Friday, September 24, 2010

Balzac and me.

Since I have never in my life studied English Literature I have embarked on my own programme of self-study. In the last few years, picked up one of names from the classics and tried to determine their style. At the moment I am reading a lot of Honoré de Balzac downloaded onto my Kindle. I have concentrated on his short stories and find I prefer them to Guy de Maupassant's because I think they have more wit. For instance, in 'Study of a Woman' he has 'His friends have named him "dull weather,"--aptly enough, for there is neither clear light nor total darkness about him.'

Balzac's style, as far as I can glean, is a series of intense, funny and well-observed character studies, often told in the form of long conversations between protagonists. For instance, in the novel The Country Doctor, a soldier comes upon the practice of a country doctor. The character of both the countryside and the population are described, then the doctor gives a long reply to the soldier how he made a great change to the fortunes of the neighbourhood, followed, eventually, by an explanation for why he devoted himself to such a cause (which involves a description of his earlier tragic history). The soldier then reveals the real reason for his visit, and the doctor agrees to look after the soldier's adopted son. It is a solution that neatly involves all the main characters in the doctor's life.

The most interesting parts of the narrative, then, are in the first person, but it is all couched within the style of an omniscient narrator (this, incidentally is a technique also much-used by the Japanese author Haruki Marukami). Morals are described and examined in a much more overt way than in a modern text, and there is a sense and certainty that evil deeds are punished - if not by a change in fortune, then by some torment of the soul.

I would love to get a touch of Balzac in my own work; which is really just a good excuse to read some more.


Anonymous ojimenez said...

English Lit? mmm...
I was under the impression that Mr. Honore and Mr. Guy were from across the Chunnel... Either that, or Dr. Highfil at the University didn't include them in our curriculum.. the fink! he,he, he.


Sat Sep 25, 01:32:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

You're right of course ojimenez, they are where would they be studied in English, I wonder - maybe not at all.

Sat Sep 25, 02:03:00 pm  

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