Balzac thread of doom

Discussion on any 19th century written works by authors other than Hugo.
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Marianne
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Balzac thread of doom

Postby Marianne » Mon May 31, 2010 10:56 pm

Blah blah blah talk about any Balzac you like here, but I'm going to cut right to the chase: Vautrin offers Enjolras a deal. Obviously disaster ensues, but in what form? DISCUSS.
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Re: Balzac thread of doom

Postby Frédérique » Tue Jun 01, 2010 1:27 am

BALZAC. (I just meant to go to bed and catch up on the past week's sleep, but I guess that can wait.)

So what is on offer? Somehow I cannot even see Enjolras getting into a situation in which Vautrin would actually be of help - not 1828-1832, at any rate (but then, Vautrin is busy with Lucien until 1830 anyway, and then presumably takes care of Théodore [I hate that plot turn with a vengeance - not the implications, not the outcome, but the way Théodore is introduced and dealt with - but the reason must really really wait until tomorrow or whenever]). Especially as an individual - and it is 'protection' of individuals in which Vautrin deals. Well, he has his hands in everything, of course, but in the Mephistophelian deals you are referring to, the bottom line is 'I am going to make you the unofficial ruler of your chosen sphere of the outside world while you accept me as your ruler, thereby also but not exclusively [kiss on forehead here] ruler of [see before] by proxy'-- what would Enjolras want to rule, whom defy?
Discarding that, I suppose if it was just a question of Vautrin passing him in the street (or driving past, etc.) and going 'Hey! Handsome blond lad with sad eyes an' all! Want a ride? Want fifteen thousand francs?', Enjolras would simply ... ignore him? (He probably gets it a lot.) And that would be that. No?
Montparnasse seems a more suitable target. Has he fallen too low already to heave himself out and contribute anything whatsoever to becoming an upper-crust dandy if given the chance? Probably. But at least he does have, if not 'ambition', vanity. With Enjolras I just can't picture where the motivation would come from to consider any sort of deal, or even to appear as if he might be interested - unless it were literally a porn scenario on the edge of June 6, 'You let me have my way with you on that billiard table upstairs and I snap my fingers and the whole of Paris will miraculously come to your aid.' (which may or may not be precisely what happens in Grantaire's dreams while he is asleep during the battle).
(I also had the temporary belief that chief-of-police Vautrin is somehow involved in Claquesous' possible double-agentry, which I justified à la 'so if Lucien's name is somehow inspired by la tante [!] Chardon who was killed by Lacenaire and if Lacenaire supposedly said that he didn't do it but Patron-Minette did ...', which does not actually make coherent sense, but, you know.)
(AND in my head Samanon from "Un grand homme ..." is somehow an advanced/not-yet-specialised version of the Changer, even though their addresses are quite a bit apart.)

Also, 'talk about any Balzac you like' is a VERY DANGEROUS STATEMENT. Has anybody read "Les Chouans"? It's part trashy adventure romance (noble girl is forced to act as republican spy and falls in love with dashing youthful royalist leader, cue a long chain of deceptions and disappointments and plenty of seriously brutish peasants and bloodshed bloodshed bloodshed) part more gratuitous information on landscape than even Hugo would have bothered with (and harder to read because Balzac doesn't wax lyrical about it but just tells it as best as his on-location research allowed him) and I adore(d) it because
a)it's extremely interesting to look out for the traces of young Balzac's unabashed revolutionary sympathies which he tried to 'correct' when he established himself in legitimist circles, leading to strange clashes of ... something (will delve into notes again)
b)the London lot was talking about Kate Beaton the other day and I mentioned an illustration depicting Corentin (whom you'll know from "Splendeurs ..." and who appears only in two other novels* - "Les Chouans" and the very atypically structured but thrilling "Une ténébreuse affaire", which is a semi-roman à clef dealing with the Clément de Ris abduction case [plus tragic romance, bloodshed, and landscape] and which Ned Lukacher suggests had a heavy influence on Marx's "Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne") which looked a lot like the Incroyable in the second/third "Hipsters Ruin Everything" comic, and while I don't think this actually is the illustration I was thinking of, here's Corentin in 1799.

