Suggested Reading Order of the Human Comedy

The Balzac Yahoo Group undertook the reading of the entire Human Comedy in November 2006. A major influence to the reading order suggested is the book Balzac as He Should Be Read by William Hobart Royce. Royce’s order is mostly historically chronological, and changes have been made in the early readings to at first introduce the reader to one of Balzac’s best works (Father Goriot) and then read a selection of  historically early works before tackling some of the lesser, earliest stories which are not necessarily Balzac’s best work.

Listed below is their suggested reading order, listed by the English title.

Father Goriot
The Chouans
An Episode Under the Terror
The Vendetta
The Conscript/The Recruit
The Red Inn
The Maranas/Juana
A Passion in the Desert
The Exiles
Christ in Flanders
Maitre Cornelius
A Second Home/A Double Family/Double Life
The Gondreville Mystery/An Historical Mystery/A Shady Business/Murky Business/A Dark Affair
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket/The House of the Tennis-playing Cat/Fame and Sorrow
The Executioner
Domestic Peace/The Peace of the Home
Louis Lambert
The Quest of the Absolute/The Alkahest
A Woman of Thirty
The Thirteen: The Girl with the Golden Eyes
A Bachelor’s Establishment/The Two Brothers/The Black Sheep
The Elixir of Life
About Catherine de’ Medici: Preface/Introduction
About Catherine de’ Medici:The Calvinist Martyr
Eugenie Grandet
About Catherine de’ Medici: The Ruggieri’s Secret
About Catherine de’ Medici: The Two Dreams
The Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau
The Unknown Masterpiece/The Hidden Masterpiece
Sarrasine
The Hated Son
Adieu/Farewell
The Thirteen: Ferragus
The Message
Colonel Chabert
Facino Cane
Lost Illusions: The Two Poets
Lost Illusions: A Distinguished Provincial at Paris/A Great Man of the Provinces in Paris
Lost Illusions: Eve and David/ The Trials of the Inventor
La Grenadiere
Massimilla Doni
The Lily of the Valley
Melmoth Reconciled
The Atheist’s Mass
The Jealousies of a Country Town: The Old Maid
The Jealousies of a Country Town: The Cabinet of Antiquities
A Seaside Tragedy/A Drama on the Seashore
The Thirteen: The Duhesse of Langeais
Madame Firmiani
The Peasantry/Sons of the Soil
Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life: Esther Happy/How Girls Love
Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life: What Love Costs an Old Man
Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life: The End of Evil Ways
Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life: Vautrin’s Last Avatar/The Last Incarnation of Vautrin
Modeste Mignon
The Purse
The Ball at Sceaux
A Marriage Settlement/A Marriage Contract
Gobseck
The Deserted Woman
A Study of Woman
The Commission in Lunacy/The Interdiction
A Start in Life
The Vicar of Tours
The Country Doctor
Another Study of Woman
La Grande Breteche
Letters of Two Brides/Memoirs of Two Young Married Women
Pierrette
Pierre Grassou
The Government Clerks/Bureaucracy
The Magic Skin/Wild Ass’s Skin
Parisians in the Country: Gaudissart the Great/The Illustrious Gaudissart
A Man of Business
A Daughter of Eve
Ursula
The Secrets of a Princess/The Secrets of the Princess Cadignan
Honorine
Albert Savarus
Gambara
The Firm of Nucingen/The House of Nucingen/Nucingen & Co, Bankers
The Seamy Side of History/The Brotherhood of Consolation: Madame de la Chanterie
The Seamy Side of History/The Brotherhood of Consolation: The Initiate
The Imaginary Mistress/Paz/The False Mistress
A Prince of Bohemia
Beatrix
Z. Marcas
The Muse of the Department
The Country Parson/The Village Rector/Poor Relations
Poor Relations: Cousin Betty
Poor Relations: Cousin Pons
The Middle Classes/The Lesser Bourgeoise
Gaudissart II
The Member for Arcis/The Deputy for Arcis
The Unconscious Humorists/The Unconscious Comedians
The Physiology of Marriage
Petty Troubles of Married Life
Seraphita

 

22 comments on “Suggested Reading Order of the Human Comedy

  1. Alicia G says:

    Oh thank you so much! I was just looking at some of the wikipedia entries trying confusedly to figure out what order to read. I’ve read a few but want to go back & read them all. Thanks again!

