Honoré de Balzac Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis
Honoré de Balzac first practiced his craft by imitating, often slavishly, the sensational romances of Ann Radcliffe, Charles Robert Maturin, and Matthew Gregory Lewis, with their fantasies of the grotesque and the horrible. Balzac also learned that fiendish wickedness and sadistic sensuality can heighten the pleasure of a thrill-seeking public. Although he never officially acknowledged his early efforts, he incorporated many of their lessons in his later works, especially in the tales of the supernatural and criminal.
The Human Comedy
Balzac’s magnum opus, The Human Comedy, is a vast and detailed panorama of French society of the first half of the nineteenth century. In fact, Oscar Wilde has remarked, “The nineteenth century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac.” In nearly one hundred novels and stories evolve some two thousand fictional characters, who appear in various milieus, types, and professions, from Paris to the provinces, from old maids to poor relations, from lawyers to police officers and gangsters.
Corentin is rightly the most famous of Balzac’s police officers. He enters the scene in The Chouans, the first book to which Balzac signed his name, adding the self-ennobling particle de. Set in Brittany in 1799, the novel is a mixture of sentimental love story and political police intrigue. The obvious villain of the piece is Corentin,...
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