“He’s reading Balzac, knocking back Prozac, it’s a helping hand that makes you feel wonderfully bland”
The first I’d ever heard of Balzac was in the above song lyrics from the Britpop classic ‘Country House’ by Blur. I loved that song when it came out, but then I loved all things Britpop back in the mid-nineties. ‘Country House’ was the single that beat Oasis’ ‘Roll With It’ to the number one slot, back when people cared about the singles chart. It was the beginning of a faux rivalry between the two that would result in both bands going on to sell lots of records. As a fan of both groups at the time, I loved the whole affair, but it was clearly absolute nonsense. This stuff was in the actual news for goodness sake, and not just the tabloid press, it was the number one story on the BBC news.
I wonder what Balzac would have made of it all. Probably not much. He was French and unlikely to have been overly interested in Britpop. Particularly because it all took place 145 years after his death.
I later came across Balzac when I was studying for my degree in French Studies. There was a significant literary component to my course, so studying Balzac was inevitable. Unfortunately, as I was struggling to master French literacy at the time, reading literature in the language was a little beyond me. I couldn’t find an English translation of the Balzac novel we were supposed to read (Le Colonel Chabert) so I chose to study the other authors on the reading list instead – namely Stendhal and Flaubert, for whom the chosen texts were readily available in English. By the end of the course my French was good enough to have a go at the original texts, but by that stage I’d chosen to specialise in other areas – more of the aforementioned Stendhal (on the basis that I’d already read his stuff) and quite a lot of French theatre, (on the basis that plays are quicker and easier to read than novels).
So I never got around to reading any Balzac. I’m not sure if I missed out too much. Mrs Proclaims has read quite a bit, indeed that is predominantly what she spends most of her time doing these days. We met on our degree course. She was the one who came top of all the classes we were in, whereas I was the one who rolled into the lectures bleary-eyed and hungover most of the time. She seems to not hate Balzac, but I’m not sure she loves his work, so much as she enjoys the act of studying. We’re very different to each other in that regard.
Maybe one day I’ll read some Balzac. Although, if I’m honest, the Prozac does sound more appealing.