From the Archives: Balzac, Eugénie Grandet

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In From the Archives, we are taking a look through our back catalogue to showcase covers no longer offered in our current season. From our early publishing roots to designs recently retired, these are the untold stories behind some of the art and handwritten manuscripts we have been honoured to work with.

Embellished-Manuscripts---Balzac---(1)

Embellished Manuscripts Balzac, Eugénie Grandet

Embellished Manuscripts - Balzac, Eugenie Grandet - Ultra - Front CoverOriginal Artwork: Honoré de Balzac’s handwritten Eugénie Grandet manuscript
Era: 1833
Region: France

Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) was a French novelist who was renowned for his obsessive work ethic and meticulous writing style. As a writer, he was especially concerned with the darker aspects of human nature and the corrupting influence of the upper classes. He focused on bringing his observations of humanity to life in its most representative state, often going in cognito into the Parisian masses to make notes on their behaviours.

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These obsessive tactics, which led to the development of literary Realism, allowed Balzac to infuse his short stories and novels with dynamic and fully realised characters and settings. This is especially clear in his bestselling work Eugénie Grandet, a major component of his collection of ninety-one interconnected works known as the Comédie Humaine.

Embellished Manuscripts - Balzac, Eugene Grandet - Ultra - Back CoverOn our Balzac, Eugénie Grandet cover, you can see clearly the amount of editing and revision that went into each draft of his great novel. To the frustration of his printers, Balzac revised heavily even after his novels were in galley proofs. He emended almost every paragraph with barely discernible scribbles, and he often shifted whole chapters. He then called for fresh versions. Sustained by innumerable cups of strong coffee (he is famed for his fifty-cup-a-day habit), he routinely worked through the night and devastated the printers’ work with further changes. His publisher charged him the additional costs, considerably reducing his earnings. This autograph manuscript, a tortuous mass of revisions, corrections and additions, comes from an 1833 draft of the novel, which was released later that year.

Balzac was the first writer to use fiction to convey the total social scene prevailing within one country during a particular period in its history. His keenly detailed depictions of European society solidified his place as one of the preeminent members of the European literary elite, and the influence of his writing can be felt in the work of later authors such as Marcel Proust, Henry James and Jack Kerouac, among others.

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