The Central New York Library Resources Council has awarded Syracuse University Library grant funds to assist with the cataloging its collection of rare books and manuscripts relating the French writer Honoré de Balzac. Born in 1799, Balzac pioneered nineteenth century literary realism, which sought to render the rich detail and nuanced complexity of everyday life. He is best known for his La Comedié Humaine, a series of novels and short stories that depict life in the post-Revolutionary era, and which explore many of themes pertinent to the author’s own often tempestuous life: class and upward mobility, familial relationships, and sexuality. Balzac exerted influence over generations of literary greats, from Marcel Proust to Oscar Wilde and Roland Barthes.
Syracuse acquired the collection in 1955 from the eccentric collector William Hobart Royce. The author of more than a dozen monographs, including Balzac: A Bibliography (University of Chicago Press, 1929), and founder of the Balzac Society of America, Royce’s obsession with the French writer was lifelong. A 1947 Life magazine profile of the eccentric collector shows him dressed as Balzac in a monk’s robe, his hair swept from his forehead, smoking a pipe and looking at the camera with an annoyed expression as he fingers an original manuscript. Highlights from the Royce collection include: a presentation edition of Louis Lambert signed by Balzac, an original pen and ink portrait by Aubrey Beardsley, examples of Belgian prefaçons (piracies), numerous first editions in a variety of languages, and later reissues of Balzac stories in pulp magazines.
The Royce collection resides in the Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library’s repository for rare books, manuscripts, and media. Just underway, the cataloging project is expected to be completed in 2013.
Based in Syracuse, the mission of the Central New York Library Resources Council is to “support libraries in Herkimer, Madison, Oneida & Onondaga counties and advocates for libraries everywhere!”