Lisa's Reviews > The Elixir Of Life

The Elixir Of Life by Honoré de Balzac
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Sep 05, 14

bookshelves: kindle, 19thcentury, france
Read in October, 2010

** spoiler alert ** A most curious story: I think perhaps it fits into that category of Balzac's horror stories told for amusement, to scare the ladies. I have read a later one of these by Balzac; they are bizarre because they stretch credulity in the service of the moral Balzac wants to portray.
In this one, a dissolute son, Don Juan, jests to his friends about wishing the long life of his indulgent father would end, and that very night the old man dies. But when Don Juan hypocritically dclares that he would give up his own life if it would prolong his father's, the old man on his deathbed reveals to his son that he has the 'eixir of life' and that the applcation of it after his death will bring life back to his body.
Don Juan, out of curiosity applies the exilir to the dead man's eye and it comes back to life. Appalled, he stops applying the liquid but the eye remains open, accusing him. He has to smother it to kill his father.
From this moment on evil taks hold and Don Juan is a changed man, not from remorse for the parricide but from his own ambition to live forever. He lives as before, with his 'extra life; in reserve (so that he can repent) and tells his wife and sone that they have an annuity so that they have no need to wish him dead to inherit.
When his time comes, the scene is replayed but this time the son drops and shatters the flask in shock when Don Juan's dead hand reaches out and grabs him. This leaves him in a kind of limbo because only the parts of his body that have been bathed in the liniment are alive. The people then interpret this mystery as a miracle and proclaim him a saint. As the ceremony of canonization begins the head detaches itself, bites the bishop and the bishop dies.
It is, to say the least, anincocnlusive ending.
The similarity to Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Grey and other Faustian bargains is obvious, but strange ending marred this story for me. Perhaps I missed the point?
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message 1: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely Great review, Lisa. Did not know that Balzac can be scary too. Well, what do I know, I am still to read a novel by him ha ha.


Lisa I don't think he wrote any novels, KD, just short stories, though some of them are long enough to be novellas. But these ones over the last couple of days have been really, really short.


message 3: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Lisa wrote: "I don't think he wrote any novels, KD, just short stories, though some of them are long enough to be novellas. But these ones over the last couple of days have been really, really short."

The works I've read by Balzac -- Pere Goriot, Cousin Bette and Eugenie Grandet (my favorite of the 3) -- are novels, Lisa. Not sure that I've read any of his short stories -- maybe one online. The man was prolific! Of course, that was how he made his living.


Lisa I haven't read those ones, Teresa. I mooched Cousin Bette without looking at the description properly and found it was in French LOL, but will get to it one day!


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