Exhibition > May 27, 2023 – November 5, 2023BALZAC, CHILDLIKE AND CHEERFUL Voyage to the centre of The Droll Stories illustrated by the Brizzi brothers I believe that […]
News of Balzac Museum
Exhibition > May 27, 2023 – November 5, 2023
BALZAC, CHILDLIKE AND CHEERFUL
Voyage to the centre of The Droll Stories illustrated by the Brizzi brothers
I believe that three parts of this mammoth piece [les ÉTUDES SOCIALES] will be either finished or at least we shall be able to put them together to get an overview of them. […] And on the foundations of this palace, childlike and cheerful as I am, I will have drawn the vast arabesque of the Cent Contes drolatiques.
Honoré de Balzac, to Madame Hanska, October 26th 1834
The Droll Stories had a special place in Balzac’s heart and were the breeding ground for The Human Comedy. In a letter to Madame Hanska on October 26th 1834, the novelist described his upcoming literary work as a palace with three floors, saying: “And on the foundations of this palace, childlike and cheerful as I am, I will have drawn the vast arabesque of the Cent Contes drolatiques.” French society was worn out by boredom and tears, so Balzac wanted this book to make them laugh. The first ten stories were published in April 1832, at the height of the cholera epidemic sweeping through Paris. In September 2021, as the world strained beneath the weight of the never-ending coronavirus, Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi published a comic strip adaptation of four of Honoré de Balzac’s The Droll Stories through Futuropolis. The comic features, risqué, funny and colourful aspect of these little-known stories inspired the authors to whisk us away deep into Balzac’s imagination at its most unbridled.
Detail of the comic book cover by Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi, Les Contes drolatiques, published by Futuropolis, 2021. © PG BRIZZI 2021. FUTUROPOLIS.
December 1831, Honoré de Balzac was at Château de Saché. As he wrote to his publisher Charles Gosselin, he hoped to finish the first ten of The Droll Stories during his stay. He set out to write 100 stories under the title Les Cent Contes drolatiques colligez es abbayes de Touraine et mis en lumière par le sieur de Balzac pour l’esbattement des pantagruelistes et non aultres, but in the end only thirty were published between 1832 and 1837. They were written in Old French with classic Balzac imagery. The settings, characters and plots come together to pay tribute to Rabelais’ Touraine from the Middle Ages up to the 16th century. Balzac hoped this book would “revive the school of laughter”. He believed that “laughter is a necessity in France” where society was worn out by boredom and tears, only deepened by the serious literature of the Romantic period.
When Balzac died, his widow had the stories republished and illustrated by Gustave Doré (1832-1883). This 1855 publication appeared at the same time as his illustration for Rabelais’ work (1854). The Droll Stories‘ stylistic flair and comical situations are captured by the artist’s smooth and sharp lines. Other illustrators went onto tackle the complex publication, including Albert Robida (1848-1926) and Albert Dubout (1905-1976), but there has never been a comic strip about it. Until now.
The Brizzi brothers decided to turn four of The Droll Stories by Honoré de Balzac into a comic strip in 2020, which Futuropolis published a year later: The Fair Imperia, The Venial Sin, The Devil’s Heir and The High Constable’s Wife. This publication is true to their previous adaptations of classics by literary greats with boundless imagination and vision (Céline, Boris Vian, Dante). Just like Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi, Gustave Doré also wanted to illustrate great classics. What drew them to The Droll Stories was how perfect the short stories are for turning into a graphic novel. Most people haven’t heard of these stories so the brothers wanted to put them in the spotlight, similarly to Boris Vian’s Autumn in Peking.
They were initially thrown off by Balzac’s use of Old French, but the cryptic language won them over in the end. They wrote summaries of fifteen of the stories before choosing which they would adapt. Then they rewrote the plot for each story based on their understanding of the tale, making sure that dropping Balzac’s Old French didn’t affect the spirit of the writing.
Honoré de Balzac by Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi,
Les Contes drolatiques,
published by Futuropolis, 2021.
© PG BRIZZI 2021. FUTUROPOLIS.