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    • scamperpb says:

      You are welcome, Alicia. We read in this order, and I have to say it worked pretty well. It was daunting to us, too, to know how to begin!

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      • Steve Schoenbeck says:

        Just found your site, and I am intrigued. Have read something like 25 of Balzac’s novels/stories, and consider him the master. I’m just afraid that your order may discourage the modern reader. I found “Lost Illusions” the best way into Balzac, although I certainly wouldn’t quibble with Cousin Bette or Pere Goriot.
        Steve S.
        P.S. I happened upon the George Saintsbury 1901 edition by the Jefferson Press at an estate sale, and now own the entire work. I’ll try your guide out for some of those I haven’t read.

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      • Dagny says:

        There’s something in what you say, Steve, because it can be a problem getting through some of the works set earlier in time. The problem I see with Lost Illusions (and Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life which picks up the same storyline) is that the length could be daunting for a new to Balzac reader.

        Congratulations on picking up a Saintsbury edition! Pamela and I both have Saintsbury editions too.

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    • Alicia, I wish you could have been with us at the Yahoo Balzac group when we started reading the entire Comedie Humaine in 2006. After over five years, we are now nearing the end. You’ll find summaries here for all the books and as you progress, you might enjoy reading the comments in the group archives. All Balzac fans are welcome at:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/balzac/

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  2. Allen Levy says:

    I’ve just joined this blog family. Have read much of Balzac, but, of course, there is always more. Just rectly finished “Jealousies of A Country Town,” which contains “The Old Maid” and “A Collection of Antiquities.” Good Balzac, but not as great as Cousin Bette (that great black pearl of a novel. Old Maid sort of petered out, and Antiquities became frenetic and melodramatic before righting itself. Now that I have found you, I hope to participate if I can. Delighted!

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    • Marvelous, Allen! If you visit our “Discussion Schedule” page, you’ll find that discussions were held at the Yahoo group. They’re all in the archives which you’re welcome to read as you go along. Comments will be more than welcome. We still remember most of the stories well enough to add to your comments. The link for the group is on the Discussion Schedule page or jump right to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/balzac/

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  3. rob says:

    I have the list! Now I need a translator. Could someone please direct me to a discussion comparing English translations? Thank you so much.

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  4. lnatal says:

    Thanks to Dagny, I’ve just visited this blog and I really appreciate the great work done. However, since I’ve already read some books in no particular order, I decided to re-start the whole series by following the date of publication instead. It’s just my particular choice.

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    • Probably you have already read Pere Goriot as it is one of the more popular and prominent books. But if not, I strongly urge you to go with it next as it introduces two major recurring characters in their college days plus a few other characters with multiple appearances.

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  5. Always good to have a refresher. I consider Pere Goriot the cornerstone of the entire Comedie Humaine. I’ve read it at least six times. I can never resist a new translation.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hans says:

    Hello, can you tell me where to find the reading order as in “Balzac as He Should Be Read” by William Hobart Royce? Can’t find it anywhere on the net. I already know the main works of the human comedy and would love to follow a strictly chronological order.

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    • scamperpb says:

      If you go to the home page of this blog, balzacbooks.wordpress.com, on the right side you will see ‘Publication Chronology” and also “Suggested Reading Order”. The publication chronology is obviously in the order the books were first published. The “Suggested Reading Order” is from Royce’s recommendations, which are mostly historical order. Our group used Royce’s order with slight modifications to read the entire works over about six years, and Royce’s plan worked well for us.

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      • scamperpb says:

        If you want Royce’s exact order, I probably have it offline somewhere. (But the order listed here is mostly Royce, just a couple of premier works early to keep the reader from getting discouraged by lesser works.)

