Larry's Reviews > Lost Illusions

Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac
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's review
Jan 08, 2011

really liked it
Read in August, 2008

“We spend the latter part of our lives in mowing down what we grew in our hearts when young. We call that operation ‘acquiring experience’,” a cynical and corrupt priest explains to Lucien Chardon, the young poet.

The book chronicles the life of Chardon, a modestly talented, idealistic poet in the provinces, whose obsession is to quickly climb the ranks of the highly stratified class system in France in the 1820s. His wit, charm and good looks propel him through a series of mistresses and sponsors in Paris, where he learns through bitter experience, and eventually accepts, that the life he seeks and the people he admires are hallow, corrupt and vicious. At first naïve, then a willing participant though never fully understanding the extent of the viciousness of many of his compatriots, he eventually forgoes his principles (changing political beliefs as though he was changing shirts) and his true friends, in the pursuit of fame and fortune.

Unintentional modern humour comes when Lucien sets aside his dream of being a pure-hearted poet to earn riches and esteem as a journalist. The French press, apparently, reported political and commercial news according to who paid them off most generously. In doing so, Lucien turned his back on the one group of sincere friends and writers, the Brotherhood, who adopted an ascetic, starving lifestyle, which Lucien eventual fled.

Written in three installments, the first two “books” are enjoyable and quite educational about the French class system and life in 1820s France. The third book bogs down in the story of Lucien’s brother-in-law, the pure-hearted, selfless working man whose printing business is being destroyed by wicked competitors.

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