Treatise on Elegant Living

Treatise on Elegant Living

Honoré de Balzac

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Translated, with an introduction, by Napoleon Jeffries / March 2010 / 4.5 x 7, 112 pp. / 978-0-9841155-0-1

Honoré de Balzac’s 1830 Treatise on Elegant Living was a keystone text on dandyism, preceding Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Anatomy of Dandyism (1845) and Charles Baudelaire’s “The Dandy” (in The Painter of Modern Life, 1863), and marking an important shift from the early dandyism of the British Regency to the intellectual and artistic dandyism of nineteenth-century France. The Treatise is the first true philosophical expression of dandyism, and is full of well-crafted aphorisms: “Elegant living is, in the broad acceptance of the term, the art of animating repose,” runs one classic definition of dandyism, and “The man of taste must always know how to reduce need to a minimum” asserts the role elegant living can play in times of both opulence and strife. Further embellished with anecdotes and historical and personal illustrations, Balzac’s Treatise even features a fictitious encounter with the original dandy himself, Beau Brummell. Never before translated into English, this witty tract makes for an illuminating cornerstone to Balzac’s Human Comedy (which was originally to have included a never-completed four-part philosophical “Pathology of Social Life”). Above all, it represents a decisive moment in the history of dandyism, and an entertaining exposition on the profundities of what lies deepest within all of us: our appearance.

Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), self-proclaimed “elegantologist,” was a true monolith of French letters, one of the fathers of realism, and a great abuser of coffee. His Human Comedy ended up consisting of over one hundred interlinked stories and novels, and featured a cast of some two thousand characters. One of the earliest components of this enormous body of work was a never-completed four-part Pathology of Social Life, which would have most likely incorporated this Treatise. Balzac’s physiologies and nonfiction sociological studies read like the casebooks of a sociological Sherlock Holmes, and remain the least-known components to Balzac's sprawling Comedy.

“An unwitting revolutionary”—Victor Hugo

“[Balzac] groups a complete history of French society from which, even in economic details … I have learned more than from all the prefessional historians, economists, and statisticians of the period altogether”—Friedrich Engels


“[A] veritable handbook for the budding dandy…”
—Steve Pulimood, T Magazine

“Full of wit and wisdom, the ‘Treatise’ is the kind of book every boulevardier should keep in his armoire and read a passage from each morning before getting dressed.”
—Christian Chensvold, The Rake

“[A] witty, playful, aphoristic little book…”
—Aaron Britt, The San Francisco Chronicle

“[A] delightful, insightful, pocketsize version of what Balzac most admired…”
—Mark Axelrod, The Review of Contemporary Fiction

“[R]eads like the fragmented diary of an unhinged elitist…”
—Caroline Hagood, Bookslut

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