Friday, January 10, 2014

A Study of Woman by Honoré de Balzac

Too small to amount to much
Honoré de Balzac
A Study of Woman, originally published in 1830, is one of Honoré de Balzac’s shortest stories. The entire piece can be read in under ten minutes. The story takes place in the time of the Bourbon Restoration, and the woman in question is the Marquise de Listomere, the wife of a member of the Chamber of Deputies. The story is narrated by Horace Bianchon, one of Balzac’s recurring characters, and also features Eugène de Rastignac, the Kevin Bacon of Balzac’s Comédie Humaine. With the presence of these familiar characters, the story is well integrated into the interconnected continuity of Balzac’s writings, but due to its brevity and narrowness of scope it’s hardly an indispensable tile in the grand mosaic of the Comédie Humaine.

With a story this short, the less said about the plot the better. Suffice it to say that it deals with a conflict between virtue and vanity, and the simple observation that even when a woman doesn’t want a man, she wants to be wanted by that man. The story is engaging, but its revelations on womankind are neither earth-shattering nor universally accurate, and the reader is likely to forget the piece soon after it’s finished. This relatively inconsequential nugget is best reserved for those avid Balzac fans attempting to tackle his complete works. For everybody else, it’s certainly not a waste of ten minutes, but you’d be better off sticking to Balzac’s better-known and more substantial works.

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