Balzac and The Pathology of Elegance

There may be those among you whose command of the French language has deteriorated, atrophied through lack of daily use. Mine certainly has, and it appears that my command of my native tongue may be in dire peril as well. I have taken toomany liberties and shortcuts.

Isn’t it a pleasure then to read one of the great authors? When I first met Mrs. E. she had read neither a living author nor a work in translation. She went right to the source. Following her example, I sought to bully my way through Honoré de Balzac’s “Traité de la Vie Élégante” only to find that my literary French had entered into its second childhood. Nineteenth century French was simply beyond me, even with my gorgeous “Nouveau Petit Larousse Illustré” (1951) by my side.

Imagine my delight and surprise when the publishers of Wakefield Press offered to send me a new translation by Napoleon Jeffries. In it I learned that Balzac would consider our enterprise to be a worthy, but ultimately doomed, undertaking. Still, it is a noble calling, in my opinion, to wish to lead a more elegant life. Therefore, I will soldier on.

And so should you.

So here is the grandfather of us all, the first self-proclaimed Elegantologist in the first translation of one of his Pathologies of Social Life.

As for me, I must brush up my French with the always fluent Mrs. E. . For as Balzac reminds us with is maxim XVII “Anyone who does not frequently visit Paris will never be completely elegant.”

I wonder if that makes a trip over a business expense for me? What an inelegant thought.

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7 Responses to Balzac and The Pathology of Elegance

  1. M.Lane says:

    I would take the trip, no matter what sort of thougts undergirded the effort!


  2. robert stuart says:

    American heiress Maud Burke, after marrying Lord Cunard, changing her name to Emerald, emerging as a leading London society hostess, giving birth to the ferocious Nancy, and becoming the companion of Sir Thomas Beecham, reached a point in life after which she read nothing but Balzac. She would go through the 60 odd volumes of the “Comedie Humaine” and then start over at the beginning.

    Definitely a woman who knew what she liked.

  3. Valerie Young says:

    “When I first met Mrs. E. she had read neither a living author nor a work in translation.”

    C’est evident, alors, pourquoi vous vous etes marie avec elle.

  4. Eh bien, que pouvais-je faire?

  5. pvedesign says:

    I leave you with this elegant quote-
    “From whatever place I write you will expect that part of my ‘travels’ will consist of excursions in my own mind.” St. Coleridge (1772-1834) English Writer

    Bon voyage cherie!

  6. Lichanos says:

    You might want to keep in mind while reading it that Balzac himself was the very antithesis of elegance, in every way possible.

  7. Indeed, as was Baudelaire, but both were considered dandies in their time.

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