3.84 (72 ratings by Goodreads)
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Graham Robb has produced a masterpiece of literary biography in which Balzac bursts into life on every page. The living manifestation of the colourful and varied world he described, yet at the same time its most astonishing exception, Balzac is the perfect subject for biography. Robb skilfully interweaves the life with the work to paint an indelible and brilliantly compelling portrait of one of the great tragicomic heroes of the nineteenth century, a man whose influence both in and outside his native France has been and is still immense. 'Graham Robb does a superb job in bringing Balzac to life in all his preposterousness, while still letting us appreciate his genius' Sunday Independent 'Robb's Balzac is a fine achievement: an impressive work of scholarship and an enormously enjoyable read. In a well-paced narrative, he blends solid evidence with amusing anecdote, patient evaluation with witty aside' Guardianshow more

Product details

  • Paperback | 521 pages
  • 130 x 194 x 38mm | 381.02g
  • Pan MacMillan
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Illustrated, New edition
  • Illustrated, New
  • facsimiles, portraits
  • 0330320157
  • 9780330320153
  • 565,636

Review Text

Illuminating Balzac more successfully through examining his work than his era, Robb attempts to unravel the novelist's prolific, debt-driven career, his disorderly pursuit of fame and love, and his instinct for financial trouble. Born to an eccentric, self-made peasant father and a much younger petty bourgeoise mother, Honore de Balzac is credited with developing Realism in the French novel, epitomized in La Comedie humaine, which is comprised of over 100 works and some 2,000 characters. Robb, a scholar of 19th-century French literature, lucidly addresses Balzac's less impressive early literary attempts at classical tragedy and gothic and sentimental novels. His first successes, after failed ventures in publishing and printing, were a historical novel and a smartly cynical marital guide derived from his gutter journalism. His notoriety was secured (but never his loans), and La Comedie humaine later materialized as the unfinishable project of his life: an enormous fresco of his epoch's every aspect, from Paris to the provinces, through the spheres of finance, politics, journalism, and law. Less interested in the post-Napoleonic age, which the novelist both embodied and scandalized, Robb shadows Balzac's obsessions with all the current fads, such as mesmerism, Orientalism, railway speculation, and the cult of the mad genius (e.g., he wrote wearing a monk's robe). By a combination of literary success and social climbing, the novelist also worked his way through an increasingly aristocratic set of older mistresses. (Robb suggests homosexual liaisons with literary secretaries-collaborators, a contested point among both the 19th-century press and later biographers.) Ironically, his great love was a married Ukrainian countess, Eveline Hanska, who stayed loyal to the unreliable Balzac, maintaining an almost 20-year relationship (mainly epistolary), and married him at the end of his life. Robb's Balzac, however manic and obsessive, could separate himself from the fictional world of La Comedie while creating a character for his fame to inhabit and a genuine melodrama for his life. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

72 ratings
3.84 out of 5 stars
5 26% (19)
4 42% (30)
3 25% (18)
2 4% (3)
1 3% (2)
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