*Which is also so interesting because "Les Chouans" was one of the first parts of the Comédie written and "La dernière incarnation de Vautrin" was, I think, the last that was finished and they're set thirty years apart and ... Corentin's there in both, so Balzac evidently always had him at the back of his mind, yet he never actively enters into any of the other, what, ninety plots. Which makes perfect sense because he is that background string-puller (and possibly better at it than Vautrin because he does not have Vautrin's redeeming quality of being Bound To Humanity By Love [and therefore capable of being distracted/deterred on occasion] or whatever it says). It's just slightly scary because usually even the most insignificant sister of a lover of a duchess's maid will get actively re-used if it can at all pass for realistic.

AND ANOTHER THING: Louis Madelin, in his biography of Joseph Fouché, claims that Javert and Corentin both represent the same archetype of the imperial police agent which is just SO RIDICULOUSLY UNTRUE because they have completely different work ethoses (not a word, that), as in, Javert actually believes his work to be ethical, whereas Corentin does not give a toss as long as he has got something to do and derives some form of profit from it (be it financial or in terms of personal satisfaction - you get the latter in "Splendeurs ..." with his sort of bloody chess game with Vautrin, but much more overtly in the other two).

OH AND have you read the "Vautrin" play yet? It isn't exactly essential and, if considered 'canon', is actually quite disappointing (as it basically tells you that Vautrin was actually quite selflessly playing father to a much younger boy for several years pre-"Le père Goriot"), though still interesting to take note of because of all that went wrong when it went on stage (people didn't get what it was trying to do [understandably] so at some point they supposedly decided that since Frédérick's wig was looking unusually pear-like that night it had to be a satire on Louis-Philippe ... which promptly got it banned after the first performance).

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Re: Balzac thread of doom

Postby Nanny Ogg » Sat Jul 10, 2010 12:03 am

Oh my, I should continue to read it! I'm about halfway through the series, our local library has it in ten doorstoppers, around 1000 page each. But then I dropped it for a while for other series (I'm unlucky... I always pick up a series with over 15 books), and almost forgot about it.

Vautrin is a big favourite. Magnificent Bastard / Chessmaster in its purest form. Also, I rather like Lucien, despite all his emoness. Someone should make an anime from the two Lucien books - he'd look so funny with big, cute bishounen eyes.
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Re: Balzac thread of doom

Postby a_marguerite » Sat Jul 10, 2010 11:37 am

Frédérique wrote:Discarding that, I suppose if it was just a question of Vautrin passing him in the street (or driving past, etc.) and going 'Hey! Handsome blond lad with sad eyes an' all! Want a ride? Want fifteen thousand francs?', Enjolras would simply ... ignore him? (He probably gets it a lot.)


I swear I had some relevant question to ask about Pere Goriot (which is a French comic book now, I just read it in a bookshop and was really amused by it, and was very keen on de Rastignac's meticulously period overcoat with its wasp waist and its many nifty lapels) but I am too busy laughing over that.

HANDSOME BLOND LAD WITH SAD EYES AN' ALL

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Re: Balzac thread of doom

Postby Frédérique » Sat Jul 10, 2010 12:50 pm

Sometimes the occasion just does not lend itself to sinking in your claws via thirty page lectures on Richelieu, Mazarin, Cellini ("Yes, I read him! And in Italian, what's more!" - I love Vautrin's bouts of bragging about such tiny things) (and this one especially because his being fluent in Italian is actually owed to his affairs with various young Italians and Corsicans), etc. Enjolras is one of these occasions, so the best you can try is get straight to the point :P

