Balzac's Benchwarmers
September 1, 2013 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Recently, I purchased a complete set of Balzac's Human Comedy for my Kindle. At roughly the same price as my morning coffee. Balzac was a infamously productive writer. So I'm asking for some recommendations to help me navigate this hyoooge corpus.

Through most of my life, English-language translations of Balzac tended to be limited to a few of the Greatest Hits*, available through Penguin. Now that I have the whole of his work available for reading, I would like to know which of his lesser-known pieces, the stuff that wasn't readily available in English, is worth reading. I know that a lot of his writing was produced under time and financial pressures and is . . . well, hackwork, to be perfectly blunt about it, so which of the second-tier Balzac material is worth reading, and which of it should I skip?

*When I say "Greatest Hits," I'm referring to the Wild Ass's Skin, Old Goriot, Cousin Bette, etc.
posted by jason's_planet to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Weirdly, I have never made it through a Balzac novel but I have read the Graham Robb biography of Balzac, and Robb, IIRC, did a pretty good job of explaining where various works fit in the corpus of Balzac's literary production. The biography is quite entertaining.
posted by Unified Theory at 12:17 PM on September 1, 2013

Best answer: I have what is probably the same collection, and so far the only thing I've read that matches your criteria is "Katherine de Medici". It did certainly seem of the second (or lesser) rank. You do not specifically mention "Lost Illusions", which might be covered by your "etc", but so far, that is my favorite of my small sample of Balzac, which is rounded out by "Pere Goriot".
posted by hwestiii at 8:58 AM on September 2, 2013

Best answer: Try Beatrix, The Unknown Masterpiece and by all means The Firm of Nucingen if it isn't included in your Greatest Hits (it should be).
posted by ersatz at 7:39 AM on September 5, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone!
posted by jason's_planet at 1:58 PM on September 8, 2013

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