About La Comedie Humaine by Balzac

Welcome to all who enjoy the works of Honoré de Balzac!

The Balzac Yahoo group was created in honor of the bicentennial of Balzac’s birth. We finished a complete reading of La Comedie Humaine in May, 2012. This site is a space for us to share summaries and the wealth of information we compiled.

Individual summaries may be accessed by clicking on the title in the Story Index or the Publication Chronology.

In addition to summaries and Introductions by George Saintsbury, you’ll find a list of characters appearing in more than one story and the stories in which they appear plus a suggested reading order based on the book by William Hobart Royce.

Please feel free to make comments on any of the stories or other items. We love to talk about Balzac and his works.

Now that we have finished our group read and discussion of the entire La Comedie Humaine, there will be very few posts here but the most recent ones can always viewed by clicking on the title under Recent Posts or the current month in the Archives.

For more information or further discussion, visit the Group Site.

Read Balzac’s Author’s Introduction from July, 1842.

This blog is the brainchild of Lisa Hill from ANZ LitLovers in Australia and Dagny a.k.a Madame Vauquer from the Vauquer Boarding House.  Our wonderful volunteer contributors include Colin, Jim Paris, Josephine, Linnet, Mary, Merrie and Pamela B Thomas, who between them have made this blog into a valuable resource for anyone interested in the La Comedie Humaine.

PS  If you are a fan of the works of Émile Zola, please visit our sister site The Books of Émile Zola.

35 comments on “About La Comedie Humaine by Balzac

  1. Everyone is welcome to join us at Madame Vauquer’s Boarding House.


  2. You don’t like seedy-orama, lol?

    Just think of the wonderful dining room scenes and all the fun at dinner.


  3. balzacbooks says:

    Oh true, the company would be great, but I don’t think the old skinflint would serve up fabulous French food!


  4. Well, I do have a budget you know. If those rascals hadn’t trampled all over my artichokes they would be on the menu. Sorry about the cat lapping up all the cream.


  5. Lisa Hill says:

    Congratulations on reaching 3500+ hits!


  6. Le Sponge says:

    I am reading the Chouans and the translation is a struggle at times. I’d be interested in discussing the plot lines in the first hundred pages. Is anybody there? Le Sponge


  7. Allen Levy says:

    Just joined. Fabulous…and my good luck. I hope to learn much and put in my two sous. (!)


  8. Allen Levy says:

    I am reading a very interesting book called “Parisians” by Graham Robb. It is a non-fiction book, a history of Paris as told through the adventures of real people who lived in Paris; the playwright who wrote “La Vie Boheme,” the criminal-police detective-private detective Vidocq, etc. In one of the stories, an editor named Auguste Lepoitevin Saint-Alme is quoted as boasting that he discovered Balzac and taught B how to write pornographic stories. This must have been before B found his voice and achieved success. Do any of these early stories exist, along with the potboilers and gory stories of the the same time? Would be fun to read, aside from their prurient value.


  9. I don’t know offhand about this Saint-Alme, but some of the potboilers are now available in translation–although not nearly all. Not sure about the “gory” stories–some of the Droll Tales were pretty gory and many were risque. They’re all available as free etexts from Project Gutenberg.

    At the Yahoo Group, there is is a list of known potboilers. I’ve read Le Centenaire and ultimately didn’t care for it, but I know other readers who loved it.

    Right now we’re reading Gerson’s biography, The Prodigal Genius. There’s a strong possibility that we’ll go for another potboiler when we finish it. At least two of us want to read The Vicar’s Passion (Le Vicaire des Ardennes).

    The group is at:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/balzac/ and the list is in the “Files” section.


  10. Allen Levy says:

    Glad to hear that this blog is still going strong. Madame Vacquer: I know I read this story, but, for the life of me I can’t remember the name. It’s about two guys out hunting and they come upon a dark old house inhabited by two women. Turns out one of them takes care of the other. It also turns out that one of the hunters rescued one of the women during a fierce battle and the crosssing of a river. The woman has gone mad, and one of the hunters shoots himself because he loved her and has found her mad. Is this a Balzac story or a figment of my fevered imagination? Bixiou (aka Allen Levy)


    • Sorry to be so long getting back to you, Bixiou. I only just now found your comment.

      You could be thinking of Adieu/Farewell, although the story isn’t quite the same. You can read my summary at http://wp.me/pZns8-Z and see what you think.

      Are you the Bixiou who recently joined the Yahoo Group as Buck? If it is you, welcome back!


      • Allen Levy says:

        It’s been a long time since you replied to me, but you are correct. I was referring to “Adieu”, although I had the story a bit mixed up. Anyway, I’m glad I’m part of the Yahoo group and I really enjoyed the melodramatic Vicar. Bixiou


  11. Neil Reed says:

    Thanks an interesting site. I wanted to read more of him but wasn’t sure of where to start so very helpfull thanks


  12. Stephen Coon says:

    I have just discovered your site and will come back to explore further. I thought you might enjoy knowing that the Providence Athenaeum sponsors several reading groups, one of which is “Balzac and Baudelaire in Paris.” I lead the group, which is in its second year; we have about 25 readers participating. All readings are in English translation. Last year we read Pere Goriot and Lost Illusions by Balzac, as well as essays by Baudelaire, the “Parisian Scenes” section of Flowers of Evil, and all of Paris Spleen. This year we are reading History of the Thirteen, A Harlot High and Low, and other selected stories by Balzac, plus more poetry by Baudelaire. Also we read some Parisian history and look at early photography and other documents. Everyone in the group is struck by how contemporary both Balzac and Baudelaire are!


