Commentary Magazine


Balzac

To the Editor:

The citation of Balzac in Carter Cooper’s review of The Fords by Peter Collier and David Horowitz [Books in Review, March] seems to be incorrect. The phrase Mr. Cooper cites—“Behind every great fortune there is a great crime”—has also appeared at least twice in the New York Times in the last few years, and not long ago in Time. These words put Balzac in the camp of the Marxists (unfairly, in my opinion).

This presumably derives from a passage in Père Goriot, spoken by Vautrin, which reads: “Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu’il a été proprement fait” (“The secret of great fortunes with no apparent cause is a forgotten crime, forgotten because it was properly carried out”); translated by M.A. Crawford, Penguin Books, 1951.

Philip Lyman
Gotham Book Mart
New York City

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Carter Coooper writes:

Balzac, as Philip Lyman points out, was no Marxist but a keen-eyed observer of the darker side of human nature, and Père Goriot, a novel peopled by brilliant as well as inept schemers, plotters, and manipulators, hardly propounds an overturning of the social order. It is not clear to me, however, that the version that I used of Balzac’s famous epigram makes him out to be any more of a Marxist than the more faithful translation put in evidence by Mr. Lyman. In any case, I thank him for his scrupulous attention.

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