Saturday, June 25, 2016

Balzac's Short Stories

From Reid's Reader:
Twice on this blog I have pointed out that we are misjudging Guy de Maupassant if we see him only as a writer of short stories, great as he was in that genre (look up the postings on Pierre et Jean and Fort Comme La Mort). Guy de Maupassant was also a novelist. Four times on this blog, I have dealt with some of the best novels of Honore de Balzac (1799-1850), viz. Le Pere Goriot, LaRabouilleuse, La Cousine Bette and Le Cousin Pons. But here I must perform the manoeuvre in reverse. Great as Balzac was as a novelist, he was also an accomplished writer of short stories. So as with Guy de Maupassant, we can appreciate him in both genres.

As a signed-up Balzacian, I must, however, issue a warning. Not all of Balzac’s shorter fiction is of a piece or is of equal merit. Once he had conceived of his interlocking series of novels La Comedie Humaine, he often wrote short pieces simply to connect characters in one novel with characters in another. Indeed he often worked-over short stories he had already written, adding incidental details and names to fit them into this grand scheme. It is hard even for me to read these as stand-alone pieces. They are best read as adjuncts to specific Comedie Humaine novels. There is also the fact that his concept of the short story was a very loose one. Some of his shorter fictions are of the length of novellas, like his story of the money-lender Gobseck (1830) or his sad tale, one of his best, of the returned Napoleonic soldier Le Colonel Chabert (1832). (Read more.)

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