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Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

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Scenes from a Courtesan's Life is one of the last great works completed by Balzac for his huge novel series entitled The Human Comedy. Sections of this book, in various groupings and with various titles, were published between 1838 and 1847. It eventually settled into the four sections found in the present edition. The French title — Splendeurs et misères des courtesanes — literally, Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans — has also been translated as A Harlot High and Low. The story picks up at the end of Lost Illusions (1843), an earlier novel by Balzac. At the end of that book, Lucien de Rubempré (born Lucien Chardon), a young provincial poet with great ambitions but feeble moral will, was heading for Paris in the company of a mysterious Spanish priest. In the present book, we quickly discover that the "Spanish priest" is actually Jacques Collin, alias "Vautrin," a master criminal first introduced to readers in Balzac's Father Goriot (1835). Lucien develops a relationship with Esther van Gobseck, a prostitute (the "courtesan" of the title). With these three main figures — Lucien, Vautrin, and Esther — Balzac explores the corruption of the aristocracy, the world of prostitution, the courts, and the prisons of 19th-century Paris. With masterful depictions of society and individual psychology, Balzac is considered a father of realism in fiction. - Summary by Bruce Pirie

The Balzac Lost Illusions trilogy preceding this book:
Lost Illusions: Two Poets
Lost Illusions: A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Lost Illusions: Ève and David

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