Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Lost Illusions

Honoré de Balzac wrote Lost Illusions (Les illusions perdues) between 1837 and 1843. The novel is divided into three parts; in the first one, entitled "The Two Poets", the main character – young Lucien - is introduced in his milieu, a dreary provincial town. In Angoulême, Lucien and his friend David inspire each other to pursue their dreams; David feels more engaged with science, while Lucien decides to become a writer. The society into which he is introduced is led by Madame de Bargeton, a lady who encourages him to pursue a literary career.
Although the hero boasts of his noble origins (changing his name to Rubempré), he represents an impoverished class; Lucien is anxious to recover lost ground by bringing his artistic talent to bear. The will to succeed as a writer in Paris will lead him to go beyond moral bounds to improve his social status. Furthermore, his family is ready to sacrifice everything for Lucien, in whom they have blind faith. Eve and David - his sister and brother-in-law - are very much guided by Lucien’s fantasies, as they want to see him succeed in the task he has taken on.
In Part II (“Un Grand Homme de Province à Paris”), these hopes fade away as Lucien has a first taste of parisian life. His musings about his needs and problems touch on topic of falsehood in human relations: it is a hard lesson for Lucien. Despite all of this, he continues his efforts. He sinks deeper, as he frequents bad company. In a contrast very close to melodrama, actress Coralie represents the fallen woman, while Eve is depicted as an angel.
Journalism, and especially, Parisian Bohemianism are well depicted in the novel; among the intellectuals, D’Arthez is not a fame seeker, but he strives to produce quality work. As for journalism, it is addressed in a very critical way. Intellectuals and writers gather at an unforgettable local tavern, and the depictions of customs of librarians and printers at that time are also very interesting as well. Furthermore, David runs a print shop at Angoulême, so it provides greater details. The last part of the book, entitled “The Travails of an Inventor”, focuses on David’s problems to make his business thrive.
Despite all hope, wasted effort increases Lucien’s moral decay. Sand castle crumbles before his eyes and Lucien plunges into despair. The lives and doings of Balzac’s characters continue in other books: the outcome of the story can be found in The Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans (Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes), written between 1838 and 1846.

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