Posts Tagged ‘Honoré de Balzac’
May 20, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
It’s Honoré de Balzac’s birthday, making this as good an occasion as any to investigate one of his stranger works, 1829’s The Physiology of Marriage—an extraordinary kind of precursor to the self-help manual. Balzac was thirty when it was published, and already he felt he knew enough about the institution of marriage to advise others on the matter. And maybe he was: though he hadn’t married yet, he’d already perfected the art of the aphorism. This book is full of them: “To saunter is a science; it is the gastronomy of the eye. To take a walk is to vegetate; to saunter is to live.” “A man ought not to marry without having studied anatomy, and dissected at least one woman.” And “Marriage is a fight to the death, before which the wedded couple ask a blessing from heaven, because it is the rashest of all undertakings to swear eternal love; the fight at once commences and victory, that is to say liberty, remains in the hands of the cleverer of the two.”
The Physiology of Marriage is a series of meditations on the more quotidian aspects of loving and living with another—many of which arrive at the rather contemporary conclusion that marriage is an exceedingly difficult arrangement, liable to end in adultery. The book has moments of surprising candor about men and women, and Balzac clearly knows a thing or two about, you know, the Human Comedy. But he’s also full of lousy counsel, and he loves playing power games. Here, for instance, are some excerpts from Meditation XII, “On the Hygiene of Marriage”:Read More »
February 6, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
April 26, 2012 | by Leanne Shapton and Ben Schott
Paint Samples, suitable for the home, sourced from colors in literature. As seen in our two-hundredth issue.
- “The clouds have their old color back, their old English color: the color of a soft-boiled egg, shelled by city fingers.” ‘London Fields,’ Martin Amis.
- “They hurried out of the room and returned in a minute or two, each pushing a kind of tall dumb-waiter laden, on all its four wire-netted shelves, with eight-month-old babies, all exactly alike (a Bokanovsky Group, it was evident) and all (since their caste was Delta) dressed in khaki.” ‘Brave New World,’ Aldous Huxley.
- “Instead, she’d burst into tears. Wetting the front of her navy-blue rayon housewife dress.” ‘Blonde,’ Joyce Carol Oates.
- “Then Kolokolo Bird said, with a mournful cry, ‘Go to the banks of the great gray-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.’ ” “The Elephant’s Child,” Rudyard Kipling.
- “Miss Mapp inclined her head. Silence was gold.” ‘Miss Mapp,’ E.F. Benson.
- “So Becca shows up at the last minute, right before post time. She’s already called about eighteen times just to let us know that she’s coming, finally she dances through the door in this micro lycra red dress— just a sheath really, perfect for that 3:00 a.m. nightclub appearance, but like even I wouldn’t be caught dead walking around in this thing in the middle of the day. But the boys love it and it gets so quiet for a minute you can hear the sound of tongues dropping and saliva splashing on the floor.” ‘Story of My Life,’ Jay McInerney.
- “Percy showed it to him last night—over a pink gin, was it, Percy, at the Travellers’?” ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,’ John le Carré.
- “Lydia never looked clean; her skin was not pitted like Joe’s but it had a permanent grayness, the grayness of one reared on baked beans, jelly and bread and dripping.” ‘The Millstone,’ Margaret Drabble.
- “‘The important thing, dear,’ she said, ‘is to have a really good fur coat, I mean a proper, dark one.’ To Lady Montdore, fur meant mink.” ‘Love in a Cold Climate,’ Nancy Mitford.
- “He’s very close to being the shade of the walls, isn’t he, and the shade of the walls is exactly the color of the inside of Rothko’s forearm.” ‘Breaking and Entering,’ Joy Williams.
- “He will not open the screen and capture their pollened bodies. He did this once and the terrified thrash of the moth—a brown-pink creature who released col- ored dust on his fingers—scared them both.” ‘In the Skin of a Lion,’ Michael Ondaatje.
- “ ‘Now, darling,’ she said sailing past me into the kitchen. ‘I’ve brought you some nice soup, and some smart outfits of mine for Monday!’ She was wearing a lime green suit, black tights and high-heeled court shoes.” ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary,’ Helen Fielding.
- “‘Well, let’s try and have a fine time.’ ‘All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?’ ” “Hills Like White Elephants,” Ernest Hemingway.
- “Cousin Bette, a victim, ever since her arrival in Paris, to a longing for cashmere shawls, was fascinated by the thought of possessing this particular yellow camel’s-hair, given by the baron to his wife in 1808, and according to the custom of certain families passed over to the daughter in 1830.” ‘Cousin Bette,’ Honoré de Balzac.
- “I saw large gray eyes in a bright, lively face, and suddenly this face began to quiver and laugh.” ‘First Love,’ Ivan Turgenev.