Edit: That said, I've come up with a v. scientific reason for why Vautrin/Enjolras is not a promising concept even for Vautrin: Balzac emphasises repeatedly that Lucien is Practically A Woman not just in looks but in personality (you all know that line about how feminine hips in a man are almost always indiciative of his character and in Lucien's case certainly were) and the reason he and Lucien actually function as puppet and puppetmaster (until you add Esther, or rather until you add Nucingen and the spies, but they obviously follow from her), in a quite literally fucked up but essentially mutually rewarding way is that Vautrin needs that 'feminine' counterpart, demanding (i.e. providing an occasion to be satisfied and therefore justifying demands for reward) but soft/malleable (note that 'softness' and 'shapelessness' is an attribute Hugo gives to Grantaire). And there's some very clever scholar whose name I have sadly forgotten who saw a psychological (as opposed to merely aesthetic) feminisation of Rastignac as well in the way Balzac always has him (R.) feel as if Vautrin was seeing into his soul while that sort of penetration-via-eye is what he tries (and fails at first) to apply to the ex-Mlles Goriot. POINT BEING that Enjolras is feminine exclusively in looks, therefore by definition not Vautrin's type.

OMSB I shall have to hunt down that comic book (already have an "Une ténébreuse affaire" one which was rather a letdown on the fashion front - the same artist also did a "93" which I hope to get my hands on someday to see if Gauvain's hair is as pretty as Hoche's). Do you remember the artist or the publisher?

My Comédie project has more or less stagnated since I last posted in this thread - made it through a few short ones (among which the infamous "Une passion dans le désert", which is not as scandalous as its reputation in our day suggests, "La vendetta", which made me very happy due to the presence of Surprise B[u]onapartes, and "Un prince de la bohème", which made for a bittersweet reencounter with Dinah de la Baudraye and Étienne Lousteau, the latter of whom is still relatively charming in his jovial cynicism in "Illusions perdues" but is revealed to be nothing short of a monster in "La muse du département" - especially interesting because his public and private amorality and selfishness [lacking both the Magnificence/Chessmasteryness of Vautrin and the stupidity/inexperience of Lucien] is not shown to be either cause or effect of his profession but just part of his individual personality, in that Émile Blondet is just as flexible in his principles as a journalist but repeatedly shown to be a loyal friend [and lover] in his personal life - sort of like you keep finding Bianchon at every table on every level of society getting drunk and being silly, yet he is also always hard at work healing 99% of the sick of Paris and a good few across the rest of the country; it's not always a black/white choice between garret room virtuousness and corruption), but nothing substantial. "Physiologie du mariage" is looming in the middle distance and looking frightfully uninteresting. I'm looking forward to "Louis Lambert", though. He better be worthy of the esteem in which he is held among the great men of the Rue des Quatre-Vents.

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Re: Balzac thread of doom

Postby Col.Despard » Sun Jul 11, 2010 12:30 am

I was wondering how I missed this thread before, and then realised that of course I was somewhere else on the far side of the globe when it kicked off!

Your Comedie project might have stalled, Frédérique, but mine never really got off the ground, seeing that I dropped "Illusions" as soon as you issued your emphatic directive that I was not to read it first in the series (and it's now lost somewhere in the cartons of books that have yet to be unpacked.

I am, however, ticked to death by the idea of an Enjolras - Lucien face off, orchestrated (somehow) by Vautrin. With Nanny Ogg's Big Blue Bishie Eyes in play, I'm seeing a cartoon of the two of them face-to-face with a beside-himself-with-glee Vautrin rubbing his hands together. The problem is, as Frédérique suggests, Enjolras' indifference to the entire scenario kind of puts the kibosh on too many fireworks errupting. He'd probably just walk off with the equivalent of "all right then, leaving you two to it...".

Or we could have Vautrin playing a flute that he intimates belonged to Saint-Just (there was, after all, one listed among SJ's effects after Thermidor)...sort of a cigar theme, if you know what I mean. But, again, Enjolras is going to be a bit "Meh" in response. You'd have better luck seducing him if you offered him a few thousand tons of armaments. And even then at the end of it he'd likely turn around and freeze you with a glance if you mentioned that, you know, you sort of wanted a pay off.
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Re: Balzac thread of doom

Postby sophiedegrouchy » Sun Jul 11, 2010 7:52 am

Frédérique, I very much like that analysis of why Vautrin would never have any sway over Enjolras. The blatant misogyny hardly even gets to me anymore, heh.

