Lost Illusions

by Honoré Balzac

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Places Discussed

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*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 discovers that Angoulême is not Paris.

At the end of the novel, the Paris-Angoulême dichotomy seems less clear. Although Angoulême is obviously less elegant and magnificent than Paris, the corrupt intrigues that are revealed in the capital city find an echo in Angoulême, notably in the way the Cointet brothers manipulate the honest local printer, David Séchard, and arrange to send him to jail.


*L’Houmeau (lew-MOH). Prosperous business district of Angoulême; also called the Lower Town. The aristocrats of the Upper Town in Angoulême look down on L’Houmeau. L’Houmeau is to them as Angoulême is to Paris. Lucien lives in L’Houmeau in a shabby attic room above the pharmacy his father used to own. It is a major accomplishment for him to rise above his humble roots and become a regular frequenter of Madame de Bargeton’s aristocratic salon in the Upper Town as a promising young man of genius and her recognized favorite.

Angoulême printing house

Angoulême printing house. Belonging originally to David Séchard’s father, the printing house is dirty, dangerous, and full of antiquated equipment, reflecting the miserliness and backwardness of David’s father and perhaps more generally the backwardness of the provinces.


Flicoteaux (flee-koh-TOH). Restaurant in Paris’s Latin Quarter that is frequented by students and artists. There, Lucien meets other struggling writers during his early days in the capital. Among these people is the saintly d’Arthez, who pushes him to be serious about his art, and the cynical Lousteau, who tells him that the way to get ahead is by intrigue and writing journalistic articles to order.

*Wooden Galleries

*Wooden Galleries. Row of shops found in Paris until 1826. The area has an unsavory atmosphere, full of conspirators and prostitutes. There, Lucien makes the contacts that lead to his briefly...

(This entire section contains 772 words.)

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successful journalistic career, in which he abandons principles for money, as do prostitutes.


*Panorama-Dramatique. Paris theater that Lucien visits. He goes behind the scenes and sees all the dirt and ugliness behind the glitter, a symbolic depiction of Paris in general. There, Lucien meets the actress Coralie, who becomes his mistress even though she is already the mistress of a wealthy merchant.

Coralie’s apartment

Coralie’s apartment. Lucien moves into Coralie’s opulent apartment. However, the opulence has shaky foundations and does not last, reflecting the fact that Lucien has established himself only among an unstable section of the population—the city’s journalists and theater people.

*Faubourg Saint-Germain

*Faubourg Saint-Germain (FOH-bur san-zhur-MAYN). Aristocratic suburb of Paris where Lucien meets residents whose wealth and standing are much more solid than his, and who in fact skillfully maneuver things to destroy his wealth and standing.


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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.


Critical Essays