  13. Debbie Sheehan says:

    Bonsoir – I have always wanted to read the entire Comedie Humaine, and am pleased to find a site about it. I love the suggested order page – as most French lit majors are given first and foremost le Pere Goriot. Thank you. Debbie S.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Dan Crews says:

    I was at the book store the other day and I came across the 16th Volume of Honore de Balzac in 25 Volumes published by Peter Fenelon Collier and Sons, Translated by Lionel Strachey. The Title is Provincial Parisians. I can find this in your collections anywhere. I’ve looked the web over and can find what this is. I can imagine that you would not have it here on this sight. (Which is truly wonderful.) Is some sort of collection of stories? If any one can help out I would appreciate it. Thanks Dan


  15. That would have been my guess too, Jim, except that it didn’t quite fit.A very poor rendering of the exact volume can be viewed at:

    I was unable to find a Table of Contents, but no, Dan, there is nothing new. The first story is The Lesser Bourgeoisie (also translated as The Middle Classes (Les Petits Bourgeois). That is the bulk of it and it is followed by the short story A Passion in the Desert (Une Passion dans le désert). Just those two stories. You’ll be able to read the Project Gutenberg translations with very few errors and in numerous formats.


    • Dan Crews says:

      Thanks to both of you for clearing this up. I was hoping it was LOST ILLUSIONS, but no dice.


      • You can read Lost Illusions free at any time in the Project Gutenberg etext – a Victorian translation. Or if you prefer paper books and/or newer translations, it’s available in paperback and should be able to pick up a used copy.


  16. L. M. Karlsson says:

    I have the 40 volume Dent set published in the 1890’s, and wonder which five titles were “too rude” to be included? I haven’t been able find out, and any help would be greatly appreciated.


    • I have no idea about five. If it is just the tile of a story, I might guess “A Harlot High and Low”. But if it is the story itself, my first guess would be “The Girl with the Golden Eyes” (“La Fille aux yeux d’or”).

      Any other ideas?


      • Brian Walden says:

        Just found this blog, so my comment might be a little late. The five missing stories are The Girl with the Golden Eyes, Sarrasine, The Imaginary Mistress/Paz/ The False Mistress, The Physiology of Marriage, and Petty Troubles of Married Life. I’ve just got the Dent set, and compared it with the list of works Andre Maurois’ Life of Balzac.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dagny says:

        Thanks so much, Brian! I’m surprised about the inclusion of The Imaginary Mistress. It’s rather an honorable idealistic story as best I recall.


  17. Wolkowski says:

    Title available from Amazon.com catalog:
    Honore de Balzac: the spirit and the letter.
    Best regards
    Sorbonne universites upmc

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Gracias por compartir con todos nosotros toda esta interesante información. Con estos granitos de arena hacemos màs grande la montaña Internet. Enhorabuena por esta web.



  19. Birksworks says:

    I just discovered your sign, Madam Vauquer. I hope there’s room at the inn. I started my travels here with le Pere Goriot and wandered through Lost Illusions, meeting Cousin Bette and Cousin Pons. Which way?

    — Birksworks


  20. Candy Mercer says:

    so excited to find this sight as I begin my own reading of the complete set, the 1895 Barrie edition! Two volumes in! I asked some questions on the post regarding reading order. thank you for this, I will be leaving this tab open as I read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dagny says:

      What fun, Candy! I’ve read the entire cycle once and most of the books more than once. Most of mine were the Ellen Marriage translations and the Katharine Wormely translation from around the same period of time. Enjoy your odyssey!


  21. Matthew says:

    Hi! Having read several of Balzac’s novels I am thinking of investing in a set of the works. There appear to be two more or less complete translations, both from the late nineteenth century, one by Katherine Wormeley and one by Ellen Marriage, Clara Bell and others, with introductions by George Saintsbury. Is here a generally accepted view as to which is the better set, and which the most complete? Thanks.


  22. Dagny says:

    John and I prepared most of the translations for the Comedie Humaine for Project Gutenberg. I was working from the Saintsbury edition and John was using the Wormeley one. This was years ago and we were typing and cross-proofing, so both of us read both translations.

    As far as better, it’s really a matter of taste and we found that sometimes we preferred one edition and sometimes the other.

    But for completeness, I’d say the Saintsbury edition. Wormeley didn’t care for how Balzac handled Vautrin so some of the stories featuring that character might be cut – one is either definitely cut or possibly completely missing from her set. It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten which story and the details, only remembering that odd quirk of Wormeley’s.


Leave a Reply to Lisa Hill Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s