From the great French novelist comes this long-unavailable collection of tales in the tradition of Boccaccio’s Decameron.
Balzac’s Contes Drolatiques, or Droll Stories, were originally published in three volumes in the 1830s. Set in medieval Europe, these stories were Balzac’s attempt to write in the great tradition of Rabelais and Boccaccio, to render the Middle Ages with a touch of raunchy humor, and to provide a delightful portrait of medieval France. Balzac took the old themes that had delighted his ancestors—the tales of faithless wives and confiding husbands, of monks incredibly endowed for amorous athleticism, of lusty wenches and adventurous lads, and of great bouts of eating and drinking.
Droll Stories has always been an essential part of Balzac’s work when published in French, but it has been excluded from the definitive English editions. This book presents all three volumes of this classic and enduring work.
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There are houses in certain provincial towns whose aspect inspires melancholy, akin to that called forth by sombre cloisters, dreary moorlands, or the desolation of ruins. Within these houses there is, perhaps, the silence of the cloister, the barrenness of moors, the skeleton of ruins; life and movement are so stagnant there that a stranger might think them uninhabited, were it not that he encounters suddenly the pale, cold glance of a motionless person, whose half-monastic face peers beyond the window-casing at the sound of an unaccustomed step. Such elements of sadness formed the physiognomy, as it were, of a dwelling-house in Saumur which stands at the end of the steep street leading to the chateau in the upper part of the town. This street—now little frequented, hot in summer, cold in winter, dark in certain sections—is remarkable for the resonance of its little pebbly pavement, always clean and dry, for the narrowness of its tortuous road-way, for the peaceful stillness of its houses, which belong to the Old town and are over-topped by the ramparts. Houses three centuries old are still solid, though built of wood, and their divers aspects add to the originality which commends this portion of Saumur to the attention of artists and antiquaries.
The longest, without exception, of Balzac's books, and one which contains hardly any passage that is not very nearly of his best, Illusions Perdues suffers, I think, a little in point of composition from the mixture of the Angouleme scenes of its first and third parts with the purely Parisian interest of Un Grand Homme de Province. It is hardly possible to exaggerate the gain in distinctness and lucidity of arrangement derived from putting Les Deux Poetes and Eve et David (a much better title than that which has been preferred in the Edition Definitive) together in one volume, and reserving the greatness and decadence of Lucien de Rubempre for another. It is distinctly awkward that this should be divided, as it is itself an enormous episode, a sort of Herodotean parenthesis, rather than an integral part of the story. And, as a matter of fact, it joins on much more to the Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes than to its actual companions. In fact, it is an instance of the somewhat haphazard and arbitrary way in which the actual division of the Comedie has worked, that it should, dealing as it does wholly and solely with Parisian life, be put in the Scenes de la Vie de Province, and should be separated from its natural conclusion not merely as a matter of volumes, but as a matter of divisions. In making the arrangement, however, it is necessary to remember Balzac's own scheme, especially as the connection of the three parts in other ways is too close to permit the wrenching of them asunder altogether and finally. This caution given, all that is necessary can be done by devoting the first part of the introduction entirely to the first and third or Angouleme parts, and by consecrating the latter part to the egregious Lucien by himself.
The crown jewel in a remarkable literary career, Cousin Bette is regarded by many critics to be Balzac's last great work before his death in 1850. A fine example of European realist fiction, the story recounts the attempt of a disgruntled housewife to bring about the misery and destruction of her entire extended family. Fans of Tolstoy's War and Peace will enjoy Cousin Bette.
Balzac's Contes Drolatiques, published in three installments in the 1830s, offers a lively and lusty portrait of sixteenth-century French life and manners. These thirty stories in the tradition of Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Rabelais were claimed by the author to have originated in manuscripts from the abbeys of Touraine. Abounding in episodes of good-humored licentiousness, the tales scandalized Balzac's contemporaries and continue to delight modern readers. French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) was a founder of realism in European literature. An inspiration to Proust, Dickens, Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, and countless others, Balzac wrote works that were hailed for their multifaceted characters and exquisite attention to detail. This edition's excellent translation was the first to make Contes Drolatiques available to English-speaking readers.
A daughter inherits her father's miserliness, which stifles her relationship with her cousin, making love an unsatisfying experience. As with Balzac's other work, his characters in Eugenie Grandet are fully and realistically portrayed. Balzac began to conceive his great work The Human Comedy whilst writing this novel, and the characters herein are reworked in his comedy.
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