Lost Souls


Honoré de Balzac
Translated by Raymond N. MacKenzie

The first new translation of Balzac’s 1847 novel Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes in half a century, fully annotated and with an extensive introduction

In Balzac’s brilliant evocation of nineteenth-century Paris, we enter a world of glittering wealth and grinding poverty, teeming with strivers, poseurs, and pleasure seekers along with those who struggle merely to survive.

In Lost Souls, Honoré de Balzac’s brilliant evocation of nineteenth-century Paris, we enter a world of glittering wealth and grinding poverty, teeming with strivers, poseurs, and pleasure seekers along with those who struggle merely to survive. Between the heights of Parisian society and the criminal world lurking underneath, fate is about to catch up with Lucien de Rubempré, last seen in Lost Illusions, as his literary aspirations, his love for the courtesan Esther van Gobseck, and his scheme to marry the wealthy Clotilde become entangled in the cunning and ultimately disastrous ambitions of the Abbé Herrera, a

An extraordinary volume in Balzac’s vast Human Comedy (in which he endeavored to capture all of society), Lost Souls appears here in its first new English translation in half a century. Keenly attuned to the acerbic charm and subtleties of Balzac’s prose, this edition also includes an introduction presenting thorough biographical, literary, and historical context, as well as extensive notes throughout the text—an invaluable resource for today’s readers as they navigate Balzac’s copious allusions to classical and contemporaneous politics and literature.

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, Le Peau de chagrin, and Lost Illusions (Minnesota, 2020), the prequel to Lost Souls.

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, Lamartine’s Graziella, and Balzac’s Lost Illusions (all from Minnesota).


Translator’s Introduction

Raymond N. MacKenzie

Lost Souls

Part I: How Women Love

A View of the Opera Ball

Other Masks

La Torpille

A Parisian Landscape

An Interior Familiar to Some but Unknown to Others

A Rat’s Confessions

Anatomy of the Whore

The Rat Becomes a Magdalene

A Portrait Titian Would Have Liked to Paint


A Number of Reflections

A Friend

In Which We Learn That There Is No Priest in the Abbé Herrera

Two Extraordinary Watchdogs

A Tedious Chapter, Explaining Four Years of Happiness

How a Lynx Met a Rat, and What Ensued

Cashbox in Despair

The Abyss Beneath Esther’s Happiness

With the Grandlieus

The Daughter of a Fine House

The House of a Fine Daughter

Monsieur de Nucingen at Work


Where Passion Leads

Father des Canquoëlles

The Mysteries of the Police

A Spy at Home

Three Men Begin to Circle Each Other

Nucingen, Closing in on His Bliss, Readies Himself


The Abbé Wins the First Round

False Abbé, False Notes, False Debts, False Love

Part II: What Love Costs an Old Man

A Hundred Thousand Francs Invested in Asia

A First Night

Some Gleams of Light

Profits and Losses

Necessary Explanations

Two Great Loves: Conflict

Peace Treaty Between Asia and the Nucingen Firm

An Abdication

Esther Resurfaces in Paris

A Woman on Foot

Peyrade the Nabob

A Duel in a Cab

Corentin Wins Round Two

The Music Old Men Sometimes Hear at the Italiens

How Much One Can Suffer in a Doorway

The Scene Is Played out in the Boxes

When Pleasures Turn Disagreeable

The Serpents Intertwine

At the Belle-Ètoille

One of the Corentin’s Thousand Traps

Mene, Tekel, Upharsen

The Terrible Oath of Corentin

The Trap Snares a Rat

A Farewell

The Lamentations of Nucingen

Corentin’s Revenge Gets Underway

Part III: Where Evil Pathways Lead

The Salad Basket

The Two Patients

Criminal Law Made Plain for Ordinary People

The Machiavelli of the Penal Colony

A Victory Over Solitary Confinement

Historical, Archaeological, Biographical, Anecdotal, and Physiological History of the Palais de Justice

The Same Subject, Continued

How All This Is Put to Use

The Committal Process

How the Two Prisoners React to Their Troubles

Explaining the Functions of an Examining Magistrate

The Examining Magistrate in a Difficult Situation

The Way a Bedroom Can Sometimes Be a Council Chamber

Concerning the Police and Their Flies

A Product of the Palais

Influence Applied

A Trap for a Convict

Jacques Collin, in Solidarity, Gets Things Moving

Asia’s Maneuvers

A View of the Pas-Perdus

Massol Dreams of Marriage

A Use for Massol, and One for the Spaniel

Asia on Fine Terms with the Duchesse

A Fine Sorrow

A Type of Parisian Woman

Asia, Peasant from the Danube


The Convict Proves He Is a Man of Note

An Admirable Invention by Jacques Collin

Cunning Meets Cunning, and Well Met Too

The Sign Is Erased

Thrusts and Parries

Asia’s Resumè

Re-acquainting Old Acquaintances

The Prisoner’s Audacity

An Incident


In Which We See That the Law Is and Must Be Heartless

The Magistrate Back on Top

The Melancholy Peculiar to Examining Magistrates

The Dangers an Innocent Man Faces at the Palais

In Which Anyone Who Has Committed Any Crime Will Tremble at the Idea of Appearing Before Any Kind of Court

Two Moralities

The Hammer Blow

The Magistrate’s Torture

The Prosecutor-General

Is It Too Late?

All That Women Do in Paris

All That Women Can Do in Paris

A Funny Story

Dandy and Poet Are Re-united

Difficulties in Committing Suicide in Prison

A Hallucination

A Drama in the Life of a Woman in Fashion

How It All Ended

Part IV: Vautrin’s Last Incarnation

The Two Robes

Amèlie Makes Plans

Concerning Magnetism

The Man in Solitary


In the Prison Yard

Philosophic, Linguistic, and Literary Essay on Slang, Whores, and Thieves

The Grand Fanandels

The Wild Boar Appears

His Majesty the Boss

Ruse Against Ruse

The Condemned Man’s Cell

A Remarkable Criminal Trial


The Confession

In Which Mademoiselle Collin Enters the Scene

A Seduction

Last Incarnation

Madame Camusot’s First Visit

Madame Camusot’s Second Visit

An Important Person Destined to Oblivion

The Obscure and Powerful Corentin

The Pains of a Prosecutor-General

What to Do?

Enter Stage Right

Crime and Justice Have a Tête-à-tête

The Innocence of Théodore

The File of the Great Ladies

Jacques Collin’s Debut in Comedy

The Tale of La Rousse

How Paccard and Prudence Will Get Set Up

The Prey Becomes the Predator

The English Gentlemen Get the First Shot

An Old Acquaintance

One Perspective


In Which Jacques Collin Abdicates as Boss

What Followed the Abdication

The Burial

In Which Deathcatcher Makes a Deal with the Stork

The Doctor


Translator’s Notes