I’ve decided that on Mondays I’m going to revisit the books I read for a course in college called Advanced Reading Survey, taught by the eminent scholar and lovable professor, Dr. Huff. I’m not going to re-read all the books and poems I read for that course, probably more than fifty, but I am going to post to Semicolon the entries in the reading journal that I was required to keep for that class because I think that my entries on these works of literature may be of interest to readers here and because I’m afraid that the thirty year old spiral notebook in which I wrote these entries may fall apart ere long. I may offer my more mature perspective on the books, too, if I remember enough about them to do so.
Honore de Balzac, son of an officer in Napoleon’s army, was greatly influenced and impressed by the great emperor’s career. He once wrote, under a picture of Napoleon, “What Napoleon could not do with the sword, I will accomplish with the pen.”
Balzac wrote at an incredible pace throughout his life, and although much of his work was of negligible value, stuff written solely to support himself and pay his creditors, he did manage to turn out a few masterpieces, including Eugenie Grandet and Le Pere Goriot. Balzac died in Paris in 1850 at the age of 51, possibly weakened by his intense writing schedule and his incessant coffee drinking.
Gustave Flaubert on Balzac: “What a man he would have been had he known how to write!”
Victor Hugo: “Balzac was one of the first among the greatest, one of the highest among the best.”
Henry James: “Large as Balzac is, he is all of one piece and he hangs perfectly together.”
Marxist Freidrich Engels: “I have learned more [from Balzac] than from all the professional historians, economists and statisticians put together.”
Eugenie Grandet falls in love with her cousin, Charles, but her father is a miser who refuses to allow her to marry a penniless man. Eventually, Eugenie becomes wealthy and miserly herself, following in her father’s footsteps.
Monsieur Felix Grandet: an old miser
Madame Grandet: His wife
Eugenie Grandet: the daughter
Nanon: the family’s only servant
Charles Grandet: Eugenie’s cousin
“Innocence alone can dare to be so bold. Once enlightened, virtue makes her calculations as well as vice.”
“Flattery never emanates from noble souls; it is the gift of little minds who thus still further belittle themselves to worm their way into the vital being of persons around whom they crawl. Flattery means self-interest.”
Beyond Assumptions: “As it turns out Balzac has penchant for good story-telling and a fine eye for writing interesting and humorous characters.”
Wuthering Expectations: “Eugénie Grandet has some of Balzac’s best descriptive passages, and three or four really fine characters, and a snappy story. But it’s the combination of the characters, and the structure, and the details of the house and town that amaze me.”
Constance Reader: “every character in this novel is fully fleshed out and fully-realized, including secondary characters like the family housemaid and even tertiary characters like the village butcher, whom we only see once. The result is that you get a perfect idea of what life in a little town was like, at that time, from the top to the very bottom.”
The Music Man:
Maud: I shouldn’t tell you this but she advocates dirty books.
Harold: Dirty books?!