Honoré de Balzac
devoted thirty years of his short life to writing. He completed ten plays and inumerable article
s and letter
s. But without doubt, his magnum opus
was La Comédie Humaine
. The work comprises of ninety-four novel
s and short stories
written between 1831 and 1847.
The title of the collection may be a little misleading to the modern, anglophone reader. It is not so much a comedy as a showcase or a spectacle. Reading the novels is like visiting a sideshow. Balzac presents human life in painstaking detail. The author adopted a scientific attitude to writing. His desire was to observe the minutiae of life, write down what he saw, and form a diagnosis of the human condition. He was obsessed with finding what it is that makes us tick, and dissecting human motivations and desires. Each piece in the series focuses on a person or group of people, and examines them in great detail.
After the introduction (the Avant-propos de la Comédie Humaine), the work is divided into three sections:
Etudes de Moeurs (A study of manners)
This first, and largest section deals with the study of manners. It records Balzac's observation of the society in which he lived. The section is sub-divided into six smaller areas.
SCENES DE LA VIE PRIVEE: (Images of private lives)
SCENES DE LA VIE DE PROVINCE (Images of provincial life)
SCENES DE LA VIE PARISIENNE: (Images of Parisian life)
SCENES DE LA VIE POLITIQUE (Images of political life)
SCENES DE LA VIE MILITAIRE (Images of life in the armed forces)
SCENES DE LA VIE DE CAMPAGNE (Images of country life)
Etudes Philosophiques (Philosophical studies)
A philosophical take on what we have learned from the studies of manners.
Etudes Analytiques (Analytical studies)