I have always rather wanted to see a meeting between Enjolras and Lucien (and, let's face it, all the other nearly identical blond, blue-eyed Apollo's from the era's literature), but even more so, I'd love to see them switch places for a day or so. Not only how Enjolras would deal with d'Arthez, Vautrin, Esther, etc, but also what Lucien would do when faced with guns, revolution, politics, etc. Probably just panic.

Despard, you raise an interesting question re: armaments and seduction - precisely how much and what kind of aid would one have to offer the cause before Enjolras would be willing to sexual favors as payment? Surely solid help would outweigh the symbolic effectiveness of the unsullied leader at some point.

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Re: Balzac thread of doom

Postby Frédérique » Sun Jul 11, 2010 9:56 am

... I love how at the end of the day half of our discussions boil down to 'Okay, but how do we get them into bed?'.

Hm-hm. Perhaps it's because I'm unimaginative, but I just ... don't see Enjolras paying any attention to Lucien even if they were the sole two patrons of a café late at night. Why would he? They have no common interests. They move in different circles. (Maybe they're cousins [your reference to Mantel's Desmoulins and Saint-Just here]. Maybe it turns out Enjolras actually has a right to inherit the 'de Rubempré' and Lucien needs to sweet-talk him out of it. Not that it would take a lot.) Okay, Lucien moves in multiple circles, but Enjolras has no dealings with either demi-mondes or high society. You could, perhaps, engineer something through the journalists, though - I've always wondered in how far Courfeyrac's publisher friend is of the breed of the publishers and editors paraded in "Illusions" ... and I can totally see Courfeyrac having connections in the journalist bohème anyway (or even Grantaire! why should not his unproductive cynicism and knowing-all-the-phrases-but-not-internalising-their-meanings be the leftover of a productive cynicism à la young Lousteau?). He comes a couple of years too late to fall in with Lousteau, Vernou, Hector Merlin, Blondet et al in their "Illusions" incarnation, and their successors, so to speak, are never introduced, but ... the intersections between the student bohème and the journalist bohème are too large (not least in terms of living areas) for all Amis to steer clear of the latter.
Enjolras and d'Arthez, on the other hand, is a conversation I can see taking place, seeing how they are both very serious and both somewhat laconic (Enjolras would not offend d'Arthez' sensibilities by means of trivial babble), and they could easily meet at the library while trying to look at the same obscure historical document. Though again, by the time Enjolras presumably gets to Paris d'Arthez is already an acknowledged Great Man (I think but I may be wrong he is already famous throughout France in "Modeste Mignon", which is set in 1828; at any rate his first book comes out in ... 1820/21, I think?) (then again, you can't really trust Balzac in terms of who is famous and who is not, because I think Lucien's name is thrown around in MM as well and in his own novels you never get the sense that he came to any importance as a poet except in his home province, do you?). But would Enjolras actually enter into a discussion with him on political topics or would he leave it at learning that he is a royalist and telling him that he is wrong and surely (being such an intelligent and serious-minded and kind fellow) should know better?

OH WAIT, ignore the above. This is so obvious, but-- there is no way in hell that Bianchon is not friends with Combeferre (and somebody may well know Chrestien, of course), firstly because Bianchon is friends with everyone, secondly because come on, and ... because Bianchon is friends with everyone that allows dragging almost everyone to the same dinner table as Combeferre on some occasion, and if Combeferre were to bring Enjolras you could plausibly engineer any and all crossovers. They might just have arranged to meet up and each decide to bring their pretty blond friend because he was looking especially tired-but-rosy that day and then they would get lost in some geeky discussion of the anatomy of mollusks according to Cuvier or whathaveyou and the blonds would get bored and try to strike up a polite conversation. ("So, what are you interested in?" - "Revolution. Freedom and equality. You?" - "Sexy ladies and being the king of all Paris." - "Okay. [Pause.] What's that soup you're having?")

(Their switching places is a fun idea, though.)

