The Atheist’s Mass

THE HUMAN COMEDY – Honoré de Balzac Tenth volume of works of Honoré de Balzac edited by widow André Houssiaux, publisher, Hebert and Co, successors, 7 rue Perronet – Paris (1877) Scenes from private life

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Analysis and history It is Doctor Bianchon, Rastignac’s friend and confidant at the Pension Vauquer, the nephew of Judge Popinot from L’Interdiction , who links La Messe de l’Athée to the previous short stories. The story told here appeared in 1836 in La Chronique de Paris, a twice-weekly newspaper that Balzac had bought and which disappeared after six months, a financial disaster that weighed on Balzac for years to come. This journal devoured many copies. La Messe de l’athée is one of the tales Balzac had to write quickly to cope with this necessity. It’s a moving short story, a counterpart to the pessimism of Colonel Chabert and L’Interdiction. Its origins lie in a legendary story about Dupuytren, the greatest surgeon of his time. Balzac wanted it to be placed in La Comédie humaine alongside the examples he gave of the selfishness and ferocity of people of the world. A poor water carrier gives up the cart that was his life’s ambition so that a young student, poorer than himself, can continue his studies. The naive, sublime soul of the poor water carrier from Auvergne rehabilitates mankind. This simple story, almost an anecdote, is also a kind of confidence. The harsh youth of Desplein (the name by which Balzac replaced that of the famous surgeon of the Restoration) is Balzac’s youth, and the memories he evokes are those of his twentieth year in his garret in the rue Lesdiguières, near the Bastille. And the reflections he makes not only on the beginnings of men of genius, but on the instinctive understanding they must have of the order of the world, must be applied to himself.

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News dated: Paris, January 1836 Analysis and story based on a preface compiled from the complete works of the Comédie Humaine (volume VI) published by France Loisirs 1985 under the auspices of the Société des Amis d’Honoré de Balzac. Genealogy of characters Desplein: Famous surgeon under the Restoration. Father of a daughter engaged to the Prince of Loudon. Bianchon: Horace, student of Desplein, then doctor in Paris. His father was himself a doctor in Sancerre. Horace’s father had a sister who married Judge Popinot. Bourgeat: Water carrier.

Character genealogy source: Félicien Marceau “Balzac et son monde – Gallimard” (Balzac and his world – Gallimard)

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