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A Harlot High and Low: (Splendeurs Et Miseres Des Courtisanes) (Classics) by [Balzac, Honoré de]
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A Harlot High and Low: (Splendeurs Et Miseres Des Courtisanes) (Classics) Kindle Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Length: 550 pages Word Wise: Enabled

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Product Description

About the Author

Balzac was born in 1799, the son of a civil servant. At the age of thirty - heavily in debt and with an unsucessful past behind him - he started work on the first of what were to become a total of ninety novels and short stories that make up The Human Comedy. He died in 1850.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1185 KB
  • Print Length: 550 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Impression edition (26 Sept. 1985)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00358VHZG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #220,782 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

By M. Dowden HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 3 July 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A more correct translation of the title of this novel would be Splendour and Misery of Courtesans, however the title that Penguin has given this translation is just as apt. You haven't necessarily have had to have read the prequel to this Lost Illusions (Classics), but to be honest that book is one of the masterpieces of the Comedie humaine, this isn't. Near the end of the preceeding novel Lucien is seen being persuaded not to kill himself by the enigmatic Carlos Herrera, and in this book you find out who Carlos really is.

Lucien has returned to Paris and is making his way to a respectable position; he has Esther a high class whore as his lover and he is trying to arrange a good marriage which will give him money and make him into a marquis. Carlos is working behind the scenes to make sure that Lucien can make it in society but when Esther is recognised and tries to kill herself Carlos saves her and re-invents her. With Esther trying to seduce a banker out of his money to pay for Lucien to buy land you just know something is going to go wrong.

With police agents getting entangled in the plot and machinations galore this novel defies definiton, as it seems to swing between melodrama, thriller and farce. Of course Balzac as usual digresses to some extent which makes this novel longer than it need be, and I know a lot of people aren't all that enamoured by it, however I did find it quite enjoyable. If you have never read Balzac before I would seriously recommend you to stay away from this novel to start with, and instead try something like Old Goriot (Penguin Red Classics).
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Format: Paperback
I just had to find out what happened to Lucien, when he was so mysteriously (and admittedly, a bit too miraculously) saved from suicide at the end of Illusions Perdues. This is the place to find it.
The interesting thing is that Lucien is not the principal player here: it is an equally mysterious mentor, whose identity and methods are revealed as the plot thickens. Another character is the "harlot" from the title in English, which misconstrues the character of the novel. She is Esther, who is Lucien's true love, whom he uplifts from prostitution to install as his secret mistress. There is also Nucingen, the Jewish banker whom Balzac despises (from the novel of the same name), and several wily spies.

I must say that, though I love Balzac, this novel wore a bit thin on me: it has too many unlikely coincidences and is crowned with a cynicism in the surprise ending that stretched way beyond what I could believe, even when taking into account the French judicial system. That being said, Balzac offers a wonderful tour of the underbelly of the life of the scheming courtesan: without revealing too much of the plot, having given up on art, Lucien is trying to enter the aristocracy as a diplomat with the rank of Marquise. But to do so, he had to marry the right woman, buy his ancestral grounds, and somehow pose as a dandy when he is in fact flat broke. One pole of the plot revolves around the maneuvering of his mentor, who proves himself exceptionally cunning, the other around Lucien's true love. Needless to say, there are betrayals, hidden enemies, and ruthless manipulations that destroy oh-so-many lives. In the end, it is mostly sad, except for...well, you have to read it to believe it!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm a big fan of Balzac and so it is enormously disappointing that this book is such a Grade A Turkey.

Balzac's literary object was to describe the Human Comedy of scenes from French Parisian and provincial life. In this volume his subject is the criminal underworld and he uses the master criminal Jacques Collins, who has first appeared in Balzac's Old Goriot as the central character. Collin is as cunning and deceitful a person as you will ever come across. Here Collin uses Lucien de Rubempres - previously the handsome poet hero of Balzac's Lost Illusions, together with Esther Gobeseck - the original harlot with a heart of gold - as tools for his evil plans. Unfortunately this mix is a disaster in plot terms and it is totally unclear as to whether the narrative is following Collin, Lucien or Esther and since each of their stories has a different arc the whole is a complete failure.

