Honoré de Balzac on the impossibility of knowing Paris wholly

I can’t seem to draw myself away from classic French literature of late. Proust is always on my reading cycle – À la recherche du temps perdu is nothing if not a perpetual undertaking – but over this past year or so I’ve also been continually dipping in to the likes of Gide, Flaubert, the Brothers Goncourt, Rimbaud, Zola, Saint-Exupéry, Maupassant (of course), Rimbaud, Perec etc. Thankfully I’ve realised this unintentional narrowing of my focus, and I’ve quickly readdressed the balance by adding Balzac to the mix. I know, right? And I’m not just talking one or two titles either, but rather the entire 90+ title sequence of La Comédie humaine.

I’m enjoying the extra literary load thus far though. I’ve not read a great deal of Balzac over the years, but I feel that I’m really taking to him. I adore his protracted drawn-out settings of scene, and really just the general richness of his prose. And while I may have read countless descriptions of Paris in my time, it’s perhaps this one of late from Balzac’s Father Goriot (Ellen Marriage translation), that has struck me the most.

Paris is in truth an ocean that no line can plumb. You may survey its surface and describe it; but no matter how numerous and painstaking the toilers in this sea, there will always be lonely and unexplored regions in its depths, caverns unknown, flowers and pearls and monsters of the deep overlooked or forgotten by the divers of literature.

Ç’est beau! I look forward to sharing more Balzac with you all in the future.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books)

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