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Balzac: A Life Paperback – 1 Jan 1996
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About the Author
Best-selling author Graham Robb was born in Manchester in 1958 and is a former Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. He is an acclaimed historian and biographer, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He has won the Whitbread Biography Prize and the Heinemann Award for Victor Hugo, as well as the Ondaatje Prize and Duff Cooper Prize for The Discovery of France. His book Parisians was a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. He lives on the Anglo-Scottish border.
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Nevertheless, faute de mieux, this is the best there is in English. It's surprising that, for an author who wrote so much, and for whom so many books remain in print in English, there aren't more biographies or general studies. The Comédie Humaine is one of the landmarks of world literature, and if you haven't read any Balzac, or if you have and want to learn more, this book will give you some great insights into who the author was. But it won't tell you very much about the works or fit them into a broader context. That book remains to be written.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
In this life of Balzac, Graham Robb concentrates on Balzac's psychology. We are confronted with the great writer's enormous ego (he considered himself to be "the Napoleon of literature"), his astonishing output, his many love relationships with older women, and his grandiose failures in business. We see a man so driven that at one point he moved his cot into the printer's shop, keeping the presses going 24 hours a day as he corrected proofs while simultaneously writing new chapters!
Robb traces all this activity back to the roots: Balzac's innate, and nearly infinite, self-regard pouring endlessly into the emotional void induced by a disturbingly unaffectionate mother. Balzac becomes, therefore, a man who had to write, so much so that even his business failures and debts were self-inflicted, a subconscious way of spurring himself on to ever greater literary effort just to keep one step ahead of the creditors.
Throughout this biography, Robb uses extensive quotation to allow Balzac's novels to illuminate his life, and vice-versa. The resulting dialogue between the life and the works is both exciting and nuanced - indeed, so nuanced that Robb's book needs to be read carefully in places. It will also be helpful if the reader is on familiar terms with as many of Balzac's novels as possible - there are over 90 of them! Even readers who have read several of the novels in the past, would do well to refresh themselves before tackling this biography. Three good places to start would be "Le Pere Goriot," "Eugenie Grandet," and "La Cousine Bette," as they are representative of his best and Robb refers to them frequently. It's not always easy going, but readers who can meet the prerequisites will surely enjoy this fine and insightful biography.
Of the three Billy's is the most exhaustive, Maurois's is almost it's equal, but Zweig's is the most readable. It also has the advantage of being by a German, because the French have a somewhat exaggerated reverence for Balzac that Billy and Maurois, in spite of their likely intentions, can't escape.
Zweig is, however, an enthusiast for Balzac, and being a novelist himself, has a perspective that Billy and Maurois lack.
Therre are two other biographies in English worth looking at: V.S Pritchett's and Graham Robb's, the latter being the most recent and a very good read.
But if you have time for only one biography of Balzac, Zweig's is.the best choice.
I was so impressed that these novels where my favorite for ever. I like the way he writers and described the slightest feelings of human heart. I am glad that his writing is republished, and I can enjoy his books again. I also read a lot of Balzac novels, and I am glad that Balzac biography was written by Stefan Zweig with such passion, love and understanding.