Treatise on Elegant Living
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 “One must have studied at least as far as rhetoric to lead an elegant life” asserts the importance of verbal pirouette and dexterous quipping to the dandy. 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.
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