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Balzac's Lives

Peter Brooks

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New York Review of Books
06 January 2021
Peter Brook's Balzac's Lives is a biography like no other, a vivid and searching portrait of the great novelist that is based on a close examination of the extraordinary characters that throng his work. More than anyone, Balzac invented the nineteenth-century novel, with its interwoven plots and diverse and overlapping realities, political, economic, domestic, psychological; indeed, Oscar Wilde went so far as to say that Balzac invented the nineteenth century! It was, in any case, above all the wonderful, unforgettable, extravagant characters he dreamed up and made flesh--entrepreneurs, bankers, inventors, industrialists, poets, artists, bohemians of both sexes, journalists, aristocrats, politicians, prostitutes--that allowed Balzac to bring to life the dynamic forces of the new era that ushered in our own. Brooks singles out the capitalist Gobseck, the aspiring writer Lucien de Rubembre, the ambitious politican Rastignac, the gay criminal mastermind, Collin, among others, to disclose the secret workings of a great writer's inner world.
By:   Peter Brooks
Imprint:   New York Review of Books
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 216mm,  Width: 146mm, 
ISBN:   9781681374499
ISBN 10:   1681374498
Pages:   304
Publication Date:   06 January 2021
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Peter Brooks is the author of several books, including The Melodramatic Imagination, Reading for the Plot, Psychoanalysis and Storytelling, Troubling Confessions, Realist Vision, Henry James Goes to Paris, and Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris, as well as two novels, World Elsewhere and The Emperors' Body; and essays and book reviews in many places. He edited Balzac's The Human Comedy- Short Stories for NYRB, and also Vivant Denon's No Tomorrow. He is Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature Emeritus at Yale, and also taught recently at Princeton. He divides his life between Alexandria, VA and Princeton, NJ.

Reviews for Balzac's Lives

At the heart of Peter Brooks's new book on Balzac lies an intense competition between two opposite kinds of writing: Criticism and the Novel. The author's goal--to show us how Balzac's Human Comedy makes sense of human and social nature--belongs to Criticism, but his means--writing biographies of Balzac's characters, mere figments of imagination--are pure Novel. Though these twice-told tales are amply interleaved with critical and social context, narrative analysis and psychoanalytic insight, the contest between critical reading and novelistic telling hardly ends in a draw. Brooks not only likes a good story, he knows how to tell one, expert in retracing even the most tortuous paths of Balzac's human comedians. The inordinate, almost fierce energy that animates every line here is the passion of a storyteller--that primal passion for staging twists and turns of plot, for entering and projecting into imaginary lives, for using these lives to reflect on love, sex, money, power, identity. Small wonder Peter Brooks teaches us so much in Balzac's Lives; he's learned Balzac's lesson. --D. A. Miller Peter Brooks's entire body of work has been devoted to finding a way of talking about literature that is analytically rigorous but lucid, eloquent, 'useful' (one of his favorite words), and--in the best sense--social. Balzac's Lives is the brilliant culmination of his approach. I found this world-besotted book--especially now, self-quarantined as we are--immensely moving. --David Shields Anyone interested in Balzac should pounce on this book, at once erudite and wonderfully readable, and keep it close at hand. Peter Brooks displays in these pages a dizzying knowledge of his work. Through the life of various characters, he leads the reader towards an unusual biography of the novelist for whom the world he invented was more real than life. It takes a steady hand to guide one into Balzac's vast and complicated world and make sense of a passionate and complex man. Peter Brooks provides it with ease and elegance. --Anka Muhlstein


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