Charles Matthews's Reviews > Lost Illusions

Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac
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Jun 22, 10

Read in June, 2010

First off, Herbert J. Hunt's translation, which was first published in 1971, is exceptional, not so much because of accuracy -- to which I can't speak -- but because of its extraordinary readability. It has the feel of an early 19th century novel, which of course it is, though some translators believe that everything must be turned into a more contemporary idiom. The chief deficiency of the edition is the comparative lack of footnotes to clue the reader into Balzac's allusions to French history and social customs. A little more ongoing explanation of the financial and legal terms used in the novel would be welcome too -- the plot hinges on debtors and creditors, and although Balzac devotes some chapters to explaining the legal and financial background, his explanations need some explaining. Still, this is the kind of novel in which you feel the pulse of the characters -- they become alive to you. And although the ending, especially where Lucien is concerned, feels more like a moral fable -- the poet who sells his soul to the devil -- than a novel, and like a segue into other novels in the Comédie humaine, it satisfactorily rounds things off for most of the characters. And you sure do learn a lot about printing and paper-making (not to mention social-climbing) in early 19th-century France.
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