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May 24, 2017


Balzac: Les Chouans

by N@ncy

  • Author: H. Balzac (1799-1850)
  • Title: Les Chouans
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Published: 1829
  • Language: French
  • Themes:  love vs duty  (Royalists vs Républicans)
  • Setting: Brittany France

What is the story about?

  1. Balzac uses the guerilla warfare of  ‘La Chouannerie’  (1794-1800)
  2. ….as the backdrop in this novel.
  3. Les Chouans from Brittany are supporters of the King.
  4. This story depicts a monarchist Brittany in rebellion
  5. …against the revolutionary national government of 1799.
  6. This work heralded the creation of a new type of historical novel
  7.  Balzac reveals historical narratives by
  8. creating  characters or “types” in the place of known historical figures.
  9. Les Chouans  is also a love story at heart (romantique à souhaite)
  10. …filled with seduction in mousseline dresses, spies, lies and revenge.
  11. And….what a love story it is!
  12. Motif: a phrase repeated several times by both lovers:
  13. ‘un jour sans lendemain’ (pg. 217, 231, 393)
  14. ..’a day without a morrow‘ sets the tone in this drama.


  1. Marie-Nathalie de VERNEUIL : Républicain, spy for the national government, 26 yr.
  2. M. de Montauran: (nickname ‘Le Gars’) Young aristocratic leader of Les Chouans.
  3. M.Corentin: Secret agent for Républicain police, 22 yr.
  4. Comtesse  du Gua: Chouanne adventurer with a tumultuous past!
  5. M. Hurlot: Républican commander for the  ‘blues’ in Bretagne, 33 yr.
  6. Marche-a-Terre: (nickname): Chouan – young fighter, Pierre Leroi.
  7. Pille-miche: (nickname) : Chouan  young fighter, Jean Cibot.



  1. The book begins with a deluge of descriptions of the green and verdant road leading
  2. from Fougères to Ernée in Brittany France.
  3. I thought …when will he start the story?
  4. Then before I knew it  I was in the middle of an ambush
  5. …Les Chouans vs Les Républicans with the
  6. clicks of swords and howls of hand to hand combat!
  7. I had to get used to the frenzied action that ended
  8. …in powerful  dialogue  that suprises the reader!
  9. Strong point: Balzac makes the past visible…in your mind!
  10. ‘La Chouannerie’ is a  civil war in French history that
  11. …I would never have read about…had it not been for Balzac!
  12. Strong point: local color and realistic details  –
  13. …Balzac was a great admirer James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans).
  14. In the first chapter Balzac describes ‘Les Gars’ (the insurgents of Brittany) as ‘Mohicans.”….sauvagues …. à la manière dont les Mohicans.”
  15. Difficult point: I accept the extra work reading french (looking up words).
  16. But this book adds another dimension to the situation.
  17. Balzac writes a novel drenched in historical facts.
  18. That means….even more work!
  19. Difficult point: the characters have nicknames and at times use
  20. …false names….as if I wasn’t confused enough!
  21. Strong point: Balzac saves the best for last…my favoirte chapter was 31
  22. Sweeping in scope and intrigue…..
  23. …and  a passionate  tête-a-tête between lovers.
  24. I couldn’t stop reading and forgot time and place.
  25. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
  26. Read it in English…and discover  Balzac’s perfect description
  27. of the powerful  men in government.
  1. Last thoughts:
  2. I’ve been reading French intensively for the past 5 years.
  3. I read Zola’s Rougon-Macquart 20 novels in French….
  4. ….but haven’t really made Balzac a priority in the past.
  5. Having read Les Chouans I can understand why Zola
  6. …considered Balzac as a role-model for
  7. …his writing project Rougon-Macquart!

  1. I am starting the La Comédie Humaine reading list.
  2. Some say Balzac’s early books are not considered his  best writing.
  3. He only gets better!
  4. This book written 188 years ago is 
  5. in my opinion better than…
  6. Pulitzer Prize winner 1972, Angle of Repose!
  7. But remember W. Stegner’s book  is also a ‘classic’
  8. and you should read it andn decide for yourself.
  9. If you want to read Balzac…
  10. I recommend the Kindle Collected Works of Balzac Delphi Classics.
  11. You have all Balzac’s writings in one book + very reasonable price!
  12. Delphi’s book also contains a list of the characters (handy for quick reference).
  13. Time to read the more classics!

Balzac by Rodin:


What is La Comédie Humaine?

  1. This is the title of Balzac’s   multi-volume
  2. …collection of interlinked novels and stories.
  3. Each novel contains a single story that may be read for itself.
  4. At the same time, each story is linked to the whole.
  5. Short stories make up over half La Comédie humaine.
  6. There are also short narratives as guides to human behaviour:
  7. Code des gens honnêtes and the Physiologie du mariage.
  8. Balzac spent ten years imitating Sir Walter Scott’s historical novels
  9. …before turning into an entirely different sort of writer.
  10. Balzac became the chronicler of the here and now.
  11. Balzac  became “the secretary of French society,” as he put it himself.
  12. La Comédie Humaine is  a study of manners which forms society at large.
  13. Private – Provincial – Parisian – Political – Military – Country.
5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jul 8 2017

    I’ve yet to read Balzac, but must say that it sounds like I’m missing out. This story sounds fantastic – I love historical fiction!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jul 8 2017

      I find Zola is mentioned more often on reading lists….than Balzac. Balzac deservers more attention!
      There so many books in La Comèdie Huamine. This monumental work comprises more than one hundred novels, short stories, and studies. One of my favorites is Père Goriot. This would be an excellent choice to start reading Balzac! Thanks for you comments, Nadia.


  2. Jul 15 2017

    Ive seen Belzac in Roudins gardens, and heard the name before, but didn’t realise he was inspiration for Zola. Im learning lots in Paris in July 2017.


    • Jul 15 2017

      Balzac…great writer and loving sharing him with #ParisInJuly2017 participants!



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