Parisians in the Country by Honoré de Balzac


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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Parisians in the Country, by Honore de Balzac

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: Parisians in the Country

Author: Honore de Balzac

Release Date: June 3, 2005 [EBook #7929]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


Produced by John Bickers, and Dagny





I have sometimes wondered whether it was accident or intention which
made Balzac so frequently combine early and late work in the same
volume. The question is certainly insoluble, and perhaps not worth
solving, but it presents itself once more in the present instance.
_L'Illustre Gaudissart_ is a story of 1832, the very heyday of
Balzac's creative period, when even his pen could hardly keep up with
the abundance of his fancy and the gathered stores of his minute
observation. _La Muse du Departement_ dates ten years and more later,
when, though there was plenty of both left, both sacks had been deeply
dipped into.

_L'Illustre Gaudissart_ is, of course, slight, not merely in bulk, but
in conception. Balzac's Tourangeau patriotism may have amused itself
by the idea of the villagers "rolling" the great Gaudissart; but the
ending of the tale can hardly be thought to be quite so good as the
beginning. Still, that beginning is altogether excellent. The sketch
of the _commis-voyageur_ generally smacks of that _physiologie_ style
of which Balzac was so fond; but it is good, and Gaudissart himself,
as well as the whole scene with his _epouse libre_, is delightful. The
Illustrious One was evidently a favorite character with his creator.
He nowhere plays a very great part; but it is everywhere a rather
favorable and, except in this little mishap with Margaritis (which, it
must be observed, does not turn entirely to his discomfiture), a
rather successful part. We have him in _Cesar Birotteau_
superintending the early efforts of Popinot to launch the Huile
Cephalique. He was present at the great ball. He served as
intermediary to M. de Bauvan in the merciful scheme of buying at fancy
prices the handiwork of the Count's faithful spouse, and so providing
her with a livelihood; and later as a theatrical manager, a little
spoilt by his profession, we find him in _Le Cousin Pons_. But he is
always what the French called "a good devil," and here he is a very
good devil indeed.

Although _La Muse du Departement_ is an important work, it cannot be
spoken of in quite unhesitating terms. It contains, indeed, in the
personage of Lousteau, one of the very most elaborate of Balzac's
portraits of a particular type of men of letters. The original is said
to have been Jules Janin, who is somewhat disadvantageously contrasted
here and elsewhere with Claude Vignon, said on the same rather vague
authority to be Gustave Planche. Both Janin and Planche are now too
much forgotten, but in both more or less (and in Lousteau very much
"more") Balzac cannot be said to have dealt mildly with his _bete
noire_, the critical temperament. Lousteau, indeed, though not
precisely a scoundrel, is both a rascal and a cad. Even Balzac seems a
little shocked at his _lettre de faire part_ in reference to his
mistress' child; and it is seldom possible to discern in any of his
proceedings the most remote approximation to the conduct of a
gentleman. But then, as we have seen, and shall see, Balzac's standard
for the conduct of his actual gentlemen was by no means fantastically
exquisite or discouragingly high, and in the case of his Bohemians it
was accommodating to the utmost degree. He seems to despise Lousteau,
but rather for his insouciance and neglect of his opportunities of
making himself a position than for anything else.

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