- “He seemed, unfortunately, to have no proper teeth—how was he, then, to grasp the key?—but the lack of teeth was, of course, made up for with a very strong jaw; using the jaw, he really was able to start the key turning, ignoring the fact that he must have been causing some kind of damage as a brown fluid came from his mouth, flowed over the key and dripped onto the floor.” ‘The Metamorphosis,’ Franz Kafka.
- “Everywhere I go, upstairs or down, they all cast admiring glances at my feet, which are adorned by a pair of exceptionally beautiful ( for times like these!) shoes. Miep managed to snap them up for 27.50 guilders. Burgundy-colored suede and leather with medium-sized high heels. I feel as if I’m on stilts, and look even taller than I already am.” ‘Diary of a Young Girl,’ Anne Frank.
- “He was the color of moss, that color green. It was as if he had been wrapped up in moss a long time, and the color had come off all over him.” “Nobody Said Anything,” Raymond Carver.
- “When I awoke, B. and the girl had gone, leaving in the wake of their coupling a great mountain of disheveled bedding, a brilliant stain of orange lipstick smack in the middle of the pillow, and on the exposed sheet the untidy evidence of their urgency.” ‘A Fan’s Notes,’ Frederick Exley.
- “Ah, brig, good-night / To crew and you; / The ocean’s heart too smooth, too blue, / To break for you.” “Shipwreck,” Emily Dickinson.
- “And then later that business down below, his thick cock that blue-brown of Mediterranean types and, he wonders if her hair there is as curly as the hair on her head, in and out, he can’t believe it will happen, while the rest of them sit here listening to the rain.” ‘Rabbit Is Rich,’ John Updike.
- “These are her underclothes, in this drawer. This pink set here she had never worn. She was wearing slacks of course and a shirt when she died.” ‘Rebecca,’ Daphne du Maurier.
- “‘If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,’ said Gatsby. ‘You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.’ ” ‘The Great Gatsby,’ F. Scott Fitzgerald.
- “In the black pubic hair, ladies and gentlemen, weighing one hundred and seventy pounds, at least half of which is still undigested halvah and hot pastrami, from Newark, NJ, The Shnoz, Alexander Portnoy! And his opponent, in the fair fuzz, with her elegant polished limbs and the gentle maidenly face of a Botticelli, that ever-popular purveyor of the social amenities here in the Garden, one hundred and fourteen pounds of Republican refinement, and the pertest pair of nipples in all New England, from New Canaan, Connecticut, Sarah Abbott Maulsby! ” ‘Portnoy’s Complaint,’ Philip Roth.
- “When the first gosling poked its gray-green head through the goose’s feathers and looked around, Charlotte spied it and made the announcement.” ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ E.B. White.
- “Not a dandelion in sight here, the lawns are picked clean. I long for one, just one, rubbishy and insolently random and hard to get rid of and perennially yellow as the sun.” ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ Margaret Atwood.
- “At the violet hour, when the eyes and back / Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits / Like a taxi throbbing waiting.” ‘The Waste Land,’ T. S. Eliot.
- “For all her chic thinness, she had an almost breakfast-cereal air of health, a soap and lemon cleanness, a rough pink darkening in the cheeks.” ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ Truman Capote.
October 29, 2010 | by The Paris Review
I’ve gone from one big novel about a vengeful Paris seamstress—A Tale of Two Cities—to another: Cousin Bette. Charles Dickens’s Mme Defarge leaves more blood on the cobblestones, but Bette’s the scarier of the two. Just as Balzac is the scarier writer. No one has more vicious fun writing about sex, aging, and money. It’s all good for a laugh ... but that is some seriously dark, Olympian laughter. —Lorin Stein
I have just read Love is Like Park Avenue, a collection of stories and vignettes written in the late 1930s and early 40s by Alvin Levin, a Bronx-raised avant-gardist and pamphleteer. The action—most of it cerebral—is set among young lower-middle class Jews, who go to City College, fish on the weekends off City Island, listen to Glen Miller, and think about how to get into each other’s pants. “She was soooo pretty,” one character coos. “Like something out of a 35 cent movie. You didn’t need technicolor. In black and white it was packed full of glamour—in a quiet way. Can you get what we mean?” Along with Richard Price’s early novels, and the next-to-last section of Delillo’s Underworld, this is a Bronx classic. —Robyn Creswell
It will probably come as a surprise to no one that The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis are really, exceptionally, almost unbelievably good. I’ve been keeping a notebook with me while I read so I can jot down my favorite phrases. From “Five Signs of Disturbance”: “She knows that if she speaks on the telephone, her voice will communicate something no one will want to listen to. And she will have trouble making herself heard.” From “The Professor”: “I thought if I married a cowboy, I wouldn’t have to leave the West. I liked the West for its difficulties.” —Miranda Popkey