Balzac and misogyny is ... a large topic (have we mentioned the "Histoire des Treize" yet?!). Balzac and women is a large topic. I write off the physiognomic BS as part of the general ... you know, physiognomic BS, but then you get books like "La muse du département" in which the female protagonist (Dinah) is more likable than anyone else (including Bianchon), but it's implied that she is to blame for her misery (she is a provincial lady who has a small success as a writer with a male pseudonym, then is seduced by Lousteau and runs off to Paris with him, where they sink into ever deeper squalor as she has the usual 'great person from the province in Paris' awakening and he is pretty much incapable of composing a single coherent paragraph by that point so she does his work while he goes around wasting their money and betraying and abusing her) because she fancied herself capable of doing the man's job of Being A Writer just because George Sand could. That's what transpires as Balzac's opinion there, approximately: 'George Sand is awesome but has a very unhealthy influence on women because they suddenly think they should be free and creative and stuff but really only women of genius should try putting that kind of dream to practice.' (And it speaks for itself that his Sand stand-in herself ends her days in a convent.) But then again it might just be a realistic cautionary tale, because a male who's run off to Paris with his illusions intact will lose those but not significantly more if he learns quickly and finds himself a new position at the bottom of the ladder and/or sleeps his way up, whereas a single woman has a lot less even halfway socially respectable options in that direction and thus has to make an immediate and major impact with her literary work if she is to survive on it/with it at all (and it is implied that Dinah's work under Lousteau's name is at least as good as what he would have come up with on his own). It's just that the sense I get from the book is not 'and this is a fact about our society that really sucks' but 'and this is a fact about our society and it will never change so have some drama about it'. (BUT THEN ... that's Balzac!)

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Re: Balzac thread of doom

Postby Col.Despard » Tue Jul 13, 2010 1:53 am

There just *has* to be a cracked out premise for a 'Prince and the Pauper" switch in here somwhere...Enjolras has been imprisoned or is otherwise out of the picture, and the Amis desperately need him to pull off something or other (an arms deal? Negotiations with some of the Dangerous Elements? Erm...something Enjolras would consider dirtying his hands with, at any rate...). They need an Enjolras. They don't have an Enjolras. Solution? Courfeyrac remembers a potential doppleganger who has tried to insinuate himself into the de Courfeyrac circles around Paris. And they win Lucien over into masquerading as Enjolras through a combination of bribery and threats (Courfeyrac: "Money! Cigars!" Bahorel: "Or I thump you!")

Hilarity, as they say, ensues (or at least something ensues) as Lucien tries to hold it together as he's dragged all over (and under) Paris, and has to pretend to be an ice-cold, charmismatic leader with an overarching Revolutionary vision in collusion with the Amis, who are getting a bit frustrated trying to prop him up...
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Re: Balzac thread of doom

Postby Frédérique » Tue Jul 13, 2010 8:44 am

Which is an altogether splendid idea up to the point where as soon as you steal Lucien from His Context at the point in time at which les Amis are in Paris, you would have
a)Vautrin and his aunt (his real aunt) setting off to poison you and/or kidnap and rape your near and dear ones
b)a band of less-than-lawful fringe-of-police spies on your trail trying to prove that Lucien has relations with (former) prostitutes and criminals and generally to discredit him in the eyes of his fiancée's legitimist family.