There are passages and paragraphs in the narrative which presage Proust in their nobility, but these are few and far between and fairly soon Balzac loses himself in the most fantastically complex plot wherein the poet Lucien is to marry an heiress provided he can prove he is a man of financial substance. The means of providing that proof becomes the sale of Esther by Collin to the fabulously wealthy Baron Nucingen. But this scheme unravels because Esther truly loves Lucien and decides that rather than submit to being Nucingen's mistress she will commit suicide. This brings the force of the law down on both Collin and Lucien and in the final scenes Collin comes into his own in attempting to escape from the clutches of the law.

There's nothing wrong with Balzac's idea but his execution is hopeless.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9120c210) out of 5 stars 16 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90f3d3a8) out of 5 stars destruction more deserved, and more enjoyable than usual 30 Jan. 2002
By Robert J. Crawford - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I just had to find out what happened to Lucien, when he was so mysteriously (and admittedly, a bit too miraculously) saved from suicide at the end of Illusions Perdues. This is the place to find it.
The interesting thing is that Lucien is not the principal player here: it is an equally mysterious mentor, whose identity and methods are revealed as the plot thickens. Another character is the "harlot" from the title in English, which misconstrues the character of the novel. She is Esther, who is Lucien's true love, whom he uplifts from prostitution to install as his secret mistress. There is also Nucingen, the Jewish banker whom Balzac despises (from the novel of the same name), and several wily spies.
I must say that, though I love Balzac, this novel wore a bit thin on me: it has too many unlikely coincidences and is crowned with a cynicism in the surprise ending that stretched way beyond what I could believe, even when taking into account the French judicial system. That being said, Balzac offers a wonderful tour of the underbelly of the life of the scheming courtesan: without revealing too much of the plot, having given up on art, Lucien is trying to enter the aristocracy as a diplomat with the rank of Marquise. But to do so, he had to marry the right woman, buy his ancestral grounds, and somehow pose as a dandy when he is in fact flat broke. One pole of the plot revolves around the maneuvering of his mentor, who proves himself exceptionally cunning, the other around Lucien's true love. Needless to say, there are betrayals, hidden enemies, and ruthless manipulations that destroy oh-so-many lives. In the end, it is mostly sad, except for...well, you have to read it to believe it! The view of the aristocracy in this one is rather oblique as they play behind the scenes, while I expected them to play center stage.
If there is one thing to sum up Balzac, it could be this: there is one chapter entitled, "boring chapter to explain four years of happiness" in which Lucien in love is portrayed. When I told my wife that it was winding down, she replied: "don't you mean it is grinding down?"
As usual, you need a strong stomach for this one. I got bored by the middle, at the height of all the unbearably sleazy maneuvering, but the last 200 pages really picked up the pace. To wit: I enjoyed the characters hurtling toward destruction in this one, which is usually the opposite: I prefer their hopes and hate their falls, except in the case of Lucien.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90f3d3fc) out of 5 stars A convoluted intrigue in 19th century Paris. 12 Jun. 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book chronicling the lives of an up and coming minor noble, a harlot, and a "faux" priest/arch-criminal has some of the best character development I have seen. The plot is so convoluted and strange that it seems implausible. However, stranger things have happened! I was disappointed in the ending but still enjoyed the book
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90f3d5d0) out of 5 stars A Harlot High and Low 9 April 2014
By Steven Davis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes, a title rendered somewhat crudely in this English edition as A Harlot High and Low, is one of the last completed novels in Balzac's monumental cycle La Comédie humaine. Several of its characters make appearances in earlier novels, but it may most handily be considered a sequel of Lost Illusions. Together the two large novels chronicle the career of the ambitious and amorous young poet, Lucien Chardon de Rubempré.

Lucien is the novel's central character, but he disappears from its pages for long stretches. The dominant personality is that of Father Carlos Herrera, the Spanish priest who rescues Lucien from financial and moral destitution. Who is this mysterious cleric, and why does he rescue a complete stranger from the brink of suicide and set him up as one of Paris's most prominent young men of fashion? Herrera, as Lucien's sponsor and mentor, tries to maneuver the poet into a profitable marriage, but he cannot prevent the lad from falling in love with Esther Gobseck, a ravishing young prostitute. But Herrera works to turn this to his advantage, controlling not only Lucien but Esther as puppets on a string with the aid of his two extraordinary henchwomen, nicknamed "Europe" and "Asia."

