Honoré de Balzac ‘La Comédie Humaine’ suggested reading order

In 1946 the “Balzac Society of America” published a bibliography by William Hobart Royce titled “Balzac as he should be read: The Comédie Humaine arranged in logical order of reading according to Time of Action”. In this book he refers to ninety-nine titles and says:

La Comédie Humaine presents “a formidable mass, even to the scholar, and much more to the casual reader. This huge bulk of fiction has been compared to a mountain, the summit of which may be attained only by tortuous ascent of blazed trails; to a gigantic edifice, the innumerable rooms and galleries of which can be visited only with the direction of an experienced guide; to a dense forest of tangled jungle growth, which can be penetrated only by patience and persistence, by mental and indeed physical endurance; in fact, it is the whole of human life, that which nothing can be more difficult or more terrible to contemplate, to comprehend, to controvert and to conquer.

For anybody wondering where to start on a Blazacian journey, William Hobart Royce suggests beginning with le Père Goriot (Old Goriot) if you enjoy it then you should continue, it you do not enjoy it then “Balzac is not the author upon whom one is to concentrate with love and devotion.”

And to read the various works in the chronological order which Balzac wrote them, would serve no purpose at all, except exhibiting the development of his method and his genius.

William Hobart Royce presents his list in chronological order, an historical “time of action”. He also presents a shorter list of twenty-four works “outstanding masterpieces…through them runs the main current of Balzac’s novels.” I have included this shorter list at the end of the main list.

Logical order of reading according to Time of Action

Avant Propos (Introduction)

The Exiles (Les Proscrits, 1831)

Christ in Flanders (Jésus-Christ en Flandre, 1831)

Maître Cornélius (1831)

The Elixir of Life (L’Élixir de longue vie, 1831)

Introduction to About Catherine de’ Medici (Sur Catherine de Médicis, 1842)

The Calvinist Martyr (II. Le Martyr calviniste from Sur Catherine de Médicis, 1842)

The Secret of the Ruggieri (III. La Confidence des Ruggieri from Sur Catherine de Médicis, 1842)

The Hated Son (L’Enfant maudit, 1831)

The Unknown Masterpiece (Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu, 1831)

Sarrasine (1830)

The Two Dreams (IV. Les Deux rêves from Sur Catherine de Médicis, 1842)

An Episode Under the Terror (Un épisode sous la Terreur, 1830)

The Conscript (Le Réquisitionnaire, 1831)

The Red Inn (L’Auberge rouge, 1831)

The Maranas (Les Marana, 1834, a.k.a. Juana)

A Passion in the Desert (Une Passion dans le Désert, 1830)

The Chouans (Les Chouans, 1829)

The Vendetta (La Vendetta, 1830)

A Second Home (Une double famille, 1830)

A Murky Business (Une ténébreuse affaire, 1841, a.k.a. A Historical Mystery, a.k.a. The Gondreville Mystery)

At the Sign of the Cat and Racket (La Maison du chat-qui-pelote, 1830)

El Verdugo (1830)

Domestic Bliss (La Paix du ménage, 1830)

Louis Lambert (1832)

The Quest of the Absolute (La Recherche de l’Absolu, 1834, a.k.a. Alkahest)

A Woman of Thirty (La Femme de trente ans, 1832)

The Girl with the Golden Eyes (La fille aux yeux d’or, 1835)

The Black Sheep (La Rabouilleuse, 1842, a.k.a. A Bachelor’s Establishment, a.k.a. The Two Brothers)

Old Goriot (le Père Goriot, 1835)

Eugénie Grandet (1834)

César Birotteau (Histoire de la grandeur et de la décadence de César Birotteau, 1837)

Farewell (Adieu, 1830)

Ferragus (1833)

The Message (Le Message, 1832)

Le Colonel Chabert (1844, first published as La transaction, 1832)

Facino Cane (1836)

The Two Poets (Les Deux poètes, 1837)

A Great Provincial in Paris (Un grand homme de province à Paris, 1839)

Eve and David (Ève et David, 1843)

La Grenadière (1832)

Massimilla Doni (1839)

The Lily of the Valley (Le Lys dans la vallée, 1836)

Melmoth Reconciled (Melmoth réconcilié, 1835)

The Atheist’s Mass (La Messe de l’athée, 1836)

The Old Maid (La Vieille Fille, 1836)

The Collection of Antiquities (Le Cabinet des Antiques, 1839)

A Drama on the Seashore (Un drame au bord de la mer, 1834)

The Duchess of Langeais (La Duchesse de Langeais, 1834)

Madame Firmiani (1832)

The Peasants (Les Paysans, 1855; first part published in 1844, a.k.a. Sons of the Soil)

The Purse (La Bourse, 1832)

The Ball at Sceaux (Le Bal de Sceaux, 1830)

Esther Happy (Esther heureuse, 1838)

What Love Costs an Old Man (À combien l’amour revient aux vieillards, 1843)

The End of Evil Ways (Où mènent les mauvais chemins, 1846)

The Last Incarnation of Vautrin (La Dernière incarnation de Vautrin, 1847)

