Honore de Balzac's The Human Comedy
Honore de Balzac is the full name of a French author who wrote a series of novels entitled “The Human Comedy.” This literary work consists of a hundred short stories and novels written by Balzac during the early 19th century. They are compiled into different sections. The titles of these sections are: Scenes from private life, Scenes from Provincial life, Scenes from Parisian life, Scenes from Political Life, Scenes from military life, scenes from Country Life, and Philosophical Studies. Balzac wrote these stories because he wanted to study and examine every day life via the lives of individuals in different levels of Parisian society.
These novels were published between the years 1825-1848. Due to the large number of novels and short stories contained in the “Human Comedy” there is a large quantity of information. The information is very scattered and it is difficult to find clear and precise information regarding the human comedy, its different parts and characters, its history and importance for the 19th century all in one concise location.
This pathfinder can be used to provide university students in a French literature of the 19th century course as well as professors and scholars doing research on Balzac with a simple, clear and concise all in one type of resource where they can find the information needed to understand the human comedy, its parts, characters, themes and history without having to search through large amounts of books, magazines, databases and websites.
The information in this pathfinder can be found primarily in a University Library system. Materials are drawn from encyclopedias, biographies, bibliographies, anthologies, indexes, databases, guides, internet sources, critical magazine articles and books published in both print and electronic format, in English and French published during the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. These materials are of both a reference and a non-reference nature.
Library of Congress Subject Headings
Balzac, Honoree de, 1799-1850.
Balzac, Honore de, The Human Comedy
Balzac, Honore de, La Comedie Humaine
Books on Balzac can be found under the following call numbers
PQ 2157 --- PQ 2185
Although there are many books on Balzac, many of them focus on one or two particular stories rather than the entire Human Comedy. The vast majority are also critical and theoretical in nature. The following offer the reader a more general perspective and understanding and they treat the subject of the entire Human Comedy, its themes, subjects, and characters.
Madden J.C. (2003) Weaving Balzac's web spinning tales and creating the whole of the comedie humaine. Alabama Summa Publications
[Main Library Stacks PQ 2159.C72 M23 2003]
This book focuses on the roles of the narrators and of the characters who also serve as such throughout the many different stories in the Human Comedy. The author uses several techniques to help the reader better understand who the narrator is and the roles that he plays in Balzac's work, thus enabling the reader to gain a better understanding of how the Human Comedy was created.
Bertault P. (1963) Balzac and the Human Comedy. Paris New York University Press.
[Main Library Stacks PQ 2181.B52 1963]
This book contains different sections each of which treats a different theme in the Human Comedy. They include preparations, currents of ideas, and technique. There is also a chronological list of the works in the Human Comedy and a selected bibliography.
Emery L. (1943) Balzac Les Grands Themes de la Comedie Humaine. Paris Editions Balzac.
[Main Library PQ 2159.C72 E5]
As stated in its title, this book introduces the reader to all of the major themes in the Human Comedy. Some of these themes include: love, society, the body and the spirit, the artist, the poet, and the obsession with darkness.
Zelicourt de, G. (1979) Le Monde de la Comedie Humaine. Paris Seghers.
[Main Library PQ 2159.C72 Z44]
This book takes a large portion of the works of the Human Comedy and analyzes them in order to compare them to the world in general and life as we know it today. It gives an excellent perspective on how the Human Comedy shows life as it really is.
Yucel T. (1972) Figures et Messages dans La Comedie Humaine. Paris Maison Mame.
[Main Library PQ2159.C72 Y94]
This book takes the idea of figures in the Human Comedy, divides them into several categories and comments on the role that they play in the series.
These figures include: writing, destiny, existence, the word, and myths.
Ygaunin J. (1992) Paris a l'epoque de Balzac et dans "la Comedie Humaine" la ville et la societe. Paris Librarie A.-G. Nizet.
[Main Library PQ2184.P3 Y47 1992]
As implied in its title, this book gives the reader a nice concise narrative about how Balzac viewed the city of Paris, and also about how Paris is represented by Balzac in his novels.
Marceau F. (1977) Les Personnages de la Comedie Humaine Paris Gallimard.
