Jim's Reviews > Unconscious Comedians

Unconscious Comedians by Honoré de Balzac
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's review
Feb 05, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: balzac, humor
Read in February, 2012

One doesn't frequently associate Balzac with humor, but stories like The Unconscious Comedians can make one change one's mind. This novelette is the story of a manufacturer from Roussillon named Gazonal who seeks help from his cousin Leon de Lora, a successful painter, in a lawsuit that is going badly. Along with fellow wag Bixiou, Leon de Lora shows his cousin from the provinces what Paris is really like.

As Gazonal becomes increasingly confused by the seeming madness of how influenced is curried in Paris, the painter tells him:
"You don't know anything about Paris. Ask it for a hundred thousand francs to realize an idea that will be useful to humanity,—the steam-engine for instance,—and you'll die, like Salomon de Caux, at Bicetre [the lunatic asylum where the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned]; but if the money is wanted for some paradoxical absurdity, Parisians will annihilate themselves and their fortune for it. It is the same with systems as it is with material things. Utterly impracticable newspapers have consumed millions within the last fifteen years. What makes your lawsuit so hard to win, is that you have right on your side, and on that of the prefect there are (so you suppose) secret motives."
Or, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

This is one of Balzac's most approachable stories. Although it involves a couple dozen regular characters from the Comédie Humaine, it is easily understood by newbies and does not require any previous knowledge. Just sit back and enjoy.
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