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During the 19th century, Paris attracted the most ambitious people who would escape their modest rural condition in search of success, power and affluence. In these post-revolutionary days, success was no longer determined by birth only, but also by talent, determination and social abilities.

Balzac, a great contempter of modernity nostaligically praised an idealized vision of rural simplicity. He depicts here the effects of arrivism in the modern urban life as a sort of rat race disguised under the garb of hypocrisy.

Les émotions de Paris sont cruelles pour les âmes douées d’une vive sensibilité : les avantages dont jouissent les gens supérieurs ou les riches irritent les passions ; dans ce monde de grandeur et de petitesse, la jalousie sert plus souvent de poignard que d’aiguillon ; au milieu de la lutte constante des ambitions, des désirs et des haines, il est impossible de ne pas être la victime ou le complice de ce mouvement général ; insensiblement, le tableau continuel du vice heureux et de la vertu persiflée fait chanceler un jeune homme. […] Ce combat dessèche, rétrécit le coeur, pousse la vie au cerveau et produit l’insensibilité parisienne, ces moeurs ou sous la frivolité la plus gracieuse, sous les engouements qui jouent l’exaltation, se cachent la politique ou l’argent.

Life in Paris is a cruel ordeal for impressionable natures, the great inequalities of fortune or of position inflame their souls and stir up bitter feelings. In that world of magnificence and pettiness envy is more apt to be a dagger than a spur. You are bound either to fall a victim or to become a partisan in this incessant strife of ambitions, desires, and hatreds, in the midst of which you are placed; and by slow degrees the picture of vice triumphant and virtue made ridiculous produces its effect on a young man, and he wavers. […] His heart is seared and contracted by this struggle, the current of life sets toward the brain, and the callousness of the Parisian is the result—the condition of things in which schemes for power and wealth are concealed by the most charming frivolity, and lurk beneath the sentimental transports that take the place of enthusiasm.

Honoré de Balzac, le Médecin de Campagne, 1833
The Country Doctor, translator: Marriage, Ellen.

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