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Balzac’s hero, Lucien, is the classic young man of overweening ambition and malleable character, who considers himself a “poet” before having produced any finished works. If only he were rich! If only he could escape the cultural wasteland of the provinces to launch his career in Paris! There, surely, his talent would be recognized! But, as readers of Balzac have observed, the true hero of La Comédie humaine is the gold coin. Several doomed love affairs, social catastrophes, and artistic compromises later, an older, more corrupt Lucien emerges as the inevitable product of an exploitative capitalist society. Balzac anticipates and brings to life Marx’s nearly contemporaneous analysis of the concentration of wealth and its human toll in modernity. It is unclear whether Lucien succeeds in losing his youthful illusions by the end of the novel...but ours do not survive.