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Balzac [Paperback]

Graham Robb
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

22 Sep 2000
Graham Robb has produced a masterpiece of literary biography in which Balzac bursts into life on every page. The living manifestation of the colourful and varied world he described, yet at the same time its most astonishing exception, Balzac is the perfect subject for biography. Robb skilfully interweaves the life with the work to paint an indelible and brilliantly compelling portrait of one of the great tragicomic heroes of the nineteenth century, a man whose influence both in and outside his native France has been and is still immense. ‘Graham Robb does a superb job in bringing Balzac to life in all his preposterousness, while still letting us appreciate his genius’ Sunday Independent ‘Robb’s Balzac is a fine achievement: an impressive work of scholarship and an enormously enjoyable read. In a well-paced narrative, he blends solid evidence with amusing anecdote, patient evaluation with witty aside’ Guardian

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Product details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New Ed edition (22 Sep 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330320157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330320153
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 239,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Graham Robb was born in Manchester in 1958 and is a former Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. He has published widely on French literature and history, including biographies of Victor Hugo (which won the Royal Society of Literature Heinemann Award and the Whitbread Biography Award in 1997) and Rimbaud (shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2000). The Discovery of France won both the Duff Cooper and Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prizes. His most recent book, Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, was a Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller. He is a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and lives on the English-Scottish border.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Follow The Bouncing Balzac 25 Nov 2002
Format:Paperback
One of the major accomplishments of this biography is that it will make you want to go out and read all of Balzac. This is because Mr. Robb has sprinkled a liberal number of excerpts from the novels throughout his text. Balzac was both a keen observer and a tireless researcher, with an interest in, literally, everything. He was also tremendously sensitive. When you put all of these qualities together, you get prose that has great depth....resonating between the internal and the external. Mr. Robb, though a great admirer, is quick to admit that not everything that Balzac wrote was great or even good. He was obsessive....a writing machine churning out thousands of words per day. He was deeply in debt and had to write just about non-stop in an attempt to get himself out of debt. Mr. Robb maintains a nice balance. He obviously has a tremendous fondness for his subject but he doesn't let that blind him to the great man's faults and contradictions. Balzac was very open and childlike- he wore his heart on his sleeve and talked non-stop, rarely censoring himself. On the other hand, he was cunning and manipulative, using all sorts of "dodges" to flee from his numerous creditors. He also took advantage of other writers...creating a sort of writing factory- hiring young, admiring, ambitious writers to write novels on his behalf. He expected these "laborers" to have the same superhuman energy that he possessed and would drive them mercilessly. But, in counterpoint, Balzac never gave up trying to pay off his debts and frequently he did pay people everything he owed them. He also took a genuine interest in the young writers he had working for him...giving them worthwhile advice and he was also financially generous when he was in a position to be able to help. Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Nothing is insignificant" 22 Oct 2008
By Nicholas Casley TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Nothing is insignificant" ... is a line of Balzac's. It is also the opening line of Robb's biography. And one would like to say that Robb's biography is a living example of Balzac's truism. But, if so, it would stretch to innumerable volumes. Alas, the first fourteen years of Balzac's 51 are contained in only the first chapter. That's thirty pages out of 420, or one-fourteenth of a book for two-sevenths of a life. (Later chapters would cover just one year of Balzac's life.) But you know how it is; none of us could describe our own childhoods in detail, let alone that of a then-obscure little love-forgotten boy in some Loire-valley backwater of turn-of-the-century Napoleonic France. And yet, as Robb says, "Balzac too would create an Empire, a fictional world so real that Oscar Wilde would be able to describe him only half-humorously as the inventor of the nineteenth-century." Robb too swiftly covers those vital formative years, but he is good at reading the seminal signs: birth, family origins, boarding-school, and his "first glimpse of society as a process of unnatural selection."

To give him his due, Robb often reminds us how Balzac's loveless childhood later made the man, even to the extent of Balzac's stockpiling of fruit. And Robb is keen too to ensure that the gap between adolescence and greatness is keenly described, when "large parts of it have ... been swept under the carpet by many of Balzac's biographers, impatient to reach the `true' Balzac or perhaps concerned not to tarnish the idol." Idolisation is not Robb's style. Whilst Balzac declared to Vidocq, "So you believe in reality? How charming!", we are equally glad that Robb retains an often critical and sceptical eye about Balzac's own claims about the reality of his life, for example on his garret-like existence in Paris.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
A superlative biography by Graham Robb, Balzac traces the life and career of the nineteenth-century novelist from his beginnings in the beautiful heart of the Loire Valley to his untimely death in 1850, only months after his marriage to the Polish Countess, Mme Hanska. Robb's portrait of the private man, tormented by debt and romantic frustration, is as compelling as his treatment of the literary genius. The result is an impressive, not to say monumental work that, unusually for a book of real academic integrity, is written in a witty, anecdotal style. This is undoubtedly the best biography of Balzac to appear in English since 1948.
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