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Lost Illusions

by Honoré de Balzac

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Human Comedy (Scènes de la vie de province)

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2,003265,856 (4.17)1 / 117
Lucien Chardon, an aspiring young author, leaves his small provincial hometown and attempts to succeed in Parisian literary circles of the early nineteenth century.
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English (19)  French (4)  Catalan (2)  Dutch (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, I read this while holidaying in Paris, and that was a great choice. It's only my second Balzac, and already I'm pretty sure what I'm going to get: straight plot, semi-mythical characters, and not a whole lot of style. This isn't really my kind of thing, but Balzac is just so all-in that it's hard not to get pulled along in his wake. And anyway, he's so explicitly writing about great abstractions (here: Art, Media, Capitalism, Class, Love) that I'll always enjoy his work.

And 'Lost Illusions' is perfect for me--the satire of the press still functions perfectly (even if the technical details about typesetting are rather out of date) and the characters' debates about selling out will appeal to anyone who has a little punk in them. But what you really need from the book is that plot: a young man from the provinces,* a bit pretentious**, goes to the capital, but fails to hold on to his dream because he's an idiot and the system is set up in such a way that he's bound to fail.*** He returns to the provinces, where his fecklessness has more or less damned his family and friends; he tries to be noble, but appears to be getting swindled yet again. It's didactic, it's moralizing, it's sentimental. And yet you really have to read it.



* over-identifying here
** really over-identifying
*** hoping to avoid this one ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
This is premature, but what a wonderful passage I've just read, about one sixth into the book. It could have been written last night about today. Our hero, in the business, is explaining to the woman to whom he is proposing how the paper industry for printing works.

And for this reason: although linen lasts so much longer than cotton, that it is in reality cheaper in the end, the poor would rather make the smaller outlay in the first instance, and, by virtue of the law of _Vae victis!_ pay enormously more before they have done. The middle classes do the same. So there is a scarcity of linen. In England, where four-fifths of the population use cotton to the exclusion of linen, they make nothing but cotton paper. The cotton paper is very soft and easily creased to begin with, and it has a further defect: it is so soluble that if you seep a book made of cotton paper in water for fifteen minutes, it turns to a pulp, while an old book left in water for a couple of hours is not spoilt. You could dry the old book, and the pages, though yellow and faded, would still be legible, the work would not be destroyed.

"There is a time coming when legislation will equalize our fortunes, and we shall all be poor together; we shall want our linen and our books to be cheap, just as people are beginning to prefer small pictures because they have not wall space enough for large ones. Well, the shirts and the books will not last, that is all; it is the same on all sides, solidity is drying out. So this problem is one of the first importance for literature, science, and politics.

"One day, in my office, there was a hot discussion going on about the material that the Chinese use for making paper. Their paper is far better than ours, because the raw material is better; and a good deal was said about this thin, light Chinese paper, for if it is light and thin, the texture is close, there are no transparent spots in it. In Paris there are learned men among the printers' readers; Fourier and Pierre Leroux are Lachevardiere's readers at this moment; and the Comte de Saint-Simon, who happened to be correcting proofs for us, came in in the middle of the discussion. He told us at once that, according to Kempfer and du Halde, the Broussonetia furnishes the substance of the Chinese paper; it is a vegetable substance (like linen or cotton for that matter). Another reader maintained that Chinese paper was principally made of an animal substance, to wit, the silk that is abundant there. They made a bet about it in my presence. The Messieurs Didot are printers to the Institute, so naturally they referred the question to that learned body. M. Marcel, who used to be superintendent of the Royal Printing Establishment, was umpire, and he sent the two readers to M. l'Abbe Grozier, Librarian at the Arsenal. By the Abbe's decision they both lost their wages. The paper was not made of silk nor yet from the _Broussonetia_; the pulp proved to be the triturated fibre of some kind of bamboo. The Abbe Grozier had a Chinese book, an iconographical and technological work, with a great many pictures in it, illustrating all the different processes of paper-making, and he showed us a picture of the workshop with the bamboo stalks lying in a heap in the corner; it was extremely well drawn.