[Main Library PQ2184.C5 M33]
Divided by subject and by character this book contains summaries about each of the characters in The Human Comedy and indicates in which story, stories, novel and or novels they appear. There are also some illustrations.
Due to the scholarly nature of Balzac and his Human Comedy there are many journals devoted either in part or exclusively to Balzac, his life and his works. These journals serve as an excellent resource for conducting scholarly research or for just simply understanding the Human Comedy and its critical apparatus.
The French Review
started in November 1927, published 6 times a year by the American Association of Teachers of French in Champaign, Illinois available online and in print. It is not available for free.
This journal is an excellent resource not only for Balzac and the Human Comedy but also for any topic related to French literature and French language and teaching. Articles on Balzac appear in this journal frequently although not necessarily in every issue.
ISSN: 0016-111X [Main Library PQ2001.F8]
La Quinzaine Litteraire
started in March 1966, published in Paris monthly or semimonthly depending on the time of year. This journal is available in print and is indexed as a part of the MLA international bibliography. It is not available for free.
Each issue of this journal contains a bibliography and is entirely in French. Just like The French Review articles on the subject of Balzac appear frequently but not necessarily in every issue. This journal is also of a scholarly and research nature.
ISSN: 0048-6493 [Main Library AP20.Q73]
started in 1960, published in Paris annually. This journal focuses exclusively on Balzac and Balzacienne criticism. It is also indexed in the MLA international bibliography and is not available for free. Each issue contains scholarly articles on Balzac and his works. It is considered the best resource for research on Balzac.
ISSN: 0084-6473 [Main Library PQ2177.A2 A61]
started in 1971, published in Paris quarterly it is also indexed in the MLA international bibliography and is likewise not available for free. This journal features articles on Balzac and The Human Comedy on a regular basis although not necessarily in every issue. These articles are also of a scholarly nature.
ISSN: 0048-8593 [Main Library PN603.R759]
The Modern Language Review
started in 1905, published in Belfast by the Modern Humanities Research Association quarterly. It is indexed by a large number of online databases including MLA international bibliography, reference sources, and abstracts of English studies. This journal contains articles primarily in English on a wide number of topics in the humanities. There are articles on Balzac but on a less frequent basis than the other journals noted. However, these articles are often important for understanding Balzac and his works as they are viewed here in America. This journal is not available for free.
ISSN: 0026-7937 [Main Library PN2.M57]
started in 1970, published in Paris 4 times a year. This journal features articles on Balzac periodically along with other topics of French literature. These articles focus more on theory and analysis of literary works. They are primarily in French. Poetique is also indexed in the MLA international bibliography and is not available for free.
ISSN: 0032-2024 [Main Library PN3.P74]
In searching the most basic of information on Balzac's life, and his writings it is useful to consult an encyclopedia. These sources offer the user an understanding of Balzac at the most basic level. They are nice because they are more condensed than a biography for those who don't have the time to read an entire novel.
The World Book Enclyclopedia (2002) Chicago World Book Inc.
[Main Library REF AE 5.W55 2002 v.2]
Since most of the encyclopedia entries of this nature are French, this is a good one in English although less comprehensive than the Britannica.
The New Encyclopedia Britannica (2005) Chicago Encyclopedia Britannica.
[Main Library REF AE 5.E363 2005 v.1]
The most comprehensive entry in English, it talks not only about his life and writing the Human Comedy but also about this other less known writings and talks quite a bit about Balzac’s writing style and method.
Dictionnaire Encyclopédique Quillet (1981) Paris A. Quillet.
[Main Library REF AE 25. D56 1981 v.1]
This volume contains a thorough text in French regarding Balzac’s life and writings. It also has some interesting drawings.
Hamon P. and Vasselin D. R. ed. (2000) Le Robert des Grands Ecrivains de Langue Francaise Paris Le Robert
Not in the IU library system but they should have it. It is available however, in many university libraries. I own it as part of my personal collection and I think it is the best out there. Not only does it have biographical information but it is also part bibliography with summaries of all of Balzac’s novels as well as famous quotes by Balzac. As noted by the title it contains this same information on many if not all of the most famous French writers.
Although called dictionaries due to the subject nature, these tend to be more like encyclopedias than what we would normally consider dictionaries. However, they do tend to focus more on Balzac's writings rather than his life. Good for basic and standard information on Balzac and The Human Comedy.
Reid J. M.H. (1976) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of French Literature Oxford Claredon Press.
[Main Library PQ41.C6 1976]
This entry on Balzac eliminates most of the standard biographical information normally found in dictionaries of this type and focuses on how and why Balzac became a writer, and concludes with a summary of his writings.
Beaumarchais J. P. de and Couty D. (1994) Dictionnaire des Oeuvres Litteraires de Langue Francaise Paris Bordas
[Main Library PQ41.B42 1994 v.1]
Written in French this entry is done the opposite from the rest of the reference sources available on Balzac and The Human Comedy. The entry is entitled “La Comedie Humaine” and it talks only about this series of novels instead of about Balzac’s life. All of the novels which are a part of the series are listed under there sections with brief summaries given of all of the parts.
Beaumarchais J. P. de, Couty, D. and Rey, A. (1994) Dictionnaire des literatures de langue française Paris Bordas.
[Main Library PQ41.B4 1994 v.1]
This companion volume to the dictionnaire des oeuvres litteraires de langue francaise covers Balzac’s life and discusses how his experiences and life influenced his writings in the Human Comedy. Some of the sections include: Balzac and the world, various works, the project and structure of the Human Comedy, Paris, society and love. One of the best explanations available.
Clarac P. (1961) Dictionnaire Universel des Lettres Societe d’edition de dictionnaires et encyclopedies Paris Société d'édition de dictionnaires et encyclopédies.
[Main Library PN41.D45]
This dictionary written in French takes the life of Balzac and compares it to his Human Comedy via a nice concise summary.
Malignon J. (1971) Dictionnaire des ecrivains francais Paris Editions du Seuil
[Main Library PQ41.M251]
This has to be the most complete dictionary entry on Balzac. Written in French it touches base on all of the main points necessary for an understanding of Balzac and his works. Some of the sections included are: Novelist, born in Tours, about his life and beginnings, family life, writing style, and debates on his form of writing.
These books are essential for anyone doing research on Balzac. They contain lists of journal's articles and books published by authorities in the field of Balzacien research. Information on Balzac's critics is also included.
Drevet M. L. (1954) Bibliographie de la Littérature Française. Genève Librairie E. Droz.
[Main Library Z217.D7]
This bibliography is written in French and complied by a librarian at the Sorbonne. Thus it comes from an authoritative source in the field of French literature. This book contains a chronological listing of all of the works by and about Balzac published during the years 1940-49. However, it does not focus exclusively on Balzac. There are also listings for other Francophone authors as well.
Waggoner, M. W. (1990) Bibliography of Balzac Criticism California French Research Publications Encinitas.
[Main Library PQ 2172. W244]
This is an excellent resource and is well written. It includes a reasonably comprehensive collection of Balzacien criticism written during the years 1930-90 plus an invitation for anyone who either has written something which isn’t included or who would otherwise like to submit an item to send it to the editor for inclusion in forthcoming editions.
This book is divided into two sections books, proceedings, letters and articles. It provides a nice guide for quick reference for anyone seeking a concise summary of criticism on Balzac and the Human Comedy.
Cooley L. ed. (2001) Bibliographic Index 2000 New York H.W. Wilson Company.
[Main Library Z1002.B52]
This bibliographic index contains a two page entry on Balzac, and criticism but with an emphasis on more recent criticism.
Talvart H. and Place J. (1928) Bibliographie des Auteurs Modernes de Langue Française Paris
[Main Library Z2171.T15 v.1]
This French work includes more authors than just Balzac, but Balzac is well treated with four full pages of listings. Not only are critical articles included but also books and journals are there as well.
These books contain more in depth background and authorative information on Balzac's life. Useful for those doing more in depth research.
Bellessort A. (1946) Balzac et son oeuvre Paris Librairie Académique Perrin.
