ANONYMOUS (France) Portrait of Balzac (1799-1850) ca. 1860 [R/V] - x +
PHOT1860balz

CN: PHOT1860balz

MT: albumen print on paper mounted on card (8x5 / C:10x6)

TX: inscribed with fountain pen at lower center of margin in French <Balzac>, inscribed with pencil at rear upper center <Balzac>

PR: Maison Alphonse Giroux, Paris

DN: Mr. Megakles Rogakos - 2009

CM: Honoré de Balzac (20 May 1799 - 18 August 1850) was a French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of almost 100 novels and plays collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the fall of Napoléon Bonaparte in 1815. Due to his keen observation of 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. His writing influenced many famous authors, including the novelists Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, Marie Corelli, Henry James, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino as well as important philosophers such as Friedrich Engels. 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. 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. La Comédie Humaine reflects his real-life difficulties, and includes scenes from his own experience. Balzac suffered from health problems throughout his life, possibly due to his intense writing schedule. His relationship with his family was often strained by financial and personal drama, and he lost more than one friend over critical reviews. In 1850, he married Ewelina Hańska, his longtime love; he died five months later. § Balzac had a significant influence on the writers of his time and beyond. He has been compared to - and cited as an influence on - Charles Dickens. Critic W. H. Helm calls one "the French Dickens" and the other "the English Balzac" [ Helm, 124 ]. Another critic, Richard Lehan, says that "Balzac was the bridge between the comic realism of Dickens and the naturalism of Zola" [ Lehan, 38 ]. French author Gustave Flaubert was also substantially influenced by Balzac. Praising his portrayal of society while attacking his prose style, Flaubert once wrote: "What a man he would have been had he known how to write!" [quoted in Robb, 422]. While he disdained the label of "realist", Flaubert clearly took heed of Balzac's close attention to detail and unvarnished depictions of bourgeois life [Brooks, 54]. This influence shows in Flaubert's work L'education sentimentale, which owes a debt to Balzac's Illusions Perdues [Brooks, 27]. "What Balzac started", says Lehan, "Flaubert helped finish" [Lehan, 48]. Marcel Proust similarly learned from the Realist example; he adored Balzac and studied his works carefully [105]. Balzac's story Une Heure de ma Vie (An Hour of my Life, 1822), in which minute details are followed by deep personal reflections, is a clear ancestor of the style used by Proust in À la recherche du temps perdu [ Robb, 70]. Perhaps no author was more affected by Balzac than the American expatriate novelist Henry James. In 1878 James wrote with sadness about the lack of commentary attention paid to Balzac, and lavished praise on the French writer in four essays (in 1875, 1877, 1902, and 1913). "Large as Balzac is", James wrote, "he is all of one piece and he hangs perfectly together" [James (1878), 89]. He wrote with admiration of Balzac's attempt to portray in writing "a beast with a hundred claws" [James (1914), 127]. In his own novels, James chose to explore more of the psychological motives of the characters and less of the historical sweep exhibited by Balzac - a conscious style preference. "[T]he artist of the Comédie Humaine", he wrote, "is half smothered by the historian" [James (1914), 115]. Still, both authors used the form of the realist novel to probe the machinations of society and the myriad motives of human behaviour [ Stowe, 28-31 ] [ Lehan, 48 ]. Balzac's vision of a society in which class, money and personal ambition are the major players has been endorsed by critics of both left-wing and right-wing political tendencies [ Rogers, vii ]. Marxist Friedrich Engels wrote: "I have learned more [from Balzac] than from all the professional historians, economists and statisticians put together" [Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick Engels (1947). Literature and Art: Selections from Their Writings. New York. Quoted in Rogers, ix ]. Balzac has received high praise from critics as diverse as Walter Benjamin and Camille Paglia [Robb, 423]. In 1970 Roland Barthes published S/Z, a detailed analysis of Balzac's story Sarrasine and a key work in structuralist literary criticism. Balzac has also influenced popular culture. Many of his works have been made into popular films and television serials, including Les Chouans (in 1947), Le Père Goriot (BBC mini-series, in 1968), and La Cousine Bette (BBC mini-series, in 1974, starring Margaret Tyzack and Helen Mirren; film in 1998, starring Jessica Lange). He is significantly included in François Truffaut's film, The 400 Blows (1959). As a screenwriter, Truffaut believed Balzac and Proust to be the greatest French writers. He was also adapted into a character in Orson Scott Card's alternate history series The Tales of Alvin Maker. Balzac is presented as a crude but deeply witty and insightful man. In 2000, Chinese author Dai Sijie published Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse Chinoise (Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress), in which a suitcase filled with novels helps to sustain city youths sent to the countryside for "re-education" during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It was made into a film (adapted and directed by the author) in 2002.

[Megakles Rogakos 12/2009]

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