Felician Marceau, a novelist, says she put herself in the middle of the Comedie Humaine and looked around. This freewheeling, discursive ""essay"" delineates Balzac's fictional world. His characters are categorically grouped and seen as lovelorn wives, women of pleasure, opportunists, provincials, etc.. The themes range from Balzac's criticism of the absolute to ""the darker aspects of love,"" social position, politics, money. His attitudes emerge, showing him as a man who believed in the close, conspiratorial faction, in love only when it gives energy to those involved, in the will to power. Balzac was a thorough relativist: results, not motives, matter; individuals, not principles, shape the actions in his ""world""; and they are ""judged"" by society, not abstract moral rules. Marceau's panorama is densely patterned while loosely written, overwritten. There is a certain redundancy-- too many character sketches, too many short examples illustrate the themes. It is a worthy method to stay close to the works but it predicates a more than casual familiarity with Balzac's vast collection of characters, and the book is only of supplementary interest to Andre Maurois' Prometheus (p. 350).