The Human Comedy Philosophical Studies I

Author: Honoré de Balzac

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It is part of a vast series of novels published between 1829 and 1847, as Balzac wished to produce a unified series of books. It is a study of French society from the French Revolution to the eve of the Revolution of 1848.

The Human Comedy deals with philosophical, social, economic and legal themes, it moves from Paris to the provinces; and from society to the bourgeoisie. Balzac divided it into categories, the one that concerns us Philosophical Studies, refers to the causes that determine human action.

Among the novels presented in The Human Comedy Philosophical Studies I is The Magic Skin of 1831, also known as The Wild Ass's Skin. It tells the story of a young man who finds a piece of magic skin (from a wild ass) that fulfills all his wishes. However, for every wish granted, the skin shrinks and consumes a portion of his physical energy.


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The Unknown Masterpiece

Honoré de Balzac

The Unknown Masterpiece is a short story first published in the newspaper L'Artiste in August 1831. The story is a reflection on art and has had an important influence on modernist artists.

The young Nicolas Poussin, still unknown, visits the painter Porbus in his workshop. He is accompanied by the old master Frenhofer, who admits that he has been unable to find a suitable model for his own masterpiece, which depicts a beautiful courtesan named Catherine Lescault. He has been working on this future secret masterpiece for ten years.

Poussin offers his own lover as a model. Gillette is so beautiful that Frenhofer is inspired. Poussin and Porbus come to admire the painting, but all they can see is part of a foot that has been lost in a swirl of colors.

El Verdugo

Honoré de Balzac

El Verdugo is a short story published in 1829 and set in the coastal town of Menda (Spain) during the Peninsular War. The officer Victor Marchand is in command of the occupying French garrison, who in turn is in love with Clara, the daughter of the local grandee, the Marquis Léganès.

When an uprising is led by the Marquis against the French garrison, Marchand survives because he is warned by Clara, and flees to the nearby French military headquarters. A few days later, the French retake Menda and the town surrenders without a fight.

The French general accepts the surrender and promises not to sack the town in exchange for the surrender of the leading citizens, and orders the hanging of the leaders of the uprising, including the Marquis Léganès and his entire family. Marchand tries to convince Clara that she will be saved if she agrees to marry him, but she refuses.


Honoré de Balzac

Gobseck is a novel whose main theme is greed. It first appeared in outline form in La Mode in March 1830 under the title l'Usurier (The Usurer), and then in novel form in a volume published by Mame-Delaunay under the title Les Dangers de l'inconduite. The final title, Gobseck, appeared in 1842 in the Furne edition of La Comédie Humaine.

The plot is set in the French Restoration, and introduces us to the lawyer Maître Derville and the Vicomtesse de Grandlieu. Derville tells a story centered on Anastasie de Restaud, who is the daughter of a rich bourgeois who has married into the aristocracy, but who is bored with her marriage because it lacks love and passion.

As a result, Anastasie de Restaud has an affair with Maxime de Trailles and spends her fortune on him, so she turns to the usurer Jean-Esther van Gobseck for financial help.

Louis Lambert

Honoré de Balzac

Louis Lambert is a novel written during the summer of 1832. It focuses on the life and metaphysical ideas of the child genius Louis Lambert, who was fascinated by the Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. It also tells of his only friend, a classmate called "the Poet".

This work could be considered a fictionalized autobiography of Balzac, as it offers a glimpse into his childhood, with details and events from his life. It is worth noting that while studying at Vendôme, Balzac wrote an essay entitled Traité de la Volonté (Treatise on the Will) in which he analyzed Swedenborg's philosophy.

The novel begins with a description of Louis' background. In 1811 he met the Swiss writer Madame de Staël, who, impressed by his intellect, paid his tuition at the Collège de Vendôme. There he meets "the Poet", rejected by the other students, the two boys bond through discussions of philosophy and mysticism.


Honoré de Balzac

Sarrasine is a novel published in 1830, and is part of the Human Comedy.

Balzac, who began writing in 1819 while living alone in the Rue Lesdiguières, undertook the composition of Sarrasine in 1830. Although he had been producing steadily for more than a decade, Sarrasine was one of his first publications to appear without a pseudonym.

During the period in which the novel was written, Balzac participated in many salons, including that of Madame Recamier. Around the time Sarrasine was published, Balzac experienced great success with another work, La Peau de Chagrin (The Wild Ass's Skin of 1831).