Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Atheist's Mass - Honore de Balzac

A first Balzac. 'The Atheist's Mass' is a classic.

It is about a self-professed atheist with strong and scientific views on the subject. He is a doctor with a wide following for his kind and humanitarian ways and upright behavior. But one day his colleague catches him enter a church, and again and again. Four times a year the good doctor, the atheist, goes to mass. It seems to indicate falsehood. When confronted, the good doctor explains how, when he was struggling as a student, he met his devoutly religious man who looked after him like a father and mother and put him through college. For him, he has funded a mass and for him, he goes four times a year to attend the Mass. The classic difference between a deeply religious man who has no feelings for any other person and that of an atheist who is sensitive to humanity and perhaps god's ways are beautifully worded by Balzac. The world is full of such subtle differences!

'The Conscript' is a tragic tale of a Countess who has fallen upon hard times. She has good company, all the nobles of the town visit her and partake of her hospitality. But her love for her son, who is in the army puts her in a bit of a spot. The son wishes to meet her before he goes out to the front to battle. Despite all their plans, their meeting fails to materialise. Disappointed and heart broken, she kills herself. Balzac, cruelly (or perhaps kindly) kills off the boy in war at precisely the same time. It ends in deep despair.

Considered as the founder of realism in literature in France Honore de Balzac (1799-1850) wrote deeply layered themes and developed complex characters. He has had an interesting life - trying his hand at many careers - always dissatisfied with what he had it appears. He was known for his punishing and intense writing schedules too apparently. But fine, fine writing on human ways. 

No comments: