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Balzac’s Cane

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Edited By Marta L. Wilkinson

Balzac’s Cane is an English translation of Delphine de Girardin’s 1836 novella, La Canne de M. de Balzac, which centers around a protagonist named Tancred Dorimont, a brilliant young man plagued by his devastating good looks. In a social context in which appearance is everything, it seems for several chapters that beauty will break, rather than make, this young man’s fortune. One evening as Tancred seeks to forget his problems by spending an evening at the opera, he observes M. de Balzac and learns the secret to this famous author’s ability to know the innermost secrets of all walks of life with such detail and intimacy; M. de Balzac’s cane, a famously hideous walking stick, has the power to render the bearer invisible. A deal, which straddles the line between a favor and blackmail, is worked out between these two men and the cane comes into Tancred’s possession. With this tool Tancred is able to overhear state secrets, make his fortune, and then set his sights upon finding a woman truly worthy of his love. Voyeurism, surveillance, courtship, feminism, authorship, and the vanishing distinction between public and private lives are all raised in this novella. This work will be a useful text in either French literature or comparative survey courses due to its examination of contemporary nineteenth-century life, social organization and morals, its parody of bildungsroman and romance novels, and its combination of genres: several lengthy poems are an essential part of the novella’s text.

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Balzac’s Cane by Delphine de Girardin

Extract

PREFACE There was in this novel…. “But it’s not a novel.” In this work… “But it isn’t a work.” In this book… “It is even less so a book!” In these pages then…. There was a particularly biting chapter entitled: THE CABINET OF MINISTERS The author was told: “Be careful! There will be complaints, certain persons will be recognized; do not publish this chapter.” And the timid author omitted the chapter. There was another entitled: A DREAM OF LOVE It was a very tender love scene, just as a scene of passion should be in a novel. The author was told: “It is not suitable that you publish a book in which passion plays such a large role; this chapter is not necessary, take it out.” And the timid author omitted that second chapter. There were yet in those pages two lines of verse: PREFACE PREFACE 4 BALZAC’S CANE One was a satire. The other, an elegy. The satire was found too biting. The elegy was found too sad, too intimate. The author sacrificed them…but was left with the conviction that a wom- an who lives in the world should not write since she will not be permitted to publish a book unless it is perfectly insignificant. Fortunately, this one here contains a letter from M. de Chateaubriand, a bill from Béranger, some verses from Lamartine, it has as patron M. de Balzac. These should all serve to vouch for the work. 1836. · 1 · A FATAL GIFT There...

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