A review of ‘Lost Illusions’ by Honoré de Balzac. The question of Scott.

This epic novel has already inspired me to make a few notes-see below. However, it is quite difficult to bring together a brief, illuminating and coherent review. There is so much to admire in the text: humour, realism, depth, plot, characterisation, and knowledge were found to be available in abundant quantities. It is a rich book about life, writing, publishing, and printing, but it is also an entertainment par excellence.

Nevertheless, a review cannot consist of praise alone. This novel is arguably haunted by the presence of Sir Walter Scott. There are several references to the phenomenal success of the poet and novelist. Indeed, much is made of the tendency to imitate his work. While there is satire in the text, it does seem that these remarks are based on a little envy.

However, apart from sales, it seems that Balzac had little to be envious about. It is a long time since I read ‘Ivanhoe’ and my exposure to Scott is limited, but I find it very hard to believe that the fascinating Balzac should have been bothered by the success of the Tory writer. ‘Lost Illusions’ is a masterpiece, almost Flaubertian in its achievement (it lacks the precision of Flaubert), and it will reward discerning readers who turn to it for study or pleasure. Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper may have been enthusiastic about Scott, but it is difficult to comprehend this passion which may have partly stemmed from his interest in the region where the Scottish border sits. I would like to read more Balzac eventually, but I am now lucky enough to be reading some Doris Lessing.

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