A Marriage Contract (Le Contrat de mariage, 1835)

Gobseck (1830)

The Deserted Woman (La Femme abandonnée, 1832)

Study of a Woman (Étude de femme, 1830)

L’Interdiction (1836, a.k.a. The Commission in Lunacy)

A Start in Life (Un début dans la vie, 1845; first published as Le danger des mystifications, 1842)

Modeste Mignon (1844)

The Vicar of Tours (Le Curé de Tours, first published as Les célibataires, 1832)

The Country Doctor (Le Médecin de campagne, 1833)

Another Study of a Woman (Autre étude de femme, 1842)

La Grande Breteche (1832)

Letters of Two Brides (Mémoires de deux jeunes mariées, 1842)

Pierrette (1840)

Pierre Grassou (1840)

The Government Clerks (Les Employés, 1838; first published as la Femme supérieure, 1837, a.k.a. Bureaucracy)

The Wild Ass’s Skin (La Peau de chagrin, 1831)

The Illustrious Gaudissart (L’Illustre Gaudissart, 1833)

A Man of Business (Un homme d’affaires, 1846; first published as les Roueries d’un créancier, 1845)

A Daughter of Eve (Une fille d’Ève, 1838–39)

Ursule Mirouët (1841)

The Secrets of the Princess Cadignan (Les Secrets de la princesse de Cadignan, 1840, first published as Une Princesse parisienne, 1839)

Honorine (1843)

Albert Savarus (1842)

Gambara (1837)

The Firm of Nucingen (La Maison Nucingen, 1838)

Madame de la Chanterie

L’Initie

The Imaginary Mistress (La fausse maîtresse, 1842, a.k.a. Paz)

A Prince of Bohemia (Un prince de la Bohème, 1844; first published as les Fantaisies de Claudine, 1840)

Béatrix (1839)

Z. Marcas (1840)

The Muse of the Department (La Muse du département, 1843)

The Village Rector (Le Curé de Village, 1839)

Cousin Bette (La Cousine Bette, 1846)

Cousin Pons (Le Cousin Pons, 1847)

The Lesser Bourgeoisie (Les Petits Bourgeois, 1854, a.k.a. The Middle Classes)

Gaudissart II (1846; first published as un Gaudissart de la rue Richelieu; les Comédies qu’on peut voir gratis, 1844)

The Deputy for Arcis (the only part written by Balzac was published as l’Élection, 1847)

The Unwitting Comedians (Les Comédiens sans le savoir, 1846)

Physiology of Marriage (Physiologie du Mariage, 1829)

Little Miseries of Conjugal Life (Petites misères de la vie conjugale, 1846)

Séraphîta (1835)

Twenty-four titles for a shorter journey

The Chouans (Les Chouans, 1829)

A Murky Business (Une ténébreuse affaire, 1841, a.k.a. A Historical Mystery, a.k.a. The Gondreville Mystery)

Louis Lambert (1832)

The Quest of the Absolute (La Recherche de l’Absolu, 1834, a.k.a. Alkahest)

The Black Sheep (La Rabouilleuse, 1842, a.k.a. A Bachelor’s Establishment, a.k.a. The Two Brothers)

Old Goriot (le Père Goriot, 1835)

Eugénie Grandet (1834)

César Birotteau (Histoire de la grandeur et de la décadence de César Birotteau, 1837)

The Two Poets (Les Deux poètes, 1837)

A Great Provincial in Paris (Un grand homme de province à Paris, 1839)

Eve and David (Ève et David, 1843)

The Lily of the Valley (Le Lys dans la vallée, 1836)

Esther Happy (Esther heureuse, 1838)

What Love Costs an Old Man (À combien l’amour revient aux vieillards, 1843)

The End of Evil Ways (Où mènent les mauvais chemins, 1846)

The Last Incarnation of Vautrin (La Dernière incarnation de Vautrin, 1847)

Gobseck (1830)

The Country Doctor (Le Médecin de campagne, 1833)

The Wild Ass’s Skin (La Peau de chagrin, 1831)

Ursule Mirouët (1841)

The Village Rector (Le Curé de Village, 1839)

Cousin Bette (La Cousine Bette, 1846)

Cousin Pons (Le Cousin Pons, 1847)

The Lesser Bourgeoisie (Les Petits Bourgeois, 1854, a.k.a. The Middle Classes)

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7 thoughts on “Honoré de Balzac ‘La Comédie Humaine’ suggested reading order

  1. I think that I probably read LCH in the same recommended reading order… I belonged to a Yahoo group that was reading Balzac, and they had a recommended order. I wish I’d kept better notes at the time…but it took me about 4 years to read them all, 2-3 per month.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Having this reading order assumes having access to all titles (I know you can use Gutenberg but I am a 100% paper man). I would love to do it in this suggested manner but I’ll continue dabbling for now & see where it leads me.

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  2. I hear you. The other thing about paper v eBook is that most of the copyright free eBooks are in need of a good modern translation and an introduction. It would be great if OUP took it on the way they have with Zola’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Purse – Honoré de Balzac (tr. Clara Bell) | Messenger's Booker (and more)

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