"Who possesses me will possess all things,But his life will belong to me..."Raphael de Valentin, a young aristocrat, has lost all his money in the gaming parlours of the Palais Royal in Paris, and contemplates ending his life by throwing himself into the Seine. He is distracted by the bizarre array of objects in a chaotic antique shop, among them a strange animal skin, apiece of shagreen with magical properties. It will grant its possessor his every wish, but each time a wish is bestowed the skin shrinks, hastening its owner's death. Around this fantastic premise Balzac weaves a compelling psychological portrait of his hero, a prisoner of his own Prometheanimagination, and explores profound ideas about the human will, vice and virtue, love and death. Helen Constantine's new translation captures the energy and exuberance of Balzac's novel, one of the most engaging of his "'Etudes philosophiques" from the Comedie humaine. The accompanying introduction and notes offer fresh insights into this remarkable work.