Balzac's Cane, translated by UCSB alumna Marta Wilkinson

Balzac's Cane. Translated with an Introduction by Marta L. Wilkinson (Professor, Wilmington College)

Balzac’s Cane is an English translation of Delphine de Girardin’s 1836 novella, La Canne de M. de Balzac, which centers around a protagonist named Tancred Dorimont, a brilliant young man plagued by his devastating good looks. In a social context in which appearance is everything, it seems for several chapters that beauty will break, rather than make, this young man’s fortune. One evening as Tancred seeks to forget his problems by spending an evening at the opera, he observes M. de Balzac and learns the secret to this famous author’s ability to know the innermost secrets of all walks of life with such detail and intimacy; M. de Balzac’s cane, a famously hideous walking stick, has the power to render the bearer invisible. A deal, which straddles the line between a favor and blackmail, is worked out between these two men and the cane comes into Tancred’s possession. With this tool Tancred is able to overhear state secrets, make his fortune, and then set his sights upon finding a woman truly worthy of his love. Voyeurism, surveillance, courtship, feminism, authorship, and the vanishing distinction between public and private lives are all raised in this novella. This work will be a useful text in either French literature or comparative survey courses due to its examination of contemporary nineteenth-century life, social organization and morals, its parody of bildungsroman and romance novels, and its combination of genres: several lengthy poems are an essential part of the novella’s text.

Endorsement by Catherine Nesci, Chair, Comparative Literature at UC Santa Barbara: "Since the 1980s Delphine de Girardin (1804–1855) has been receiving renewed critical attention in France and the United States for her prose, theatrical, poetic, and journalistic works. This superb English translation of a thus-far untranslated jewel of humor and narrative genius will further enhance the visibility of an important woman writer. Marta L. Wilkinson’s translation of Girardin’s 1830s French best-seller, La Canne de M. de Balzac, offers for the first time to Anglophone readers the spirited and experimental novella of a woman author lamenting with great humor, and also playing with, the limits set on the literary creation of women writers. Wilkinson beautifully captures Girardin’s ironic take on the gender politics of early nineteenth-century France and the complex, transgressive playfulness of a novella featuring various literary genres and styles. Apparently endowed with authority by the sponsoring of the male literary stars of French Romanticism, including Chateaubriand, Lamartine, and Balzac, Girardin’s Monsieur de Balzac’s Cane also cites and reproduces at length the elegiac Romanticism of women poets whose eclipsing is performed magically by the voyeuristic power of invisibility symbolized by Balzac’s monstrous cane. Wilkinson aptly translates into English Girardin’s original narrative genius that foregrounds the authorial voice and the issues of fiction and authority. She also makes us think of all translations as pastiches, a question that Girardin’s novella also raises in its admirable work of parody of Balzac’s realism. At last La Canne de Monsieur de BalzaC, a masterpiece of intertextuality and gender masquerading, has found its English home, thanks to its translator’s witty and faithful interpretation."


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