[Main Library PQ 2178.B452]
Written in French by a member of l’academie francaise, this biography is unique because it examines the life and works of Balzac from both a biographical and a critical perspective. This book was originally written by the author for a college course on Balzac.
Rob G. (1994) Balzac a biography Cambridge Pikador.
[Main Library PQ 2178.R7 1994]
This comprehensive Balzac biography is written in English by a Balzac scholar. He takes each of the parts of the Human Comedy as well as the different times in Balzac’s life which had an important influence on him such as his parents, his residences, his dreams, and his loves and weaves them into a fascinating read.
Gautier T. (1879) Famous French Authors: Bibliographical portraits of distinguished French authors New York R. Worthington.
[Main Library PQ 282.G25]
This is a fragile book which contains personal accounts of the author’s experiences with various French authors one of whom is Balzac. The entry on Balzac is almost 80 pages, written in French and offers so great insights into Balzac’s life from the 1st person perspective of someone who knew Balzac personally.
Although the internet offers a wide variety of sources on many different topics it can be difficult to find good solid and concrete information on Balzac and the Human Comedy. The majority of sites feature the texts themselves or biographical information on Balzac. However the following sites offer the student and researcher additional useful information in addition to the texts themselves.
Online French Versions of the Human Comedy
This site has online texts of many of the novels in the Human Comedy in its original French. There are presented in a clear format and each time you click on a text to open it moves into a new window, thus you can read more than one text at a time. Bibliographical information is also given.
The Project of the Human Comedy
An excellent resource, this site gives a French introduction to the project of the Human Comedy, lists the different subjects and themes in the work and also has a list of all of the people in the novels in alphabetical order as well as a list of the novels included in the Human Comedy with their publication dates.
Nice site produced by a French literature and linguistics professor, it serves as a reader’s guide to the human comedy, its subjects and characters.
Balzac's House in Paris
Balzac’s house in Paris features an online edition of the first edition of the Human Comedy as well as a detailed explanation of vocabulary and language style made up by Balzac in his work. Also has pictures and information on Balzac’s Paris home and museum, information about all of Balzac’s work and how to conduct research on Balzac, a library of online Balzacien texts and more.
Balzac's view of Paris
Balzac’s Paris- This site provides you with a lot of information and a pictorial tour of Paris the way that Balzac saw it thus enabling a better understanding of the novels of the Human Comedy as they were written using a different perspective of Paris than the one in which modern day visitors normally view the city. The view of Paris as Balzac saw it. Also includes a detailed biography of Balzac and his life and works.
This searchable database permits the user to search for and find any term in an online edition of the human comedy. You can also read online versions of the texts here.
French Editions of the Human Comedy
French library where you can search the French editions of selected works of The Human Comedy along with other works of French Literature.
The Human Comedy and Art
Great site, it incorporates French paintings with the Human Comedy and indicates which novel in the series talks about which painting. It has pictures of the paintings as well as general information on them.
There are not many indexes on Balzac and The Human Comedy however the following one index may be useful.
Livres Disponibles 2004
[Main Library Ref Z2161.L775 2004] Balzac pages 234-46
This book contains a list of all of the books by and about Balzac which are currently in print.
Audio Visual Material
The majority of audio visual material on Balzac and The Human Comedy consists of adaptations of his novels however, there is one video which offers a useful visual perspective on Balzac and his works.
Prince P. (1986) Paris au temps de Balzac 1884-1850 Video recording, Princeton, NJ. Films for the Humanities.
[Main Library DC731.P375 1986]
This video features a pictorial presentation accompanied by audio narrative explaining how Paris was viewed by Balzac and comparing Paris during his time to Paris of the current day. Useful for better understanding the novels in The Human Comedy which talk about Paris and the streets of Paris such as L'histoire des treize. In English.
The following databases contain a significant number of articles on and related to Balzac and his Human Comedy. They exist only in electronic format and are updated annually. The are not available for free but can be accessed from the Indiana University campus.
Biography Resource Center. (2005). Gale Research http://www.libraries.iub.edu/scripts/countResources.php?resourceId=40
Literature Resource Center. (2005). Gale Group. http://www.libraries.iub.edu/scripts/countResources.php?resourceId=148
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