You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Henri Balzac’ tag.

I begun and begun again; and though I had nothing to say, and that nothing might have been express’d in half a dozen lines, I made half a dozen different beginnings, and could no way please myself.

In short, I was in no mood to write.

So this is the story. For the last three weeks I have taken on an additional challenge for the month of November. No, not to grow a moustache. That ship has sailed and made a few round trips already.  I joined NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

Write 50,000 words in a month. That’s the challenge. Anything you want. Then once it is all over, you can take a gander at your ‘masterpiece’, and see if there’s anything worth salvaging.

This afternoon I finally hit 40,000 words. I am cutting it close, as the deadline is this Tuesday. But books don’t read themselves, so a delicate balancing act has occupied me for the last few weeks. (I am also nursing one sick cat. That takes up a lot more time than any invertebrate ‘novel’).

Approach a student of English letters and say the words ‘Tristram Shandy’. Observe how the shibboleth brings a look of despair and panic to their eyes. Personally I rather like Sterne’s ground-breaking novel, but then I came to it from the opposite direction, as a related text to La Peau de Chagrin by Balzac. The French literary scene were quite taken with Sterne’s device of writing a novel that never properly starts.

By its completion, with several volumes concerning the ancestry of Tristram, our hero’s story has yet to begin. It’s as much a novel about the difficulties in writing a novel as anything else. There are also a few visual quirks thrown in, such as the page that is entirely black (a device supernatural authors became fond of in the 19th/early 20th centuries).

I would also recommend Michael Winterbottom’s film ‘adaptation’, A Cock and Bull Story which concerns a film production of Shandy that itself can’t quite get off the ground.

A Sentimental Journey is equally digressive, a travelogue that is entered into on the whim of the narrator, Yorick, which is more concerned with his thoughts on travelling than the journey itself. Crossing France from Calais he relates the various encounters he has with people of interest, although the peculiarities of the French language and the differences in social conventions prevent Yorick from developing any real relationships. He somehow manages to be oblivious to the fact that England is at war with France during the first half of his journey!

His one constant is a hired manservant named La Fleur who is lacking in qualifications, but has an innate understanding of what is required to protect monsieur’s honour. Yorick is continually caught in his own complicated thought processes, at one point naming the various devils that prevent from entering any course of action – Avarice, Caution, Cowardice, Discretion, Hypocrisy, Meanness and Pride. These personal forces at all times in conflict with one another, leaving Yorick a more comical procrastinator than the eponymous hero of the play from which Sterne gave him his name.

To Sterne’s credit not only is Hamlet referenced in the text, the play is mocked mercilessly, or rather the regard with which it is held by the English. To illustrate Yorick’s confounded thought processes Sterne writes mostly in a stream of consciousness style. The frustrated flirting of the hero – for it would not do to approach a woman in France as one would in England – occasions much of the suspended plot.

Perhaps this is a stumbling block for readers of Sterne. Nothing much happens, but what does occur is poured over and agonized by the characters in a mockery of authorial insight.

This is a witty, inventive and above all, fun book.

 

The author is again visibly starting to amuse himself – nay, we’ll use the word – to mystify us.

So I woke up this morning feeling tired, wondering what I would read next.  Then Mr Postman arrived with a package from Canada. Wouldn’t you know it; it was a book from Stacey over at the excellent Word of Mouse blog. Hey, if anyone else out there wants to send me on a book, that would be just lovely.

This book features a series of parodies of different authors by Proust, describing the circumstances of a scandal that involved the famously neurotic writer himself. Henri Lemoine was a scam-artist who claimed to be able synthesize diamonds from coal. Proust himself was conned, but famously the De Beers Diamond Mines were also taken in by the scam.

For the purpose of his parody, Proust has the likes of Henri Balzac and Gustave Flaubert respond to the scandal, as well as a critical review by Sainte-Beuve of the latter’s effort published in The Constitutional. With each example chosen the parody extends beyond merely stylistic quirks of the respective authors, as the short chapters focus on different aspects of Lemoine’s deception.

I have never read À la recherche du temps perdu, having previously only come close when studying Chien de Printemps by Patrick Modiano, as well as that silly book How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton. As such my impression of him was that his writing was structured around endless digressions into memory and self-consciousness. The Lemoine Affair proves that I was missing the point entirely.

The authors selected by Proust are not merely chosen to display his gift for parody, but to demonstrate his insight into their importance in French culture. What if this scandal had demanded that all the bright lights of the literary world weigh in on what had happened? What if Lemoine’s trickery had led to Proust’s own suicide? In imagining this scenario he removes himself from the ranks of literary contenders vying to write the definitive account of the affair. Yes, and by association, about Proust’s own shame in being taken in by the scam. In this as in everything else, the central point of concern is Marcel Proust himself. This is interesting as Sainte-Beuve for one is known for having argued with Wilde on the point about all authors revealing their inner selves through their fiction.

Balzac in particular fairs poorly as a target of gentle ridicule. ‘His’, section of the novella concerns itself with aristocratic gossip and badinage, right up until the end, when it seems the author suddenly remembers to deliver a screed of exposition on Lemoine. Flaubert’s realism is also dismissed as mere stylistic prudery and Michelet delivers pedantry about the diamond industry itself. Again and again we see the degree to which Proust prided himself not only as a writer capable of translating his thoughts onto the page with exacting detail, but as a critic of literature itself. Failing to revenge himself upon Lemoine, he retreats to the world of writing, where he holds a stronger position.

I enjoyed this book for its insight into Proust and the taste it gave for his masterpiece. While I do not intend to plough through that sequence of novels for this site, I am looking forward to reading them soon.

Thanks again to Stacey for the lovely gift.

Join me at The Momus Report

Vote For Me!

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share