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The Black Sheep

(La Comédie Humaine #33)

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,666 ratings  ·  88 reviews
Formerly an aide-de-camp to Napoleon but now without prospects, Phillippe Bridau and his younger brother Joseph, a shiftless artist, become entangled in a struggle to recover the family inheritance in a world where "to be without money is to be without power."
Paperback, 339 pages
Published May 27th 1976 by Penguin Classics (first published 1842)
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Garance Father Goriot is a good one as well :) but The Black Sheep is a good one…moreFather Goriot is a good one as well :) but The Black Sheep is a good one (less)

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On completing La Rabouilleuse, Balzac’s thirty-third in his series La Comédie Humaine, the thought that flew through my head was, “That is an accomplished piece of writing!”…not that I loved it. I was instead impressed by what the author had achieved.

First of all, there are many details and many strands and they come together well. Secondly, as a work of historical fiction describing the era of the Bourbon Restoration, the novel is exemplary.

The story is set both in Paris and Issoudun of the
Steven Godin
Aug 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: france, fiction
The novel begins in 1792 with a long and rather dull preamble givinge history to the Rouget family, and as it happens this is vital to understanding the last part of the tale. Agathe Rouget is the daughter of a rather nasty doctor, that seems to be putting it mildly, and Balzac laces the tale of Doctor Rouget and his unfortunate wife with innuendos. While Rouget, a petty domestic tyrant, dotes on his son and encourages Jean-Jacques’ very worst behaviour, he loathes Agathe as he suspects that she ...more
A confusion of sheep; a sheep that is black is actually white and the white sheep happens to be black. Such are the brothers Philippe and Joseph (who are, according to translator Donald Adamson modelled on Balzac himself and his sibling Henri). Handsome Philippe, fair with blue eyes, is the antithesis of brother Joseph, small, dark and physically unattractive. Agathe Bridau, their mother and sole provider, can't help favouring son Philippe whose career in Napoleon's army has advanced rapidly so ...more
Dec 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Black Sheep (La Rabouilleuse) [1842/1970] –

The Black Sheep is an outstanding novel by Balzac (Lost Illusions [1837]) that tells of a remarkable battle for inheritance. At the centre of this story are two brothers, Joseph and Philippe, who could not be more different from each other, the modest and studious Joseph is the complete opposite of the bold and physically-imposing Philippe. They become the protagonists in the fight against their uncle’s supposed will to leave his fortune to mere
Produced by John Bickers, and Dagny, and David Widger
Translator: Katharine Prescott Wormeley

Missing from the Gutenberg frontpage is the original title: La Rabouilleuse

Plot summary from wiki: The action of the novel is divided between Paris and Issoudun. Agathe Rouget, who was born in Issoudun, is sent to be raised by her maternal relatives, the Descoings in Paris by her father Doctor Rouget. She suspects (wrongly) that he is not her true father. There she marries a man named Bridau, and they
From BBC radio 4 - Classical Serial:
Chris Dolan's dramatisation of Honore de Balzac's entertaining tale of family rivalry and fortunes lost and won, set in 19th-century France.

After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, Philippe Bridau becomes a reckless gambler who steals from his mother to finance his obsession. She foolishly continues to idolise him, and it is left to his more dependable brother Joseph to rescue the family from destitution.

