Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Balzac Short Stories

Le Chef d'Oeuvre Inconnu is the one about the painter who works so long on his "masterpiece"- over-painting and over-painting- that it ends up as an unreadable botch. Or is he, perhaps, the first modernist? Cezanne identified with this character. So did Picasso.

Gambara is a companion piece- only this time with a composer as the central figure. Gambara produces sublime music when drunk, but experimental cacophony when sober.  Or to put it another way: drunk he's Rossini, sober he's Harrison Birtwhistle. In both these stories a modern reader is tempted to wonder whether Balzac wasn't 100 years ahead of his time.

Le Colonel Chabert is the story of a man given up for dead at the Battle of Eylau, who turns up several years later to reclaim his name, his fortune and his wife.  This is certainly one of Balzac's masterpieces and- again- remarkably modern in its questioning of human identity. 

I've slowed down, but I haven't given up on Project Balzac. I've read 31 titles- about a third of the whole- and I've just started on Ursule Mirouet.

Some writers tell the same story over and over again. In fact scratch "some" and substitute "most". Balzac is one of the few who scarcely ever repeats himself. He's protean and prodigious. If I keep ploughing on through La Comedie Humaine it's not because I've grown accustomed to his voice (though I do very much like the man) but because he keeps on showing me  new and surprising things.

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