Tag Archives: French literature

“Father Goriot” by Honore de Balzac

Piketty (see blog post dated April 14) cites the novelist Balzac as providing insight into the impact of income inequality in France around 1820. Balzac had that and a great deal more on his mind! The plot of Father Goriot is wildly melodramatic. There’s a touch of Shakespeare – Father Goriot reminds one of King Lear, but with no good, loving Cordelia to offset the wiles of the two conniving daughters. And Father Goriot never really acknowledges his daughters moral failings.

Wikipedia describes Balzac as “one of the founders of realism in European literature”. He is sometimes compared to Dickens. His descriptions of people and the urban streetscape are so vivid, I felt like I was watching a movie the whole time I was reading. The dismal, poverty stricken boardinghouse he described made my skin crawl. Father Goriot is part of Balzac’s panoramic Human Comedy.

Balzac explores in detail the relationship between wealth and social status, especially as it related to women. The daughters of old Goriot always want MORE, and are willing to lie and take great risks to maintain appearances. Goriot was a working class entrepreneur, a pasta maker and a speculator in grain. He thought, when he married his daughters to men with aristocratic titles, that his troubles were over. He died penniless.

Not only is this book translated (from French) but it includes occasionally obscure and archaic concepts. I shared a confusing paragraph with a friend, who said my problem was lack of familiarity with the “theory of humours”. You know, what happens if you have too much “black bile”. “Humours” were used to explain both health and disposition. Best to just keep reading…

This is a book which showcases the problems of a society that encompasses great extremes of wealth and poverty. Would I want to live in the world he describes? No way!

Balzac deserves far more careful attention than I am giving him here. If your currently book choice category is “filling in the blanks in my literary education”, I highly recommend Balzac’s Father Goriot.

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“The Man in the Iron Mask” by Alexandre Dumas, adapted for staged by Ben and Peter Cunis.

I attended this performance at Synetic Theater in Washington, DC, on June 9, 2016.

As usual, I came to the theater ready to give myself over to whatever was put before me – minimal expectations coupled with willing suspension of disbelief. Give me illusion! I’ll buy in. My other predisposition was to like the show because my nephew (stage name Will Hayes) was performing. So… I walked in with a positive attitude, and I was not disappointed! In fact, I was completely delighted.

The Man in the Iron Mask is pure adventure drama. Good guys, bad guys, intrigue and plenty of action.

Synetic Theater falls into the category of “physical theater”, which I never heard of before. It has a Wikipedia entry, so I guess it really exists… Synetic has produced plays without dialog, most recently a version of Romeo and Juliet. I wish I had seen that!

“Physical theater” (according to Wikipedia) is characterized by story telling that involves physical communication, like dance, stage fighting, gestures or mime. The Man in the Iron Mask featured the first two, along with a “normal” amount of dialog. The dance scenes were beautifully lush, and the stage fighting was the best I’ve ever seen. For sheer energy, this production can’t be topped.

For those not familiar with the novels of Dumas, the plot of The Man in the Iron Mask comes from the end of his Three Musketeers trilogy. The four heroes have drifted apart, one to farming, another to religion, and so forth. Reunited in Paris, they plot to take King Louis XIV from his throne, for the good of the French nation.

Too bad The Man in the Iron Mask will run for just a few more days. But Synetic has an ambitious program scheduled for next year (starting with Dante’s Inferno and ending with Carmen – Bizet is not mentioned) and Washington is not so far away.