No man should marry until he has studied anatomy and dissected at least one woman.
When I left the farm at the age of 18 and jerry rigged my battered Camaro into a sputtering, but functional machine that could, by the grace of all that is holy, get me to Phoenix. I might have bore resemblance to Lucien de Rubempre the hero of Lost Illusions. Well, okay, there were some differences. I did not look like a Greek God. I did not have David Sechard as a best friend who lent me his last 1,000 francs for my trip to Phoenix/Paris. I most importantly did not have an aristocratic companion in the form of Madame de Bargeton, the queen of society in Angouleme. (I definitely left the farm on the wrong footing.) As it turns out despite Lucien's advantages his spectacular rise and fall in Paris society far eclipsed my own bumpy yet steady meandering attempt to be successful in the "big city". Drawing from the Folio edition
The first hurdle to be cleared by both Lucien and Madame de Bargeton was entry into Parisian Aristocratic society. Madame may have had the proper name, but she had been in the sticks way too long and had fallen behind on the current fashions and the latest affectations. Lucien, though a beautiful manly specimen, wore the wrong clothes. Clothes that were very nice for the country, but were outdated and ragged when compared to the festive clothing worn by the Parisian dandies. In other words both found the other wanting and a detriment to their efforts to fit in to the society they wished to become accustomed too. Madame de Bargeton, in a fit of survival, jettisoned her Greek God. Lucien, even though he had been thinking similar thoughts, was upset over the betrayal(plotted revenge) and quickly found himself mired in poverty. He took up with a bunch of philosophical writers, who despite their superior intelligence or because of it refused to try and be successful. As taken as Lucien is by their high ideals and their comradeship he quickly moves away from their company once he meets the con man Etienne Lousteau. Drawing from the Folio edition
Lousteau calls himself a journalist, but really he is a blackmailer, glib tongue seducer, and thief. Lucien meets Lousteau at the moment that he is in a midst of a deal to become editor of a newspaper. Lousteau likes Lucien, more importantly he sees that he can be of use to him, and shows him how to use his pen to make money. He ensnares him in the fine art of reviewing books, taking the best qualities of a novel and negating those qualities by presenting them as weaknesses. He shows him how to receive "bribes" in theater seats in exchange for positive reviews. Lucien, who was a good writer, soon found himself in a position of writing positive and negative reviews of the same book or the same play and taking money from publishers not to eviscerate their latest offering. Etienne and Lucien both are living with beautiful actresses and making a very good living, but their lifestyle far outreaches their pocketbooks and soon each finds themselves on the edge of disgrace. In an act of desperation Lucien forges David's signature on bank loans that have devastating consequences for his friend(brother-in-law)and sister. There are many more subplots that are complicated enough that separate reviews could be composed for each. Balzac does an amazing job juggling the plots without confusing the reader. Each new revelation has far reaching ramifications and I found myself squirming in my seat as each new piece of the puzzle is revealed.
Balzac creates a whole host of characters, wonderful characters, some who have bit parts, but have larger roles to play as part of the grander scheme of the world of the Human Comedy. Characters flow in and out of his books. In one book they may have a large role and in another a mere scene. He wrote 92 books that composed the Human Comedy and had sketches for 55 more. He created over 3,000 characters. Balzac is surprisingly funny, with skewering wit and a telescopic eye for human behavior. He was part of the realism movement and the characters of these books are the same people that are serving us coffee, delivering our mail, writing newspaper articles, and lending us money today. People have the same foibles and good qualities as they did a hundred years ago. In the form of Eve, David's wife and Lucien's sister, Balzac also reminds us of those few really special people that we occasionally meet who exemplify what we all wish to be....nice.Balzac
I got to say I'm hooked. I am curious to see what happens to more of these characters and in the span of one book I've only met a very few of the characters that Balzac brings to life in the Human Comedy. I must meet the rest. I will read more Balzac.