Could it be that the contemporary reader is often guilty of punishing a literary work for their own inadequacies?
_ _ _
Reading this NYRB Edition of two Honoré de Balzac short stories has surprisingly armed me with enough questions to animate a book club discussion.
On the matter of NYRB introductions: A friend was just telling me that aside from the beautiful cover designs, she now understands the allure of the editions through the superstars they appoint to do the introductions. I definitely agree. But Schwabsky’s introduction for Pekić’s Houses and Danto’s for de Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece have made me wonder if they were better off as afterwords, to give readers a chance to arrive at their own conclusions before having their thoughts influenced by the authoritative perspectives of the introductions.
On the matter of Goodreads ratings: I return to my first question. While The Unknown Masterpiece gets a fair 3.9 stars, Gambara gets an average of 3.2 stars. I find it problematic to rate books with stars, and I don’t have a Goodreads account because I do not believe in a system that allows people to rate Fifty Shades of Grey higher than Hugo’s unabridged Les Miserables. 😆
Honoré de Balzac wrote at a time when the lover of literature was also expected to be well-versed in the theories of visual art and music. Education and culture were not as compartmentalized and separate as they are now.
Hiding in plain sight, in these two stories, is an important record of the transition of the Romantic period to the Modern. Having read this only now, I think this should be on the reading repertoire for art historians and any lover of art.
If the brilliant passages of artistic analysis on painting and musical composition elude the contemporary reader, does it deserve 3.2 stars?
(More thoughts on the book to follow…)