Narrator ...... Geoffrey Whitehead
Philippe Bridau ......
May 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Justice is served, in the end. What a great book!
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1840s, french
Philippe Bridau turns out to be nearly as diabolic as Vautrin. I'd guess this excellent example of what makes Balzac so addicting is overlooked even by Balzac enthusiasts. It deserves to rank beside some of his best work, such as 'The Vicar of Tours,' 'Colonel Chabert,' and 'Les Employees,' masterpieces that are only a hair's breadth beneath his absolute best 'Eugenie Grandet' and 'Lost Illusions.'
Mar 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa by: Balzac Yahoo reading group
Shelves: france, c19th, kindle
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The two brothers are Philippe and Joseph Bridau. Five years prior, Philippe, a dashing young officer, was Napoleon's aide-de-camp but he is now on half pay. Joseph is a poor aspiring artist. Their mother Agathe Bridau, a widow, has combined her resources with those of her aunt, Madame Descoings and set up a household in Paris. The story takes place in Paris and in Issoudun, one hundred miles south of Paris where Agathe's well-to-do brother, Jean-Jacques Rouget, lives. Some years ago, M. Rouget ...more
Tyler Jones
Jan 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
My experience with 19th Century literature is still very spotty, and this is the only Balzac novel I have read (so far), so take my comments with a grain of salt. I have read books from this era that showed a greater understanding of human nature ( I'm thinking Eliot and Zola ) but not many that were as as much fun to read. There is a wonderful cast of characters here, many of them charismatically rotten, and a plot that moves quite briskly and ends with a duel with sabres. Excellent! I was not ...more
J. Clayton Rogers
Nov 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
No, I haven't read through the entire Human Comedy, but having gone through around 10 volumes qualifies me (I think) to declare this one of the better books in the series. In fact, it was terrific. Is there an overabundance of melodrama? You bet. But the same is true of many of my favorite authors (I almost choked to death on Dickens' Little Nell--perhaps the most prolonged death scene in all literature). You have to swallow the bad with the good--or the good with the great. Balzac wrote some ...more
Apr 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Really Fantastic Story - my favorite so far, but not far ahead of Lost Illusions. Translated by Donald Adamson - didn't care for his translation - slang translated to some kind of early 18th century cockney-esque accent and sentences were choppy and sometimes didn't make sense. Exceptional story and a quick read.
Apr 01, 2019 rated it liked it
The Guardian placed Honoré de Balzac's The Black Sheep at #12 on its list of the "100 Greatest Novels of All Time." This is the only Balzac work that appears on the list, and it seems to me that Père Goriot (which is the Balzac work that most often appears on similar lists) is much more deserving of that spot than The Black Sheep, which is -- like most of Balzac's works -- heavy on melodrama (he would have been a great writer of telenovelas), but light in terms of substance. It has some ...more
Marc Gerstein
Apr 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
I had long considered Balzac my favorite author but somehow or other, wound up having gone a long time without reading anything by him. I guess I got distracted by other works. On reading the lesser-known less-discussed work, I see I've been away from Honore for much too long. This reminded me why I admire his work as much as I do.

It's part of his humongous human comedy series and as with some others, this one touches both sides of the Paris-versus-Provinces divide that so fascinated Balzac.
James F
Judging by Balzac's novels, the main occupation of the French bourgeoisie of the early nineteenth century was cheating their relatives out of inheritances; this is another novel which is largely concerned with "succession". (Bearing in mind that the word "bourgeoisie" in Balzac does not have its modern post-Marx meaning of "the capitalist class" but rather is an ill-defined term for anyone who is neither noble nor poor, lives in a city or town rather than on a farm, and has a certain amount of ...more
Justin Evans
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
It's Balzac, and it's reasonably short, so you know it's pretty powerful. The only interesting thing I have to say about this is stolen from the introduction to the Penguin edition; the translator points out that in this book, unlike many of Balzac's writing, the historical asides are actually relevant and important for the plot, so it's far more unified than the others. Great point. Also, Balzac got the whole 'show you someone who's horrible, then show you someone even worse so that you'll ...more
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: balzac
An enjoyable book to read. The story of a family with one side reduced to poverty In Paris. The story revolves around two brothers. Phillipe a soldier and black sheep of the family and Joseph the other brother an artist. There mother Agathe who is not the sharpest card in the deck with misplaced loyalties.

