Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Splendeurs Et Miseres

I finished Illusions Perdues and went straight into the sequel- Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes.  What a title, eh? Untranslatable too. The Penguin edition goes with A Harlot high and Low- which is good but still comparatively weak. Why not The Hartlot's Progress- or are the Hogarthian associations distracting?

There's no single uniform edition of La Comedie Humaine in English. All the titles I've read so far have been translated by different people. Splendours and Miseres is the work of Rayner Heppenstall- and he's good. He makes Balzac's wicked flaneurs sound like Wildean dandies- only without the killer one-liners. Imagine Lord Henry Wooton going on for page after page, being extraordinarily clever but without saying anything funny. Or, on second thoughts, don't- because that makes Balzac sound boring and he ain't.

We 're at a masked ball. Lucien de Rupembre is having a second go at conquering Parisian high society. Lucien is a complete twat, but you can't help loving him. This time he has the backing of sinister, gay, criminal mastermind Vautrin- aka L'abbe Herrera- which is a bit like having Ronnie or Reggie Kray in your corner. The dandies struggle for advantage with epigrams and stylish put-downs. Vautrin hasn't time for all that. He takes his former protege Eugene de Rastignac "in an iron grip" and informs him he'll be supporting Lucien- or else. 

It won't be long before I've run through all the Balzac that's available in English. I wish my French was good enough to tackle the originals but I'd need a dictionary at my elbow- and a book the size of Splendeurs et Miseres would take me months if not years.   Why is the anglophone world so resistant to Balzac? He's the best. And, yes, I think I really do mean that. He created the modern novel. His understanding of the human animal is second to none. Everyone from Dostoevsky to Tom Woolfe owes him.

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