“Balzac and Baudelaire in Paris” is a new reading group offered at the Providence Athenaeum beginning in September 2012. The group meets at the Athenaeum from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month. In its first year, the group will read two novels by Balzac (Père Goriot and Lost Illusions), and selected poetry, essays, and prose poems (including all of Paris Spleen) by Baudelaire. All readings are in English translation; monthly reading assignments will be about 150 pages (or less). In addition to these literary works, the group will consider materials about the history and development of the city of Paris in the 19th century, as a context for the literary works and as a subject of interest in its own right. Readings have been selected and structured as a multi-year experience.
Athenaeum member Steve Coon will lead the group as facilitator. Steve earned a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Brown University, and has read Balzac selectively and Baudelaire comprehensively. Steve emphasizes that the reading group is not a “class,” but rather an opportunity for interested readers to explore, understand and enjoy the work of two of France’s greatest writers—and the dynamic urban setting of Paris.
Reading group members are free to use any edition. Recommended editions for the first year are:
Balzac, Père Goriot. Norton Critical Editions. Peter Brooks, editor; Burton Raffel, translator. Includes very useful introduction and critical notes. W.W. Norton & Company, 1997. ISBN-10: 039397166X
Balzac, Lost Illusions. Modern Library Classics. Kathleen Raine, translator. Modern Library, 2001. ISBN-10: 0375757902
Baudelaire, Paris Blues: Poems in Prose. With La Fanfarlo. Francis Scarfe, translator. [Bilingual edition] Anvil Poetry Press, 2012. ISBN-10: 0856464295
Notes about editions: 1) free editions of Balzac are readily available on-line in a variety of formats (although unfortunately not of the recommended translations). References and links to these resources will be made available to group members. 2) In the first year, the group will read very selectively in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil). Readers who would like to obtain an edition are directed towards Richard Howard’s translation (bilingual edition), published by David R. Godine.
Second year readings will include Balzac’s novels History of the Thirteen, A Harlot High and Low, The Wrong Side of Paris, and the novella “Sarrasine.” We will also read deeply in Flowers of Evil, and additional selected essays by Baudelaire.
Balzac and Baudelaire in Paris Meeting Schedule and Reading Group Assignments:
September 2012 through June 2013
September 10: Introductions, organization, resources, and approach; no reading assignment.
October 1: Meets one week early due to Columbus Day holiday. First half of Père Goriot, Part 1, “A Private Boarding House,” and Part 2, “Entry into High Society,” pages 5-126 in the Norton edition.
November 5: Meets one week early due to Veterans Day holiday. Second half of Père Goriot, Part 3, “Death-Dodger,” and Part 4, “The Old Man’s Death,” pages 127-217 in the Norton edition.
December 10: Baudelaire, selected poems from Flowers of Evil (specifically the “Parisian Scenes” section) and the essay “The Painter of Modern Life.” (Will be provided electronically.)
January 14, 2013: Balzac, Lost Illusions: Part 1, “Two Poets,” pages 3-150 in the Modern Library (ML) edition.
February 11: Lost Illusions: Part 2, “A Provincial Celebrity in Paris,” Chapter 1: pages 153-265 (ML)
March 11: Lost Illusions: Part 2, Chapter 2; pages 266-405 (ML), ending with “’Judges are more amusing than that,’ said Coralie.”
April 8: Lost Illusions: Part 2, Chapter 2 (continued), pages 405-551 (ML), ending with the paragraph that starts “David laughed so wholeheartedly at his own expense that Eve took his hand and kissed it tenderly.”
May 13: Lost Illusions: Part 2, Chapter 2 (concluding), and all of Part 3, “The Sufferings of an Inventor” [translated elsewhere as “Eve and David”], pages 551-699 (ML), beginning with “Eve met the redoubled fury of the storm of misfortune with redoubled courage.”
June 10: Baudelaire, Paris Spleen [Paris Blues], fifty prose poems (all).