The novel takes place almost entirely in Paris from 1824 to 1830, a period that coincides with the reign of Charles X, France's last Bourbon king. Balzac depicts a society dominated by a corrupt and dissolute aristocracy. The titled and the rich marry for power and position, then openly take mistresses and lovers, often with their spouse's active assistance. Lucien, with a cynicism typical of the time, is courting the hand of a duke's daughter while publicly being the lover of a married countess and secretly living with a prostitute.

Balzac's novels focus on different aspects of French life and culture. In this case he documents the workings of the police and courts system. We see that there were two rival police agencies, the Judicial Police and the Political Police, rarely cooperating and often working at cross purposes. Some agents had managed to maintain their power base and network of spies through several successive regimes, and were as capable of working against the law as on its behalf. The prison and courts system are also described in some detail, and it is no surprise to learn that justice is dispensed as often on the basis of political influence as on guilt or innocence.

A Harlot High and Low is a remarkable novel for several reasons, one of which is the absence of a dominant or sympathetic character. (Esther, the "Harlot," is the novel's most likable character, but she exits the story about midway through the novel.) Also notable is Balzac's frankness in depicting such things as prostitution, promiscuity, corruption and homosexuality. The Penguin edition is nicely translated and introduced by Rayner Heppenstall (though I would have chosen a more elegant title), but surprisingly has no footnotes or endnotes to explain the occasional now-obscure reference to contemporary culture.

I would recommend that you read at least Lost Illusions first. If you enjoy it, and you want to see what becomes of Lucien and learn what the mysterious Spanish priest is up to, then you will find A Harlot High and Low quite rewarding.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90f3dc00) out of 5 stars I was disappointed 7 Sept. 2008
By Flippy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I found this book to be a disappointment. I have read other works by Balzac in various translations (most of them in the Penguin Classics series)but I couldn't finish this one.

Why? I just couldn't read another page (I made it to page 259)... The book begins well enough, a typical Balzacian-beginning wherein a figure appears in the midst of a Parisian scene. We are once again in the midst of a stirring ensemble of gossip and curiosity. I enjoyed that part. The reader follows Lucien along, we meet his true love Esther and we meet the dubious Vautrin as well. Everything starts off with grace and intrigue.

And then it just dips off into the ridiculous. I found the character of Nucingen far too incredible to be believed. A man with so much money willing to give it all for glimpses of fair Esther (foolish and moronic for a man with so much money...he's more of a buffoon than a banker and I'm sure a banker would have more sense. It was far too unbelievable the ways he was screwed over in the book.) And of course reading the Polish aristocrat's conversation is equally excruciating (imagine someone talking with a stuff-nose and that is how Rayner Heppenstall has rendered the Slavic Baron's speech.)

For about two hundred pages, the intrigue begins to wear thin. It borders on farce at times, cartoon-like... two hundred pages of basically scamming money out of a stupid, unsympathetic character so other characters equally uninteresting can pay off their debts. The characterizations are weak, many who started out with three-dimensions begin to falter into two-and-one dimensional personas.

Unless you're really a fan of Balzac, I wouldn't bother with this one. Works like Pere Goriot, The Black Sheep, Eugene Grandet, Ursule Mirouet are far superior to this exhausting adventure. The pace of this book is high strung and hardly rewarding which is the main reason why I couldn't follow through with it.

Lost Illusions is worth a read but deserves a better sequel than this. I wanted to like this book but forcing myself through it wouldn't have changed my feelings.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90f3dc24) out of 5 stars Some great moments 25 July 2005
By Paul M. Burns - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I must admit it is not as good overall as Lost Illusions, but this book is worth reading. It is like a twisted version of Les Miserables. There are some sublime moments late in the novel. It is a bit slow in parts of the book, but I found it worthwhile.
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