Louis Lambert Paperback – Feb 18 2008
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
Getting the download link through email is temporarily not available. Please check back later.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
About the Author
A prolific writer, Honore de Balzac (1799-1850) is generally regarded, along with Gustave Flaubert, as a founding father of realism in European literature, and as one of France's greatest fiction writers.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Balzac incorporated many autobiographical elements in this tale of a boy genius whom the narrator meets when they are both students at a school in Vendome, as Balzac himself was. The character of Lambert writes an essay, which Balzac also wrote, called "Treatise on the Will." Lambert is heavily influenced by the philosophy of Emmanuel Swedenborg; he investigates with obsessive depth the relation between Thought and Will. This obsessive dedication leads ultimately to madness and death.
There is little plot in the novel to speak of. The boys meet at school, become close friends, become kindred spirits and unite in a shared experience of social ostracism and part when the narrator, identified as Balzac himself, suffers an illness and is forced to leave the school. After graduation, Louis moves to his uncle's home in Blois, meets a woman named Pauline, falls in love with her and on the eve of their wedding suffers a mental breakdown, leaving him in a comatose state much of the time. Pauline devotes herself to his care. By chance, the narrator encounters Louis' uncle, finds out what has become of him and visits him. Louis never seems to recognize his friend. With the help of Pauline, the narrator reconstructs some of Louis' philosophical musing. These philosophical passages comprise a large portion of the novel. Later, Louis dies at the age of twenty-eight.
Balzac is both himself and Louis Lambert. Louis is a mouthpiece for Balzac's own philosophical concerns. This novel falls outside the scope of the majority of Balzac's entries in his `Human Comedy,' most of which are concerned with various strata of French society in the first half of the nineteenth century. The novel possesses neither the structural unity of a novel such as the masterpiece Old Goriot nor the anthropological insight into multiple specimens of French society that his best work provides. In the context of his work, it is a curiosity, worth reading more for the insight it sheds on the intellectual life of its creator than its value as a work of fiction. I would only recommend this novel to someone who is already interested in Balzac and wants to explore some of his more obscure novels. The reader that is curious to sample a representative novel would be better served by reading Old Goriot, Cousin Bette, Eugenie Grandet or any of several other great novels by this great writer.
Louis Lambert is a boy of modest means, born in Vendôme. At a very young age he develops a passion for reading and soon begins to exhibit signs of a genius intelligence. He captures the attention of the writer Madame de Staël, who offers to finance his education at the Collège Vendôme, a boarding school run by the Catholic order of the Oratorians. There he develops a close friendship with the narrator of the novel, presumably Balzac himself. Lambert's intellectual development is profoundly affected by the work of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish philosopher who proposed a dualistic philosophy in which man is composed of an animal body and an angelic spirit, a person's nature being determined by the preponderance of one or the other of these independent influences. Eventually Lambert goes on to develop his own more materialistic version of Swedenborg's philosophy, though it's still a quite mystical, dualistic form of materialism. In Lambert's view, the universe is created of one substance which resembles an electrical energy. Ideas are like living things inhabiting the internal world of the mind, which coalesce to form the Will, through which man is able to affect the external world. At about the age of 15, Lambert consolidates these ideas into an essay entitled The Treatise on the Will, much to the chagrin of his educators, who abruptly confiscate the manuscript.
Though Louis Lambert was published in 1832, Balzac displays an almost modernistic experimentation with form and style. The first quarter of the book is a straightforward narrative of Lambert's youth and his time spent at the Collège, which is mostly based on Balzac's own educational experiences. This is the most intelligible and enjoyable portion of the book. The second quarter of the book concentrates on the contents of the Treatise, mostly related through Lambert's ecstatic, confusing disclosures to his friend. This is followed by three-eighths of the book comprised of love letters from Lambert to a woman he adored. While these epistles are eloquent and lyrical expressions of love, they do little to move the story forward or shed light on Lambert's philosophical thought. The final eighth of the book consists of a couple laundry lists of philosophical postulates, arranged and enumerated with the intention of resembling the Euclidian order of Spinoza's Ethics, but much more illogically constructed.
There is some validity to Balzac's ideas on metaphysics and epistemology. This novel has value in that it does give the reader some insight into the philosophical thought of this great man of letters. The medium used to express that thought, however, is less than satisfying. Balzac could have conveyed these ideas far more successfully in a series of essays, or even a memoir of his own intellectual development. Instead, the book is too philosophical to be good literature, and too literary to be good philosophy. Failing on both counts, Louis Lambert is a book best skipped by all but the most enthusiastic of Balzac's admirers.