Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Le Lys Dans La Vallee

 I'm slowing down with Balzac. I wouldn't say he was hard going, but he's dense. 

I ran out of modern English translations a while back, so now I'm printing texts off Project Gutenburg- all of them translated in the latter half of the 19th century by Katherine Prescott Wormeley (who seems to have done not only the whole of La Comedie Humaine, but also a collected Moliere, much of Dumas and all sorts of bits and pieces.) 

(I'd like to know more about Wormeley. Googling her turns up very little, but enough to establish her as a remakable person in her own right.  Henry James referred to her in a letter as "the strenuous Miss Wormeley", Melville was influenced by her Balzac translations and- most personally and substantially-  she is the author of a book called The Other Side of War- which relates her experiences as a volunteer nurse with the Army of the Potomac. A brief account of her war service, together with a lively letter to her mother is available here.)

My 34th Balzac is Le Lys dans la Vallee- in which a young man who knows nothing about women falls in love with a woman who knows nothing about men. There are two sides to Balzac: he is a realist and he is a metaphysician. Here- in this tragic story of sacred and profane love- the two are in perfect balance. Why this book isn't better known outside France, I really don't know. It's one of the great European novels- lyrical, psychologically acute, profoundly ambiguous- and, of course, much more grown-up in its treatment of sex than any English or American novel of its period could afford to be.

Next up: Le Contrat de Marriage- a slightly earlier novel featuring characters who play supporting roles in  Le Lys.

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