"Lucien told me that your father, with the intuition of a man of talent, had a glimmering of a notion of some way of replacing linen rags with an exceedingly common vegetable product, not previously manufactured, but taken direct from the soil, as the Chinese use vegetable fibre at first hand. I have classified the guesses made by those who came before me, and have begun to study the question. The bamboo is a kind of reed; naturally I began to think of the reeds that grow here in France.

"Labor is very cheap in China, where a workman earns three halfpence a day, and this cheapness of labor enables the Chinese to manipulate each sheet of paper separately. They take it out of the mould, and press it between heated tablets of white porcelain, that is the secret of the surface and consistence, the lightness and satin smoothness of the best paper in the world. Well, here in Europe the work must be done by machinery; machinery must take the place of cheap Chinese labor. If we could but succeed in making a cheap paper of as good a quality, the weight and thickness of printed books would be reduced by more than one-half. A set of Voltaire, printed on our woven paper and bound, weighs about two hundred and fifty pounds; it would only weigh fifty if we used Chinese paper. That surely would be a triumph, for the housing of many books has come to be a difficulty; everything has grown smaller of late; this is not an age of giants; men have shrunk, everything about them shrinks, and house-room into the bargain. Great mansions and great suites of rooms will be abolished sooner or later in Paris, for no one will afford to live in the great houses built by our forefathers. What a disgrace for our age if none of its books should last! Dutch paper--that is, paper made from flax--will be quite unobtainable in ten years' time. ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
This is premature, but what a wonderful passage I've just read, about one sixth into the book. It could have been written last night about today. Our hero, in the business, is explaining to the woman to whom he is proposing how the paper industry for printing works.

And for this reason: although linen lasts so much longer than cotton, that it is in reality cheaper in the end, the poor would rather make the smaller outlay in the first instance, and, by virtue of the law of _Vae victis!_ pay enormously more before they have done. The middle classes do the same. So there is a scarcity of linen. In England, where four-fifths of the population use cotton to the exclusion of linen, they make nothing but cotton paper. The cotton paper is very soft and easily creased to begin with, and it has a further defect: it is so soluble that if you seep a book made of cotton paper in water for fifteen minutes, it turns to a pulp, while an old book left in water for a couple of hours is not spoilt. You could dry the old book, and the pages, though yellow and faded, would still be legible, the work would not be destroyed.

"There is a time coming when legislation will equalize our fortunes, and we shall all be poor together; we shall want our linen and our books to be cheap, just as people are beginning to prefer small pictures because they have not wall space enough for large ones. Well, the shirts and the books will not last, that is all; it is the same on all sides, solidity is drying out. So this problem is one of the first importance for literature, science, and politics.

"One day, in my office, there was a hot discussion going on about the material that the Chinese use for making paper. Their paper is far better than ours, because the raw material is better; and a good deal was said about this thin, light Chinese paper, for if it is light and thin, the texture is close, there are no transparent spots in it. In Paris there are learned men among the printers' readers; Fourier and Pierre Leroux are Lachevardiere's readers at this moment; and the Comte de Saint-Simon, who happened to be correcting proofs for us, came in in the middle of the discussion. He told us at once that, according to Kempfer and du Halde, the Broussonetia furnishes the substance of the Chinese paper; it is a vegetable substance (like linen or cotton for that matter). Another reader maintained that Chinese paper was principally made of an animal substance, to wit, the silk that is abundant there. They made a bet about it in my presence. The Messieurs Didot are printers to the Institute, so naturally they referred the question to that learned body. M. Marcel, who used to be superintendent of the Royal Printing Establishment, was umpire, and he sent the two readers to M. l'Abbe Grozier, Librarian at the Arsenal. By the Abbe's decision they both lost their wages. The paper was not made of silk nor yet from the _Broussonetia_; the pulp proved to be the triturated fibre of some kind of bamboo. The Abbe Grozier had a Chinese book, an iconographical and technological work, with a great many pictures in it, illustrating all the different processes of paper-making, and he showed us a picture of the workshop with the bamboo stalks lying in a heap in the corner; it was extremely well drawn.

