The Black Sheep

The Black Sheep
Image source: Google

Rating: 4.1/5

Author: Honoré De Balzac (original), Donald Adamson (Translated edition)

Publisher: Penguin Classics

Publishing Date: 1842 (Original edition), 26 August 1976 (Reprint edition)

Language: English

Genre: Classic Fiction, Humor, Literary Theory, History and Criticism

ISBN-10: 0140442375

ISBN-13: 978-0140442373

Pages: 352

Cost: 755 INR (Paperback)


Honoré de Balzac's elegantly crafted tale of sibling rivalry is a human comedy novel that was originally published in 1842. This French novel was translated in English with the title 'The Black Sheep' by Donald Adamson and published by Penguin Classics. 

It tells the story of two brothers Philippe and Joseph Bridau with extremely two different characters and their mother Agathe Rouget. Philippe is an elder brother who is their mom Agathe's favorite one and a superficially heroic soldier in Napoleon's Armies. He is a brave man but has a bitter figure with the habits of drinking and gambling. The younger one, Joseph, is a devoted Artist and fundamentally virtuous, yet his mother is not very happy to see him spending his life as an artist. 

Prejudiced mother Agathe is unaware that her favorite son who is throwing money in the drain is manipulating her. Phillipe leaves the army and comes back unemployed to his mother, which becomes a financial stress for them because of his substandard habits and lifestyle. He becomes estrange after stealing money from Madame Descoings. He gets involved in the anti-government conspiracy, thus he gets arrested.

Mother Agathe and Joseph go to Agathe's elder brother Jean-Jacques in the hope to get money for covering Phillipe's legal costs. Jean-Jacques and his boarder Max Gilet - the ex-soldier give them few paintings. The value of paintings is certainly lofty, only Joseph knows by sight. When Max comes to know about the value of those paintings, he thrust to get them back from Joseph. He tries to set up Phillipe for an attempt to murder when he (max) is stabbed by Fario (a Spanish immigrant), in the sequence to get back the paintings. 

Meanwhile, Phillipe cooperates with authorities and gets a light sentence of five years in the supervision of Police for plotting the conspiracy. He relocates to Issoudun in order to claim his mother's inheritance for himself. He challenges Max for dual with a sword and kills him. Then, Phillipe takes over Jean-Jacques and his households.

What happens next with both brothers? How and when would their mother know who is Black Sheep in the family? 


The tale of the dilemma of French society, during the 19th century, has been served on the plate very well. How her favorite child can influence a mother. In addition, the one with virtuousness tries to settle down things for his family even though he is being neglected throughout his journey. How characters are outwitting and killing people for the hale of the property and money. The life of being a Napoleon Soldier during the war has been explicitly spelled out. No story in the world is more stirring than this one. This is combining as it does the compelling readability of the blood and thunder with the deeper insights of literary art.

A dazzling depiction of the power of money and the cruelty of life in nineteenth-century France, The Black Sheep compellingly explores the nature of deceit. Donald Adamson's translation captures the radical modernity of Balzac's style, while his introduction places The Black Sheep in its context as one of the great novels of Balzac's renowned Comédie Humaine. 

Though for years, the work of Balzac had been overlooked yet it has gained popularity and respect in recent years.


The Novel has been adapted by different means at different times.

  • The story was adapted to play with the name 'The Black Sheep' by Emile Fabre in 1903
  • Movies called 'Honor of the Family' in 1912 and 1931
  • The book was broadcast by BBC Radio 4, as its classics serial on Sunday, 17 August and Sunday, 24 August 2008 with actor Geoffery Whitehead as the narrator.
  • The French film 'The Opportunists' is based on this novel.

Milestones of the Book:

  • The Guardian listed 'The Black Sheep' twelfth on its list of 'The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time'.

About the Author:

The eminent author Honoré Balzac (20 May 1799 - 18 August 1850) was a French novelist and playwright. He was a son of a civil servant and born in Tours, France. After attending boarding school in Vendome, he gravitated to Parish where he worked as a legal clerk and a hack writer using various pseudonyms in collaboration with other writers. Balzac became an exclusive fiction writer at the age of thirty and started writing a large number of novels and short stories. He entitled his collective work 'The Human Comedy'. He was one of the pillars of French romantic-action literature. Besides being a married man, he married his lover of eighteen years in 1850 and died shortly after his second marriage.

The novel sequence La Comedie Humaine, which presents a panorama of the Post-Napoleonic French lifestyle, is generally viewed as his magnum opus. Balzac's extensive use of details, especially the detail of objects, to illustrate the lives of his characters made him an early pioneer of literary realism. He had written numbers novel, plays, tragic verse, short stories and collection of short stories. He had written many books anonymously and pseudonymously few of them are very popular in the world of English literature.