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Balzac, Honoré de

(1799-1850) French author whose enormous oeuvre – currently assembled in the Pléïade series in an edition over 20,000 pages long [not listed below] – is like Jules Verne a bibliographer's nightmare. Of his numerous early sensational novels, few translations seem to exist, and his later supernatural fiction appears in very various and chameleon guises. But some titles are of genre interest: Le Centenaire: ou les deux Behringeld (1822 4vols as by Horace de Saint-Aubin; trans George Edgar Slusser as The Centenarian, or The Two Behringelds 1976) [for further details see Checklist below], Melmoth Reconcilé (1835; trans Ellen Marriage in coll The Unknown Masterpiece 1896), a Sequel by Other Hands to Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Maturin. The thirty stories assembled as Contes Drolatiques [for full title see Checklist] (coll 1832-1837 2vols; trans anon as Droll Stories Collected from the Abbeys of Touraine 1874) [further translations exist, not all complete; they are not listed below] include supernatural tales and other grotesqueries, often scatological.

Balzac is of course best known for the immense series of nonfantastic novels in the overall sequence known as La comédie humaine ["The Human Comedy"], which occupied most of his career. Some seemingly anomalous tales have been included in less important subdivisions of the overall structure, including"Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu" (1831 L'Artiste; rev 1831 and subsequently; full trans Anthony Rudolf as Gillette or the Unknown Masterpiece 1988 chap), a concentrated dramatic meditation on the unknowability of the work of art once representation has been dissolved; "Séraphita" (1836; trans anon 1889; new trans Clara Bell 1990), an occult romance; and a supernatural tale, Le Peau de Chagrin: roman philosophique (1831 2vols; trans as Luck and Leather: A Parisian Romance 1842; various vts; new trans Katharine Prescott Wormeley as The Magic Skin 1888), about a magic talisman which grants wishes until it is worn out. In this vast sequence his Proto-SF story, "La recherche de l'absolu" (in Études de moeurs au XIXe siècle, coll 1834; trans as The Philosopher's Stone 1844; vt Balthazar, or Science & Love 1859; vt The Alchemist 1861; vt The Alkahest 1887; vt The Quest of the Absolute 1895; vt The Tragedy of a Genius 1912; new trans Ellen Marriage as The Quest of the Absolute 1989) fits somewhat dissonantly. The protagonist, Balthazar Claes, invests everything into his search for a kind of universal element that lies at the base of all other elements, but fails. [JC]

see also: Money; Scientists.

Honoré de Balzac

born Tours, France: 20 May 1799

died Paris: 18 August 1850

works (selected)

There is no attempt here to exhaustively represent the bibliographical maze of Balzac's oeuvre.

collections

about the author

links

Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 08:23 am on 14 August 2022.
<https://sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/balzac_honore_de>