"Lucien told me that your father, with the intuition of a man of talent, had a glimmering of a notion of some way of replacing linen rags with an exceedingly common vegetable product, not previously manufactured, but taken direct from the soil, as the Chinese use vegetable fibre at first hand. I have classified the guesses made by those who came before me, and have begun to study the question. The bamboo is a kind of reed; naturally I began to think of the reeds that grow here in France.

"Labor is very cheap in China, where a workman earns three halfpence a day, and this cheapness of labor enables the Chinese to manipulate each sheet of paper separately. They take it out of the mould, and press it between heated tablets of white porcelain, that is the secret of the surface and consistence, the lightness and satin smoothness of the best paper in the world. Well, here in Europe the work must be done by machinery; machinery must take the place of cheap Chinese labor. If we could but succeed in making a cheap paper of as good a quality, the weight and thickness of printed books would be reduced by more than one-half. A set of Voltaire, printed on our woven paper and bound, weighs about two hundred and fifty pounds; it would only weigh fifty if we used Chinese paper. That surely would be a triumph, for the housing of many books has come to be a difficulty; everything has grown smaller of late; this is not an age of giants; men have shrunk, everything about them shrinks, and house-room into the bargain. Great mansions and great suites of rooms will be abolished sooner or later in Paris, for no one will afford to live in the great houses built by our forefathers. What a disgrace for our age if none of its books should last! Dutch paper--that is, paper made from flax--will be quite unobtainable in ten years' time. ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
This is premature, but what a wonderful passage I've just read, about one sixth into the book. It could have been written last night about today. Our hero, in the business, is explaining to the woman to whom he is proposing how the paper industry for printing works.

And for this reason: although linen lasts so much longer than cotton, that it is in reality cheaper in the end, the poor would rather make the smaller outlay in the first instance, and, by virtue of the law of _Vae victis!_ pay enormously more before they have done. The middle classes do the same. So there is a scarcity of linen. In England, where four-fifths of the population use cotton to the exclusion of linen, they make nothing but cotton paper. The cotton paper is very soft and easily creased to begin with, and it has a further defect: it is so soluble that if you seep a book made of cotton paper in water for fifteen minutes, it turns to a pulp, while an old book left in water for a couple of hours is not spoilt. You could dry the old book, and the pages, though yellow and faded, would still be legible, the work would not be destroyed.

"There is a time coming when legislation will equalize our fortunes, and we shall all be poor together; we shall want our linen and our books to be cheap, just as people are beginning to prefer small pictures because they have not wall space enough for large ones. Well, the shirts and the books will not last, that is all; it is the same on all sides, solidity is drying out. So this problem is one of the first importance for literature, science, and politics.

"One day, in my office, there was a hot discussion going on about the material that the Chinese use for making paper. Their paper is far better than ours, because the raw material is better; and a good deal was said about this thin, light Chinese paper, for if it is light and thin, the texture is close, there are no transparent spots in it. In Paris there are learned men among the printers' readers; Fourier and Pierre Leroux are Lachevardiere's readers at this moment; and the Comte de Saint-Simon, who happened to be correcting proofs for us, came in in the middle of the discussion. He told us at once that, according to Kempfer and du Halde, the Broussonetia furnishes the substance of the Chinese paper; it is a vegetable substance (like linen or cotton for that matter). Another reader maintained that Chinese paper was principally made of an animal substance, to wit, the silk that is abundant there. They made a bet about it in my presence. The Messieurs Didot are printers to the Institute, so naturally they referred the question to that learned body. M. Marcel, who used to be superintendent of the Royal Printing Establishment, was umpire, and he sent the two readers to M. l'Abbe Grozier, Librarian at the Arsenal. By the Abbe's decision they both lost their wages. The paper was not made of silk nor yet from the _Broussonetia_; the pulp proved to be the triturated fibre of some kind of bamboo. The Abbe Grozier had a Chinese book, an iconographical and technological work, with a great many pictures in it, illustrating all the different processes of paper-making, and he showed us a picture of the workshop with the bamboo stalks lying in a heap in the corner; it was extremely well drawn.

