Although Harvard's Harry Levin has a penchant for scholarly wanderlusts (to score a point he goes around, about and under the seminar table), still his study of the relationship between literature and life as reflected through France's famous five (Stndahl, Balzac, Flaubert, Zola and Proust), proves clearly the best examination since Martin Turnell's The Novel in France. And that, as they say, is praise indeed. Concerned immediately with craftsmanship and incidentally with history. Professor Levin pinpoints the period from 1789 to 1939 as the heyday of realistic fiction and shows how the rise, decline and fall of the upper and lower bourgeoisie served as its recurrent theme, whether that theme be enacted via Stendhal's cult of the worldly young (those heroes ready to leap to love or embrace the eagles of enlightenment), or Balzac's and Zola's melodramatic masses (Balzac had 200 characters, Zola 1200), or Flaubert's mock-romanticization of Second Empire mores and amours, or Proust's hothouse aristocrats. In all the imaginative factors are underlined (Zola's mammoth determinism, Stendhal's supersubtleties, Flaubert's dedication to the mot juste), and the changing expression of characters and credos strikingly explored. Without too many reservations, a fine work.