The Wrong Side of Paris
Publication Date: April 12, 2005
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The Wrong Side of Paris, the final novel in Balzac’s The Human Comedy, is the compelling story of Godefroid, an abject failure at thirty, who seeks refuge from materialism by moving into a monastery-like lodging house in the shadows of Notre-Dame. Presided over by Madame de La Chanterie, a noblewoman with a tragic past, the house is inhabited by a remarkable band of men—all scarred by the tumultuous aftermath of the French Revolution—who have devoted their lives to performing anonymous acts of charity. Intrigued by the Order of the Brotherhood of Consolation and their uplifting dedication to virtuous living, Godefroid strives to follow their example. He agrees to travel—incognito—to a Parisian slum to save a noble family from ruin. There he meets a beautiful, ailing Polish woman who lives in great luxury, unaware that just outside her bedroom door her own father and son are suffering in dire poverty. By proving himself worthy of the Brotherhood, Godefroid finds his own spiritual redemption.
This vivid portrait of the underbelly of nineteenth-century Paris, exuberantly rendered by Jordan Stump, is the first major translation in more than a century of Balzac’s forgotten masterpiece L’Envers de l’histoire contemporaine. Featuring an illuminating Introduction by Adam Gopnik, this original Modern Library edition also includes explanatory notes.
Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), the great French novelist, was the author of The Human Comedy, a vast and delightful series of inter-connected novels that presents a comprehensive portrait of all walks of French society.
Jordan Stump, winner of the French-American Foundation Translation Prize, is the translator of more than six French novels, including the Modern Library edition of Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, described as “breezy” and “blissfully readable” by Kirkus Reviews.
Adam Gopnik is the author of the national bestseller Paris to the Moon. He writes often on various subjects for The New Yorker.
"What a glorious find! Here is a tale of strange and wonderful passions, mystery, intrigue, and the dark night of the soul. In this fresh and fluent translation, Balzac's masterful depiction of our human comedy proves once again that this giant of the nineteenth-century novel will always remain among the most modern of writers."
"Smartly paced, passionately full of Parisian excitement, this brisk new translation proves that the
French master never lost his powerful, teeming urgency. Balzac's last novel deserves its posthumous place in La Comédie humaine."
"Baudelaire was surprised that Balzac's reputation depended on passing for an "observer"; for me, the poet said of the novelist, his great virtue lies in the fact that he was a visionary, a passionate visionary. Such a judgment brings us, not face to face but as in a glass darkly, to the Master's last, flagrantly figmentary fiction, wonderfully titled in English to form the revelatory equation: Paris = history. Mr. Stump has again triumphed over his material, which means that the material here stands forth in all its messy, enthralling richesse, and with excellent notes into the bargain, as Balzac would say."