which (... is obviously a feast for an author who likes chase sequences, disguises etc.), Health & Safety risks aside, may just be a tad more attention than subversive organisations want to attract. Of course, Courfeyrac would not know that (or think the risk that great). It still seems generally unwise to try to pass off as a revolutionary someone who is as established in royalist circles as Lucien is by that time (this may actually be the one in a million scenario where it would be more intelligent to get a girl to pass for Enjolras). It would have worked in "Illusions perdues", but that was years ago! This Lucien is a fashionable high-class dandy with box seats who has been the lover of the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse and the Comtesse de Sérizy (and unwisely scorned the Marquise d'Espard), and who is soon to be married to a Mlle de Grandlieu! Even if Courfeyrac neither knows nor cares about the details, it should occur to him (or to someone) that he may be somebody who is watched closely wherever he goes. (Which brings up the question - if he and Enjolras are that similar, shouldn't there have been people claiming to have seen the latter in the company of people vehemently opposed to his own professed political opinions a hundred times?)
And presumably even Lucien would recognise that the risk involved for him is not worth what ever the promised reward may be. You have to take into account that he has been steadily supplied with money, cigars etc. by Vautrin since 1822 or so, and while they have been needing to sell Esther to Nucingen since ... a few years onwards (I'm shaky on the dates, but it can be found out) in order not just to be able to afford keeping up their lifestyle as it is but to pursue their long-term goals, we're talking sums les Amis combined would not be able to shake out of their sleeves - as an example, they spend at least 1.200.000 francs on buying back the Rubempré estates.
Likewise, I think Bahorel's 'Or I thump you!' would not instill quite as much terror in Lucien as fear of what Vautrin might do if he left him (yes, he is allowed to drop him like a cigar, but only if he has reached his aim, and playing revolutionary is certainly not it). Or rather, Lucien would be confident in the knowledge that if Bahorel thumped him, Bahorel would be washed ashore three miles downstream in the foreseeable future. Lucien himself may be weak enough to bring on only hilarity, but if you mess with Vautrin it only lasts so long.

(It does, of course, give you a context in which Vautrin could free the real Enjolras from prison and then demand compensation not only for that but for letting his friends borrow Lucien. If you want to go there.)
(While you're being evil - very evil - you could, of course, have Enjolras and Lucien in prison at the same time in May 1830. One of them is freed by some hare-brained Courfeyrac-Bahorel scheme. The other is found by the guards just when his release has been arranged ...) (Which gives you not only the extremely-fragile-Lucien-has-to-pose-as-revolutionary-leader plot but also a whodunnit. And you can still have Vautrin trying to get his revenge on all and sundry.)

That said, if anyone's going to write any of it (I mean, you can just say 'oh hey this is an "Illusions" AU taking place ten years later than the original because obviously the nature and power of the press changed drastically so it is very much necessary to update the book to July Monarchy conditions'), I offer myself as Balzac Canon-fact checker, should that 'anyone' require such a thing. I may not have read all the books or know anything by heart, but I know where to find everything :D

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Re: Balzac thread of doom

Postby Frédérique » Mon Aug 23, 2010 1:39 pm

A PROPOS OF NOTHING.
I recently finished "Les comédiens sans le savoir" ... which is quite amusing as a sort of overview of various typical careers/successes or lack thereof under the July Monarchy AND interesting for Research Purposes (or atmospherics or something) in as far as it focuses a)well, specifically on the July Monarchy (it is set in 1845 but casts a few backward glances) and b)on the bourgeoisie. Including the artsy bourgeoisie, if that isn't a contradiction in terms. So if you intend to have any of your characters in fic visit a)a highly philosophical hat fabricant b)a creepy (card-laying) fortune teller (and her chicken and her toad) or c)an obsessively Fourieriste sculptor, here are some! Also, some surprise Rastignac (now aged forty-eight, but ostensibly still looking 'like a young man') that made me significantly more cheerful than it should have.
And it's got the first Marius I have ever encountered in 1820s-1840s French fiction besides Baron Pontmercy (it's a pseudonym, though). He is a hairdresser. And pretentious. Oh, just read "Les comédiens sans le savoir"! It takes up no mental energy whatsoever and is so much fun/gratuitous-snapshots-of-July-Monarchy-France! Post-1836 (approx.) Balzac >>>>> early Balzac. By a lot.

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Re: Balzac thread of doom

Postby Gervais » Sun Jul 20, 2014 3:10 am

I got a Lock & Key Library set a few months ago, which is basically a collection of mystery stories from various parts of Europe & America. So far I've only been able to read part of the Classic French Stories book, but I just got to the Balzac section and oh my God I love it. Madame Firmiani kind of went in one ear and out of the other, though, but An Episode of the Terror was pretty darn great.
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