"Lucien told me that your father, with the intuition of a man of talent, had a glimmering of a notion of some way of replacing linen rags with an exceedingly common vegetable product, not previously manufactured, but taken direct from the soil, as the Chinese use vegetable fibre at first hand. I have classified the guesses made by those who came before me, and have begun to study the question. The bamboo is a kind of reed; naturally I began to think of the reeds that grow here in France.

"Labor is very cheap in China, where a workman earns three halfpence a day, and this cheapness of labor enables the Chinese to manipulate each sheet of paper separately. They take it out of the mould, and press it between heated tablets of white porcelain, that is the secret of the surface and consistence, the lightness and satin smoothness of the best paper in the world. Well, here in Europe the work must be done by machinery; machinery must take the place of cheap Chinese labor. If we could but succeed in making a cheap paper of as good a quality, the weight and thickness of printed books would be reduced by more than one-half. A set of Voltaire, printed on our woven paper and bound, weighs about two hundred and fifty pounds; it would only weigh fifty if we used Chinese paper. That surely would be a triumph, for the housing of many books has come to be a difficulty; everything has grown smaller of late; this is not an age of giants; men have shrunk, everything about them shrinks, and house-room into the bargain. Great mansions and great suites of rooms will be abolished sooner or later in Paris, for no one will afford to live in the great houses built by our forefathers. What a disgrace for our age if none of its books should last! Dutch paper--that is, paper made from flax--will be quite unobtainable in ten years' time. ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
Tu seras journaliste, lui criait sa conscience, comme la sorcière criait à Macbeth : Tu seras roi. Être journaliste, c'est devenir proconsul dans la République des lettres. avoir tous les pouvoirs. L'ambition dévoiera Lucien Chardon. Ses poèmes ont séduit la noblesse de province. Il monte à Paris, prend le nom de sa mère, de Rubempré, et s'introduit avec succès dans la presse et les milieux littéraires. Enivré de gloire, c'est un dandy avec tilbury et canne à pommeau d'argent. Qu'importe s'il a ruiné sa sœur et David, l'imprimeur d’Angoulême, s'il a perdu son âme pour réussir.
Cette fresque tirée des Scènes de la vie de province est prodigieuse. La caricature des journalistes et des libraires-éditeurs est féroce. Chaque personnage de cette Comédie humaine déborde d'énergie, celle dont Balzac était plein. Mais, semblent nous dire les Illusions perdues, consacrer cette énergie à se pousser dans la société c'est rater la vie et ses vraies richesses.
  Haijavivi | Jun 9, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (71 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Balzac, Honoré deprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Citron, PierreEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howard, RichardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hunt, Herbert J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marriage, EllenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mezzanotte, GabriellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mosley, FrancisIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Noiray, JacquesPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raine, KathleenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robb, GrahamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Selvatico Estense, DianellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wolf, UdoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A l'époque ou commence cette histoire, la presse de Stanhope et les rouleaux à distribuer l'encre ne fonctionnaient pas encore dans les petites imprimeries de provinces.
At the period when this history begins, Stanhope's press and cylinders for the distribution of ink were unknown to provincial printing-houses.
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"Les romantiques se composent de jeunes gens, et les classiques sont des perruques".

"C'est comme si tu ne disais rien, on dit cela de tous les livres".

"Si vous avez l'esprit de le deviner, vous aurez celui de vous taire".
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Lucien Chardon, an aspiring young author, leaves his small provincial hometown and attempts to succeed in Parisian literary circles of the early nineteenth century.

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