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Lost Illusions

2020
Author:

Honoré de Balzac
Translated by Raymond N. MacKenzie

Lost Illusions

A new annotated translation of the keystone of Balzac’s Comédie Humaine—a sweeping narrative of corrupted idealism in a cynical urban milieu


Lost Illusions is an essential text within Balzac’s Comédie Humaine, his sprawling, interconnected fictional portrait of French society in the 1820s and 1830s comprising nearly one hundred novels and short stories. In this translation, Raymond N. MacKenzie brilliantly captures the tone of Balzac’s prose—a style that is alternatingly impassioned, overheated, angry, moving, tender, wistful, digressive, chatty, intrusive, and hectoring.

Whether or not Lost Illusions counts as the greatest novel ever written, as the literary scholar Franco Moretti claims, it’s a pretty magnificent one. You can read it for its combination of social scope and psychological insight, and for its cinematically vivid portraits of faces . . . and many fine phrases. . . . And then you can read Lost Illusions, as Marx read Balzac, for its account of the double-edged nature of early capitalism.

Benjamin Kunkel, Salon.com

Lost Illusions is an essential text within Balzac’s Comédie Humaine, his sprawling, interconnected fictional portrait of French society in the 1820s and 1830s comprising nearly one hundred novels and short stories. This novel, published in three parts between 1837 and 1843, tells the story of Lucien de Rubempré, a talented young poet who leaves behind a scandalous provincial life for the shallow, corrupt, and cynical vortex of modernity that was nineteenth-century Paris—where his artistic idealism slowly dissipates until he eventually decides to return home.

 

Balzac poured many of his thematic preoccupations and narrative elaborations into Lost Illusions, from the contrast between life in the provinces and the all-consuming world of Paris to the idealism of poets, the commodification of art, the crushing burden of poverty and debt, and the triumphant cynicism of hack journalists and social climbers. The novel teems with characters, incidents, and settings, though perhaps none so vivid as its panoramic and despairing view of Paris as the nexus of modernity’s cultural, social, and moral infection. For Balzac, no institution better illustrates the new reality than Parisian journalism: “amoral, hypocritical, brazen, dishonest, and murderous,” he writes.

 

In this new translation, Raymond N. MacKenzie brilliantly captures the tone of Balzac’s incomparable prose—a style that is alternatingly impassioned, overheated, angry, moving, tender, wistful, digressive, chatty, intrusive, and hectoring. His informative annotations guide the modern reader through the labyrinth of Balzac’s allusions.

Lost Illusions

Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) worked as a clerk, printer, and publisher before devoting himself entirely to writing fiction. A leading figure in the development of realism in European literature, he wrote more than one hundred volumes of stories, novellas, and novels, including Père Goriot, Eugénie Grandet, and Le Peau de chagrin.



Raymond N. MacKenzie is professor of English at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. His previous translations include Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Diaboliques, Stendhal’s Italian Chronicles, and Lamartine’s Graziella (all from Minnesota). His translation of The Rise and Fall of Courtesans, Balzac’s continuation of Lost Illusions, will be published by Minnesota in 2020.
Lost Illusions

Whether or not Lost Illusions counts as the greatest novel ever written, as the literary scholar Franco Moretti claims, it’s a pretty magnificent one. You can read it for its combination of social scope and psychological insight, and for its cinematically vivid portraits of faces . . . and many fine phrases. . . . And then you can read Lost Illusions, as Marx read Balzac, for its account of the double-edged nature of early capitalism.

Benjamin Kunkel, Salon.com

Lost Illusions

Contents


Translator’s Introduction


Raymond N. Mackenzie


Lost Illusions


1. The Two Poets


2. The Parisian Adventures of a Great Man from the Provinces


3. The Ordeals of an Inventor


Introduction: The Sorrowful Confessions of a Child of the Century


Part One. The History of a Legal Case


Part Two. The Fatal Member of the Family


Translator’s Notes


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Available in April 2020