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A Passion for Pears

John Sturrock, 7 July 1994

Balzac 
by Graham Robb.
Picador, 521 pp., £20, June 1994, 0 330 33237 6
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Honoré de Balzac 
by Roger Pierrot.
Fayard, 582 pp., frs 180, March 1994, 2 213 59228 4
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César Birotteau 
by Honoré de Balzac and Robin Buss.
Penguin, 279 pp., £6.99, January 1994, 0 14 044641 9
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... If Balzac had had his way, the real Paris would have become a little more like the visionary Paris of his novels. He thought a spiral staircase should be built, leading down from the Luxembourg Gardens into the catacombs, whose verminous labyrinth stretched from there indiscriminately beneath the plush hôtels of the Faubourg Saint-Germain and the slums of the Faubourg Saint-Marceau ...

On the imagining of conspiracy

Christopher Hitchens, 7 November 1991

Harlot’s Ghost 
by Norman Mailer.
Joseph, 1122 pp., £15.99, October 1991, 0 7181 2934 2
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A Very Thin Line: The Iran-Contra Affairs 
by Theodore Draper.
Hill and Wang, 690 pp., $27.95, June 1991, 0 8090 9613 7
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... inviolability of the home were exchanged between the Minister of State and the Prefect, to whom M. de Sérisy pointed out that the major interests of the country sometimes required secret illegalities, crime beginning only when State means were applied to private interests. If ever a man feels the sweetness, the utility of friendship, must it not be that ...

Making the world

Christopher Prendergast, 16 March 1989

Gillette, or The Unknown Masterpiece 
by Honoré de Balzac, translated by Anthony Rudolf.
Menard Press, 64 pp., £5.95, December 1988, 0 903400 99 5
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... Paul Cézanne, Emile Bernard records a conversation in which he raised with Cézanne the topic of Balzac’s Le Chef-d’Oeuvre Inconnu – the story of the fictional painter Frenhofer, who spends ten years trying to create the perfect picture of a woman but ends up painting what, in the story itself (which mixes fiction with 17th-century fact), the young ...

Photomania

Emilie Bickerton, 22 November 2018

The Great Nadar: The Man behind the Camera 
by Adam Begley.
Tim Duggan, 247 pp., £12.99, July 2018, 978 1 101 90262 2
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... His father was a book publisher but in the 1830s he went bankrupt – the Dictionnaire universel de droit français ruined him – and the family decamped to Lyon. Félix pursued his studies, not very seriously, and then enrolled in medical school, but his time there was cut short by his father’s sudden death in 1837. He became the family breadwinner, with ...

All My Truth

Richard Poirier: Henry James Memoirs, 25 April 2002

A Small Boy and Others: Memoirs 
by Henry James.
Gibson Square, 217 pp., £9.99, August 2001, 1 903933 00 5
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... Boy does, on the phenomenon of emergent genius in the childhood years of their authors: Du côté de chez Swann, also published in 1913, and A Portrait of the Artist, published in 1916. James began writing A Small Boy when he was 68. Two events had recently come together in his life which in combination help explain not only his motives for starting to write ...

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