comedie has worked, that it should, dealing as it does wholly and solely with Parisian life, be put in the Scenes de la Vie de Province , and should be separated from its natural conclusion not merely as a matter of volumes, but as a matter of divisions. In making the arrangement, however, it is necessary to remember Balzac's own scheme, especially as the connection of the three parts in other ways is too close to permit the wrenching of them asunder altogether and finally. This caution given, all that is necessary can be done by devoting the first part of the introduction entirely to the first and third or Angouleme parts, and by consecrating the latter part to the egregious Lucien by himself.

There is a double gain in doing this, for, independently of the connection as above referred to, Lucien has little to do except as an opportunity for the display of virtue by his sister and David Sechard; and the parts in which they appear are among the most interesting of Balzac's work. The "Idyllic" charm of this marriage for love, combined as it is with exhibitions of the author's power in more than one of the ways in which he loved best to show it, has never escaped attention from Balzac's most competent critics. He himself had speculated in print and paper before David Sechard was conceived; he himself had for all "maniacs," all men of one idea, the fraternal enthusiasm of a fellow victim. He could never touch a miser without a sort of shudder of interest; and that singular fancy of his for describing complicated legal and commercial undertakings came in too. Nor did he spare, in this wide ranging book, to bring in other favorite matters of his, the hobereau or squireen aristocracy, the tittle tattle of the country town and so forth.

The result is a book of multifarious interest, not hampered, as some of its fellows are, by an uncertainty on the author's part as to what particular hare he is coursing. Part of the interest, after the description of the printing office and of old Sechard's swindling of his son, is a doubling, it is true, upon that of La muse du Departement , and is perhaps a little less amusingly done; but it is blended with better matters. Sixte du Chatelet is a considerable addition to Balzac's gallery of the aristocracy in transition of the Bonaparte parvenus whom perhaps he understood even better than the old nobility, for they were already in his time becoming adulterated and alloyed; or than the new folk of business and finance, for they were but in their earliest stages... Continue reading book >>

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