It is, I fancy, generally known that characters from one Balzac novel are likely to reappear in others. The editor of the Classiques Garnier edition lists forty-four characters in the present volume who may also be found elsewhere. Many of them are quite 'unimportant' to the action, while the juvenile lead, Lucien Chardon, dit de Rubempré, has been met with only once before...The other novel which he is the hero is Illusions perdues, and to that novel this one may, to that extent, be considered a sequel, though within the large framework of Balzac's Comédie humaine the earlier novel is classed as one of the 'Scenes of Parisian Life,' a somewhat arbitrary distinction, since much of the action of Ilusions perdues takes place in Paris...About forty-three characters in this book, other than Lucien, who occur elsewhere, the reader who wants to follow them up could do much worse than consult Félicien Marceau's book, Balzac and his World... But knowledge of all these ramifications can add only marginally to any reader's enjoyment of the present volume.
In it, we find Lucien Chardon, a young man of modest origins but with some claim to nobility (and to the name 'de Rubempré) on his mother's side, a poet and vain of his looks and determined to put them to use, in the souther town of Angoulême. Taken up by a local grande dame, he goes to Paris, sets foot in the literary world but sinks to the lowest depths of journalism, leaves his protectress and becomes the lover of a woman of the town, Coralie, who dies, and returns to the provinces, not merely dejected but shamed by a piece of financial trickery which has got his amiable brother-in-law into trouble. Towards the end of the book, he sets off one morning to drown himself in the Charente, but meets a Spanish priest on a diplomatic mission, who at once takes a fancy to the young man and promises him a great future. Lucien gets into the priest's carriage, and they drive on towards Paris, Lucien's sister presently receiving a letter from him which encloses money and says that she mustn't worry. Lucien is all right, though he feels somewhat enslaved. The date at the end of Illusions perdues is the late summer or early autumn of 1823. The present novel begins early the next year.
A major influence to the reading order suggested is the book Balzac as He Should Be Read by William Hobart Royce. Royce’s order is mostly historically chronological, and changes have been made in the early readings to at first introduce the reader to one of Balzac’s best works (Father Goriot) and then read a selection of historically early works before tackling some of the lesser, earliest stories which are not necessarily Balzac’s best work.
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