Posts Tagged ‘La Comedie humaine’

Descriptive Passages in the Opening chapter of Béatrix
Balzac has often been criticized for going off into a tangent instead of tackling the story directly. While taking up Beatrix the reader has the prospect of wading through the minutiae of the physical reality of hotel du Guaisnic. Was it really necessary? We see time and time again how in Balzac’s vision the narrow world within which a character lives stamps on him certain characteristics. Think of all those characters whose lives crossed in the unforgettable Pension Vauquer. ‘It was not one boarding-house in particular but of many as the Baron du Guénic was an epitome of all Breton noblemen’. Balzac stressed certain physical features of the world while throwing others in shadows in order to heighten the mood and inner state of the character. Thus the faded wallpaper of the boarding house will resonate with the ravages of a father’s passion pursued to madness.
Most of the characters Balzac employed to keep his story moving are composite part of himself and those whom he knew and observed from close. Some are transformed in order to keep their identity from being blown. These belonged unlike the physical world to his inner world. In Balzac’s creative vision the recurring characters made their entry and exit and also would become gradually more fleshed out as their models in real world. Insights into them also vary. Rastigniac is largely uncorrupted in Pere Goriot ( He has a minor role in the Wild Asses Skin) and in another he has already arrived and learned to make use of the system to his advantage.
Subject for stories caught up up by his memory and imagination, like the pull and push of tides also brought the stock characters along. On one hand his need for wish-fulfillment and on the other need to avoid pain in his case mountain of debts that were in the offing made his world of imagination and life experience trade off to give his works their force and integrity. One way was to make his characters to the fore or set them in the background according to the exigencies of the work where their physical world had a hand on them as in his case. In this context the stagnation of the fortified town and the feudal home of the Baron was essential to his purpose. ( Let me digress here: the grand design of La Comédie humaine was already coalescing in his mind as he became sure of his vision and craft.) One key to understand and appreciate Balzac’s writing is to accept the dictum, ‘ man as the creature of his environment’.
The novelist in Beatrix lays out the theme of an antique world of Guérande being destroyed by the modern world by using a number of metaphors. A trefoil as an architectural feature is much more in the hands of Balzac‘…the mansion was built by a Venetian architect…the trefoils of the hotel du Guaisnic have four leaves instead of three. This difference plainly indicates the Venetian school depraved by its commerce with the East, …, give four leaves to
clover, while Christian art is faithful to the Trinity. In this respect Venetian art becomes heretical’. By pointing to the crisis of faith owing to the influences from the East, Balzac points a parallel between Venice and the ancient city by the onslaught of Industrial Age. ( Also noteworthy is a number of references to Venice in the opening chapter.) ‘Modern industry, working for the masses, goes on destroying the creations of ancient art, the works of which were once as personal to the consumer as to the artisan. Nowadays
we have products, we no longer have works

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HONORÉ DE BALZAC (French) (1799 – 1850)


Universally recognised as a genius in the novel, converted what had been styled ‘Romance’ into a convincing record of human experience. His vast life work was arranged under the title ‘La Comédie Humaine’ in which he claimed at once to be a philosopher explaining man to himself, a historian or secretary of society, and a sociologist and psychologist. Balzac first became a lawyer’s clerk, did some hack writing which he called ‘Literary Pigswill’ and was unsuccessful in his foray into business and got into deep debts. He first achieved a measure of success as a writer in 1829 with ‘Les Chouans’ a historical novel and ‘La Physiologie du Marriage’ (which dealt with the theme of cuckoldry). His prodigious literary output over the next 20 years included some 40 novels, many of them masterpieces. By 1834 he had decided to group his works so that it should form one whole in three general categories – Etudes Analytiques, dealing with the principles governing human life and society; Etudes Philosophyques, revealing the causes determining human action; and the Etudes Moeurs, showing the effect of these causes. These were divided into six kinds of scenes describing private, provincial, Parisian, political, military and country life. By 1840 he had decided to call the whole by the title ‘La Comédie Humaine’. The list of his loves is long and many of the women in his life were important to his work. In 1832 he was corresponding with a Polish countess, Eveline Hanska, and they agreed to marry after her husband’s death. Though her husband died in 1841 the marriage did not take place until 1850 by which time Balzac was mortally ill. He died five months later.

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