I read it yeah. Pretty strong.
Reading Illusions perdues now it is easy to see it simply as a cautionary tale of a writer trying to make it in the big city, or to defuse it in the way that contemporary critics did as “a satirical view of the Parisian book trade” — or, perhaps worst of all, to enervate it using the jargon of contemporary critical theory as a “reflexive novel” (26). I mean, it is all of these things, but the energy and relevance of the book resides in its violently offensive qualities and Balzac’s willingness to expose the vanities and delusions of his own world. This is fissile material because the rivalries and motivations and the conditions of writing and publishing that Balzac describes still exist, but with updated variations and innovations. Balzac’s social networking among the literary and aristocratic elites of Paris, the control he attempted to maintain over his own image, the money he spent on champagne, tailored clothes and elaborate canes “of gold or rhinoceros-horn gleaming with precious stones” (27) foreshadow the marketing demands made of writers today: the need to publicise yourself on social media, to develop and protect your brand on behalf of publishing agents, in order to secure future work. Meanwhile and miraculously writers remain infatuated with their own profile, a situation intensified and limited by the very social media platforms they depend upon for success. In the same way that Lucien discovers, too late, that he is not really free to write what he thinks, writers today find themselves captured by the social and rhetorical limits and expectations of their niche publics. They must be careful what they write or say on all occasions and across all platforms to avoid losing their constituency of readers and allies and, indeed, prospects of work. At the same time they also need to provide a consistent stream of topical commentary, however unnecessary or perfunctory, in order to maintain visibility; ideas and opinions, in this context, do not really exist for their own sake, but to advertise and protect the position of a writer within a social and professional network, just like Restoration Paris. Finally, payment remains precarious, with writers being exposed to similar exploitations and temptations as Lucien in 1821, and being forced to find income streams anywhere they can like Balzac throughout his own career. Over this whole pitiless landscape hovers the grey clouds of publishing schedules, portfolios and KPIs.