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Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau   By: (1799-1850)

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The Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau is a captivating novel written by Honoré de Balzac. Set in 19th-century Paris, this story takes readers on a tumultuous journey through the life of the ambitious and ultimately tragic protagonist, Cesar Birotteau.

The novel begins by introducing Birotteau as a successful and respected perfumer, who, through hard work and determination, has managed to build a thriving business. Balzac's keen attention to detail allows readers to immerse themselves in the bustling streets of Paris, where the fragrance industry thrives. The author masterfully weaves together descriptions of scents, sounds, and colors, creating a vivid and authentic backdrop for the unfolding narrative.

At first, Birotteau's rise to prosperity seems unstoppable. His perfumery gains popularity, and his reputation as a skilled entrepreneur grows. However, as the story progresses, a series of unfortunate events begin to unfold. Balzac adeptly displays the protagonist's vulnerability and gradual downfall, bringing into focus the fragility of success and the consequences of hubris.

One of the novel's strongest elements lies in its exploration of the human condition. Through Birotteau's character, Balzac delves deep into themes such as ambition, pride, and the pursuit of social status. The reader witnesses Birotteau's inner struggles, the corrosive effects of his desire for recognition, and the harsh realities of the competitive business world.

Furthermore, the cast of supporting characters adds depth and complexity to the narrative. From Birotteau's devoted wife to his cunning rivals, each character brings their own set of motivations and aspirations. Balzac skillfully navigates their intertwined relationships, intertwining the personal and professional spheres to shed light on the complexities of human interaction.

The prose of Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau is elegant and rich, showcasing Balzac's prowess as a writer. The author's vivid descriptions, insightful observations, and satirical commentary elevate the novel beyond a simple character study. Balzac's writing style, influenced by the realism movement, captures the essence of 19th-century Parisian society, providing readers with a glimpse into its intricate social fabric.

However, this novel may not appeal to readers seeking fast-paced action or a linear plot. The pacing can feel leisurely at times, but it serves the purpose of delving deep into the characters' psyche and allowing the readers to fully immerse themselves in the world Balzac has created.

Overall, The Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau is a thought-provoking masterpiece that explores the human condition, the pursuit of success, and the consequences of unchecked ambition. Balzac's meticulous attention to detail and insightful character development make this novel a must-read for those interested in the social dynamics of 19th-century Paris and the complexities of the human spirit.

First Page:


By Honore De Balzac

Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley



During winter nights noise never ceases in the Rue Saint Honore except for a short interval. Kitchen gardeners carrying their produce to market continue the stir of carriages returning from theatres and balls. Near the middle of this sustained pause in the grand symphony of Parisian uproar, which occurs about one o'clock in the morning, the wife of Monsieur Cesar Birotteau, a perfumer established near the Place Vendome, was startled from her sleep by a frightful dream. She had seen her double. She had appeared to herself clothed in rags, turning with a shrivelled, withered hand the latch of her own shop door, seeming to be at the threshold, yet at the same time seated in her armchair behind the counter. She was asking alms of herself, and heard herself speaking from the doorway and also from her seat at the desk.

She tried to grasp her husband, but her hand fell on a cold place. Her terror became so intense that she could not move her neck, which stiffened as if petrified; the membranes of her throat became glued together, her voice failed her. She remained sitting erect in the same posture in the middle of the alcove, both panels of which were wide open, her eyes staring and fixed, her hair quivering, her ears filled with strange noises, her heart tightened yet palpitating, and her person bathed in perspiration though chilled to the bone... Continue reading book >>

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