Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Paris. France’s capital and leading city, which in the first part of the novel is a place of fantasy, an ideal. At the beginning of the second part of the novel, when Lucien and Madame de Bargeton actually arrive in the capital, it initially seems to live up to its promise. In fact, it seems so luxurious, magnificent, and bustling that both Lucien and Madame de Bargeton feel like backward provincials. Soon, however, Lucien finds himself in sordid lodgings that seem little different from what he has left behind in L’Houmeau. Later still he discovers that behind its glittering facade Paris is full of corruption and intrigue. This seems different from the world he left behind, but not necessarily better.

One of the first things Lucien notices in Paris is the disparity between rich and poor, and in general Paris seems a place of extremes: Lucien, for instance, swings from giddy success to misery in Paris while his sister Eve, back in Angoulême, leads a much more stable life. However, this may say more about the two characters than the two locations.


*Angoulême (ahn-gew-LEHM). Town in southwestern France. Two of the central characters, Lucien Chardon and Madame de Bargeton, feel restricted here and yearn to escape to Paris. Lucien feels that only in Paris can he fulfill his promise as a writer. Madame de Bargeton yearns to be among the geniuses and fashionable people of the capital, and the narrator agrees that provincial life has narrowed her, forced her to focus on trivial matters, and led her to become extravagant and eccentric.

In Angoulême, Madame de Bargeton attempts to re-create Paris by establishing a Parisian-style salon in her house to which she invites the leading aristocratic figures in the old part of town (the Upper Town). However, after she finally visits the real Paris, she...

(The entire section is 772 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Adamson, Donald. Balzac: Illusions Perdues. London: Grant and Cutler, 1981. A comprehensive, step-by-step guide that greatly facilitates the student’s task. The best introduction available in English.

Festa-McCormick, Diana. Honoré de Balzac. Boston: Twayne, 1979. Contains a chapter on Lost Illusions and its sequel, pointing out certain faults in each work, such as excessive length and detail, but also explaining why the books are among Balzac’s best novels. Draws interesting parallels to other novels by Balzac.

Marceau, Félicien. Balzac and His World. Translated by Derek Coltman. New York: Orion Press, 1966. Provides the best available overview of the complex fictional world Balzac created. Contains an index of the characters in the Human Comedy. Marceau looks for the recurring characters and themes in Balzac’s novels.

Maurois, André. Prometheus: The Life of Balzac. Translated by Norman Denny. London: Bodley Head, 1965. An accessible introduction to Balzac’s life. Describes the circumstances of the creation of his major works in fascinating detail.

Schilling, Bernard N. The Hero as Failure: Balzac and the Rubempré Cycle. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968. A scholarly, accessible study that situates the novel within the various contexts of French history, Balzac’s work, works by other authors that deal with similar themes, and the French society of the nineteenth century.