Blue Woman & Balzac’s Louis Lambert

women in jeans

Wash-and-Go Blue Jeans.

Years ago I wrote a story called “Blue Men,” in which the narrator falls in love with a blue man.  I was thinking of Druids.

It is probably in a box somewhere.

I thought of it today when my legs turned blue.

I went on a walk in the snow.  When I took off my boots, I found Druidical blue shadows above my ankles.

I then read the label on my new jeans and it SAYS the color may run.

Now wait.   I dashed into a store and bought the first jeans that fit, expecting them to last for years.  I paid $80.  Does one have to pay $100 for good quality now?

My last pair of jeans a decade ago was cheap and the dye never ran.

The label also suggests I should wash the jeans separately.  Waste of water.

Too late to take them back.

I am now a Blue Woman.

louis-lambert-honore-de-balzac-paperback-cover-artBALZAC’S LOUIS LAMBERTThis tragic autobiographical novel, one of Balzac’s Études philosophiques (“Philosophical Studies”) in La Comédie humaine (“The Human Comedy”), is the story of a tanner’s son who becomes a philosopher.

I am in the total immersion school of reading Balzac.   Reference books?  I don’t have any.

I know little about Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell, which comes up a lot in Louis Lambert.

This 1832 novel, narrated by “the poet” (Balzac), is the story of Louis Lambert,  a brilliant man with a photographic memory.  The narrator meets him at school and later writes his “intellectual biography.”

The novel begins with Louis’s childhood. At the age of five, after Louis reads the Bible, he walks around town borrowing books.  When he is ten, his mother sends him to live with his uncle, a priest, and study to be a priest to evade conscription.  He reads most of the books in his uncle’s huge library,  “derived from the plunder committed during the Revolution in the neighboring Chateaux and abbeys.”

On  holidays Louis doesn’t want to buy sweets: he goes out every day into the woods with his books and a loaf.

From that time reading was in Louis a sort of appetite which nothing could satisfy; he devoured books of every kind, feeding indiscriminately on religious works, history, philosophy, and physics.  He has told me that he found indescribable delight in reading dictionaries, for lack of other books, and I readily believed him….  The analysis of a word, its physiognomy and history, would be to Lambert matter for long dreaming.”

College de Vendome

College de Vendome

When he meets the Baroness de Stael on a walk, she is impressed that he is reading Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell, and sends him to the High School at Vendome (Balzac’s alma mater) to free him of serving the Emperor or the Church.

The teachers expected a prodigy: they beat him for doing poorly in his classes.  Instead of doing homework, Louis hangs out with the narrator, and writes a Treatise on the Will (as did Balzac at school).  The teacher takes it away, selling it to a grocer to wrap food, he suspects.

When Louis is an adult, he has trouble coping in Paris.  Part of the novel is epistolary:  a long letter to his uncle explains his interest in philosophy and despair over the materialism; then letters to a woman he falls in love with.

Even in the 19th century translation of Clara Bell, the writing is rich and romantic, the philosophy fascinatingly interwoven with the story.

If there is a newer translation, I have been unable to find it.

Shouldn’t someone have translated all of Balzac for Penguin?

6 thoughts on “Blue Woman & Balzac’s Louis Lambert

  1. “Shouldn’t someone have translated all of Balzac for Penguin?”

    Definitely they should! Balzac is one of those authors I long to read and wish I had inifinite book-hours every day – if I start breaking it down to getting through a couple of books a week I wonder if my life will be long enough to get through everything I want to….!


  2. This is very interesting. On Trollope19thCStudies we haven’t read half enough Balzac. Two to be precise. Trollope said he was following in Balzac’s footsteps.

    Alas I have bursitis in one of my knees and a friend told me that a sort of prologue to arthritis. It hurts and makes walking difficult. Since NYC Trip.

    I wrote a short story once, Ellen’s Story, a sequel to GWTW. Won second price in some borough wide contest. First husband destroyed it.



  3. Kaggy, I love this book! Clara Bell is a good writer. But few are going to read it in print-on-demand or e-book old translations. At least I doubt they are. Time for a new translation!

    Ellen, Balzac is supposed to have been the first to use the same characters in different books. I can see where he had an effect on Trollope. Zola, too. Zola was apparently Balzac’s big promoter.


  4. I have given up buying clothes from one particular manufacturer because a number of their skirts and trousers carry the warning that the dye may come off on upholstery. Why would I buy something I could never sit down in?


  5. Alex, it is a mystery to me. What is wrong with the dye? Why would this be a problem in the 21st century?

    I would have gone to a box store and bought cheap jeans if I hadn’t thought these were better quality.


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