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Due to his keen observation of fine detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature. He is renowned for his multi-faceted characters; even his lesser characters are complex, morally ambiguous and fully human. Inanimate objects are imbued with character as well; the city of Paris, a backdrop for much of his writing, takes on many human qualities. Many of Balzac's works have been made into films, and they continue to inspire other writers.
An enthusiastic reader and independent thinker as a child, Balzac had trouble adapting himself to the teaching style of his grammar school. His willful nature caused trouble throughout his life, and frustrated his ambitions to succeed in the world of business. When he finished school, Balzac was apprenticed as a legal clerk, but he turned his back on law after wearying of its inhumanity and banal routine.
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Before and during his career as a writer, he attempted to be a publisher, printer, businessman, critic, and politician. He failed in all of these efforts. Balzac suffered from health problems throughout his life, possibly due to his intense writing schedule. Many of Balzac's shorter works have elements taken from the popular "roman noir" or gothic novel , but often the fantastic elements are used for very different purposes in Balzac's work. His use of the magical ass' skin in La Peau de chagrin for example becomes a metaphor for diminished male potency and a key symbol of Balzac's conception of energy and will in the modern world.
La Comédie Humaine - Tome 1/12
In a similar way, Balzac undermines the character of Melmoth the Wanderer in his "Melmoth Reconciled": Balzac takes a character from a fantastic novel by Charles Robert Maturin who has sold his soul for power and long life and has him sell his own power to another man in Paris As depicted in his works, Balzac's spiritual philosophy suggests that individuals have a limited quantity of spiritual energy and that this energy is dissipated through creative or intellectual work or through physical activity including sex , and this is made emblematic in his philosophical tale La Peau de chagrin , in which a magical wild ass's skin confers on its owner unlimited powers, but shrinks each time it is used in science.
Balzac frequently bemoans the loss of a pre-Revolutionary society of honor which has now become — especially after the fall of Charles X of France and the arrival of the July Monarchy — a society dominated by money. The other source of power is rank. People of good blood aspire to a title, while people with titles aspire to the peerage.
The opening section of The Secrets of the Princess Cadignan provides an explanation of why the title of prince is not prevalent nor coveted in France compared to contemporary Germany or Russia. The difference in outcome is partly explained by Balzac's views on heredity: This deficit is compounded by the fact that his mother had not only married a commoner far beneath her in rank, but she had also performed menial labour to support herself when her husband died. Another contrast is between Emile Blondet and Raoul Nathan.
Both are multi-talented men-of-letters. He marries Madame de Montcornet and eventually becomes a prefect.
Nathan is described as half-Jewish and possessing a second-rate mind. Nathan succumbs to the flattery of unscrupulous financiers and does not see that they are prepared to bankrupt him to achieve their purposes.
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Blondet sees what is happening but does not enlighten Nathan. The downfall drives Nathan to attempt suicide by the method of "any poor work-girl". In the end he accepts the cross of the Legion of Honour which he formerly satirised and becomes a defender of the doctrine of heredity.
We are left in no doubt that it is the second option that produces what Balzac considers to be the ideal woman. Ursula is pious and prone to collapsing in tears at the slightest emotion. The latter category also includes several lesbian or bisexual characters.
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. A Life , pg. Norton and Company, Inc. Lippincott Company, London, Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English.