The stories plot is around getting an inheritance from Agathe's brother and preventing another black sheep also a soldier called Max getting it. He is the lover of her brothers housekeeper who
David C Ward
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent. Another mordant dissection by Balzac of greed and character - and a mother's blindness. The plot is slightly clunky divided as it is between Paris and the provinces. The examination of rural France is penetrating. Philippe is a monster and his development into such in the second half is somewhat inexplicable given his failures in the first. Also his comeuppance at the end seems a bit too neat after his resurrection in which he gains everything - while still continuing to kick his ...more
Feb 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
My 2019 reading challenge is to read some Balzac (every other book I finish, if possible) and I nearly fell at the first hurdle. The first few pages are interminable family background. I nearly didn't, and when I did I missed some key points. Thereafter, it was an absolute breeze. Surely no writer has ever been more worldly? More interested in physical appearance, clothes, and above all money. It is going to be fun.
Amy Muzaffar
May 19, 2014 rated it did not like it
Can't believe I finished this. Every character was one sided and simple. Spoiler :
The female characters all died when they became morally offended by a man, fainted, then lay in bed for weeks until the distress killed them. I should give the author a break since he wrote this a long time ago, but I wish I could get my reading time from last month back!
Mar 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction-literary
The Black Sheep is a truly wonderful novel, and deserves much more fame than it currently receives. Its merits are many. First, it contains wonderful historical material for life in the time immediately after the fall of Napoleon. “The historical material provided in The Black Sheep is by no means extraneous to the novel, apart from the long description of Issoudun. Better, perhaps, than in any other novel in The Human Comedy, it is intimately interwove into the fabric of the tale.” Second, the ...more
Jack Hrkach
Dec 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The older I get (72 now, hoping for several more good years, but never certain) I find that 1) I have read many, many books and 2) that I continue to search for good authors I've not yet read. I hate the term "bucket list" though in a way that may be similar to what I'm doing.

I have recently become interested in 19th c French authors. I've read some Hugo (even the not so well known '93, which is my favorite) and some Dumas (love the swash and buckle), but in my search I found that by Zola I'd
Nermine Tadross
Mar 01, 2017 rated it liked it
The Black Sheep by Honore de Balzac is about the story of two brothers and how they try to get back an inheritance that would save them from poverty. The events take place in the time after the Bourbon Restoration. Balzac is certainly a storyteller master and the book is a page turner. What bothered me about it is that some characters (especially those of the two protagonists) are either black or white; totally bad or totally good. The other thing is Balzac’s opinion of women; in the dedication ...more
Jesse Field
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
My second time reading Balzac, and first since learning Marx was a particular fan. It’s too bad Marx didn’t write a whole work on Balzac as he apparently intended, for we can see in The Black Sheep a diverse set of portraits connecting back to capital, from the labor theory of value, the strange accumulating attitude of the bourgeois with their government funds and their lottery, the sociopathic Philippe and his thievery, the commodity-producing artisan Joseph and his probity. One wishes more ...more
Jul 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, classics
I have a rule, if I make it to 50 pages I finish a book. Make that had a rule. Abandoned. This book is terrible. Flat characters, see through plot line, a complete and utter lack of basic storytelling. It is what I would expect a disappointed and indicative 11 year old to write. I read that this was based off the author's own life and I can only imagine how whiny and self-pitying he must have been in person. How this is a classic, I cannot say.
John Ward
Aug 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Tatiana Pereira
An under appreciated masterpiece. Balzac at his best.
Ali Miremadi
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Both idealistic and cynical. So well told the extraordinary becomes plausible. A classy morality tale.
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
When you're rooting for one character just because he's the least awful of all the rest, then...I know I'm not reading the right book!
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Honoré de Balzac was a nineteenth-century French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of almost 100 novels and plays collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the fall of Napoléon Bonaparte in 1815.

Due to his keen observation of fine detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the

Other books in the series

La Comédie Humaine (1 - 10 of 90 books)
  • La Maison Du Chat-Qui-Pelote
  • The Ball At Sceaux
  • The Purse
  • Vendetta
  • Madame Firmiani
  • A Second Home
  • Domestic Peace
  • The Imaginary Mistress
  • Study of a Woman
  • Albert Savarus
“My dear Pierre, the affair is clear, you'll have your head chopped off. Let that be a lesson to you!” 2 likes
“He had eaten as much as a travelling actor and drunk like the sands of the desert" Maxence Gilet” 1 likes
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