A Harlot High and Low by Honore de BalzacWhy should anyone care about Esther, a prostitute from a young age, a harlot with powers over men? Why should anyone care about a spoiled feeble individual such as Lucien, the poet whose ambitions are to secure a noble title and live in luxury for the rest of his life? The same Lucien who, by the way, in Lost Illusions ruined his sister and her husband, the only man that cared for him. Why?
Because of Balzac.
Yes, it is all Balzacs fault.
This unbelievable author has taken over most of my reading time for the past several months, and I do not see the end of this binge arriving anytime soon.
Balzac wrote in a style like no other. His descriptions are vivid, his metaphors exquisite, and his understanding of humanity alarming. And this is precisely why I enjoy his writing.
It is as if one was reading two works at once: One, a social commentary on the high society of Paris. The other, a psychological study of the characters. And what characters those are. Its been said that throughout his work, about three thousand characters circulate within his novels. Some appear more frequently than others do; yet they are never the same. Depending on the narrator, they are all depicted as the narrator sees them, which, is a unique approach. But I had already made this observation in my previous reviews of his other works, so I shall not bore you with the details.
Balzac created faulty characters that often cross social boundaries and norms, while, on the surface, they hold on to strict moral codes of the time. His men are often cold and removed, his women often passionate beyond reason. Yet, they all wear the masks society expects of them, and appear untouched by the events around them. Deep inside, however, they love and hate, cherish and condemn, and often sell their souls to maintain the facade of perception.
One cannot help but sympathize with them, whether they are likeable or not, because Balzac masterfully shows both sides of their personalities. Even in the case of the original villain, Jacques Collin, Balzac creates a softer side to the man who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal.
After reading this book, I am still amazed at how well it ties together with the books I read earlier, and how everything becomes full circle. Of course, a new circle begins, spun off the threads of the original circle, but Balzac does not leave the reader hanging with a cheap plot line to spur the readers curiosity. Each novel has its own end, its own closure. Yet, a few books later, a character reappears, enters the scene, and proves the reader wrong all along. And for this, I adore his writing.
So what is this book about? Well, it is about Lucien, the poet; Esther the prostitute; and a villain who has a soft spot for the former whom he wants to see rise in society while using the latter to secure it. Throw in a few counts and countesses, a greedy banker, politicians who care more about their future than justice, spies, the secret police, some forged bills, drugs, poison, murder, kidnapping, mistresses and lovers, gambling, and a love one would die for, and you have it. Oh yes, dont forget the powerful social commentary that Balzac did so well.
Its a complicated yet rewarding read. Technically, Harlot High and Low finishes the tale started in Lost Illusions, as well as the tale in Distinguished Provincial in Paris, the tale in Father Goriot, and the tale in M. Gobsec. It also brings in characters from other novels that are not directly tied to any of the above mentioned. Nevertheless, if my previous reads have taught me anything, it is to expect the unexpected, so Im fairly certain that the tale spun here will continue elsewhere.
A Harlot High and Low
Both are manipulated by the perverse Carlos Herrera, who is the central figure of the novel. A Harlot High and Low. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback.
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Honore de Balzac
Dec 30, ISBN Finance, fashionable society, and the intrigues of the underworld and the police system form the heart of this powerful novel, which introduces the satanic genius Vautrin, one of the greatest villains in world literature. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1, titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators. Category: Fiction Classics Literary Fiction. Paperback .