Balzac's Paris

Eric Hazan


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Verso Books
25 June 2024
ISBN: 9781839767258
208 pages

From the publisher

Exploring Paris arm in arm with Balzac, nineteenth-century France’s most famous novelist and observer

In Balzac’s vast Human Comedy, a body of ninety-one completed novels and stories, he endeavoured to create a complete picture of contemporary French society and manners. Within this work is a loving ode to Paris and an incomparable introduction to the first capital of the modern world.

To this ageless city he makes a declaration of love in an accumulation of finely observed detail – the cafés, landmarks, avenues, parks – and captures the populace in countless meticulously drawn portraits: its lawyers, grisettes, journalists, concierges, usurers, salesmen, speculators.

Balzac gathered the elements of this Paris by sauntering through it. ‘To saunter is a science,’ he writes, ‘it is the gastronomy of the eye. To take a walk is to vegetate; to saunter is to live.’ Eric Hazan follows in Balzac’s footsteps, criss-crossing the city in the novelist’s outsize boots, running between printers, publishers, coffee merchants, mistresses and friends, stopping for a moment, struck by a detail that would be fixed in Balzac’s photographic memory.

More than a tour of the city, Balzac’s Paris is an attempt to measure the soul of a city as recovered in its finest literature.