        You can email me at scamper@chartertn.net and I’ll see what I can dig up if you want his exact order. The actual Royce book is very rare, just not practically available, or at least it wasn’t a few years ago. I managed to get my library to borrow a rare copy. At the time the only copy for sale on the net was about $200 – pretty steep for a book less than 100 pages, LOL.

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  7. Phil says:

    I have read Pere Goriot, Cousin Bette, Cousin Pons, Eugenie Grandet, The Black Sheep, Lost Illusions, and A Harlot High and Low in that order. I usually prefer to read Recent translations in Penguin Classics or Oxford World Classics in print rather than on ebooks. Which three books, say, would you suggest I read next?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dagny says:

      You could drop back in time and read Colonel Chabert. There’s at least one newish translation. I don’t know for sure, but I think the great majority of what’s left don’t have new translations in Penguin Classics or Oxford World Classics.

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  8. Phil says:

    Thanks. I printed out a list the other day. There really are a large number of books to get though. I will take your recommendation and try Colonel Chabert. I also think
    I will have to try other publishers , as it seems Penguin Classics and Oxford World Classics do not publish many of the less famous Balzac novels.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. João Pedro Baptista says:

    Hello,

    Congratulations on the site, which is a dream for Balzac readers and admirers.

    Next month I will start reading the complete Comédie Humaine, which I intend to do as a whole and without interleaving other books.
    Of course, I am struggling with the problem of the reading order. I am now aware of Royce’s order (and I managed to read his book) and of Yahoo Group’s order.
    Having you read the whole series, are you still happy with the reading order choice you made? Would you recommend it to new Balzac readers?
    What do you think of the adopted order in Balzac’s time (Études de Moeurs, Études Philosophiques and Études Analytiques)? Would that be a good reading order? What would be the advantages and the disadvantages of this order?

    I never read Balzac, but I am a fairly experienced XIX century French novels (I have read the whole Rougon-Macquart series, read Les Miserables, Notre Dame de Paris, most Dumas père, most Flaubert, Maupassant, the whole À La Recherche, etc).
    So, I am pretty sure I will not be put down if starting with lesser works and I am quite excited with this enterprise.

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    João Pedro Baptista

    Liked by 1 person

  10. João Pedro Baptista says:

    Hello,

    Next month I will start reading the complete Comédie Humaine, which I intend to do as a whole and without interleaving other books.
    Of course, I am struggling with the problem of the reading order. I am now aware of Royce’s order (I managed to read his book) and of this Yahoo Group’s order.
    Having you read the whole series, are you still happy with the reading order choice you made? Would you recommend it to new Balzac readers?
    What do you think of the adopted order in Balzac’s time (Études de Moeurs, Études Philosophiques and Études Analytiques), sketched by Balzac itself to the première edition, modified in view of a new edition (adopted in the Pléiade)? Would that be a good reading order? What would be the advantages and the disadvantages of this order?

    I never read Balzac, but I consider myself a fairly experienced XIX century French novel reader (I have read the whole Rougon-Macquart series, read Les Miserables, Notre Dame de Paris, most Dumas père, most Flaubert, Maupassant, the whole À La Recherche, etc).
    So, I am pretty sure I will not be put down if starting with lesser works and I am quite excited with this enterprise.

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    João Pedro Baptista

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Steve Schoenbeck says:

    Dear Mr. Baptista,
    I would say I have read roughly 40 of the Balzac novels/stories through the years, and consider him a true master. Since I own a complete set of the Human Comedy, I am now trying to follow the Yahoo-recommended order. However, if you are just looking for a place to jump in, I think it makes sense to start with Cousin Pons, a recognized masterpiece, and then go on to something like “Lost Illusions,” which happens to be my personal favorite of the novels I’ve read so far. To me it makes sense to see if you really enjoy Balzac, as I would imagine he may not be everyone’s “cup of tea.” [I think of the Evelyn Waugh story where a Britisher lost in the wilds of the Amazon jungles was forced to listen to the stories of Dickens as a form of torture!]
    I would just comment that your plan to read right through all of the Human Comedy without breaking it up with other reading sounds like a daunting task!
    I wish you happy reading!
    Steve Schoenbeck,
    St. Louis, Missouri USA

    Liked by 1 person

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