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Real Time

Accelerating Narrative from Balzac to Zola

David F. Bell

Publication Year: 2003

In Real Time David F. Bell explores the decisive impact the accelerated movement of people and information had on the fictions of four giants of French realism--Balzac, Stendhal, Dumas, and Zola. _x000B__x000B_Nineteenth-century technological advances radically altered the infrastructure of France, changing the ways ordinary citizens--and literary characters--viewed time, space, distance, and speed. The most influential of these advances included the improvement of the stagecoach, the growth of road and canal networks leading to the advent of the railway, and the increasing use of mail, and of the optical telegraph. Citing examples from a wide range of novels and stories, Bell demonstrates the numerous ways in which these trends of acceleration became not just literary devices and themes but also structuring principles of the novels themselves. _x000B__x000B_Beginning with both the provincial and the Parisian communications networks of Balzac, Bell proceeds to discuss the roles of horses and optical telegraphs in Stendhal and the importance of domination of communication channels to the characters of Dumas, whose Count of Monte-Cristo might be seen as the ultimate fictional master of this accelerated culture. Finally, Bell analyzes the cinematic vision created by the arrival of the railroad, as depicted by Zola in La Bete Humaine.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

I would like to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for a generous fellowship that allowed me to do much of the writing of this book during the 1999–2000 academic year. I owe a debt of gratitude as well to the...

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pp. 1-12

Like all evolutions in social perception and organization, the restructurings that increased the speed of travel and information exchange in nineteenth-century France were complex. To circumscribe them requires identifying textual sources that give insight into how people adapted their daily practices...

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1. Webs: Genealogies, Roads, Streets (Balzac)

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pp. 13-39

In Balzac’s Ursule Mirouët, everyone is on the move. In the first scene, the maître de poste (postmaster) in Nemours, Minoret- Levrault, awaits the arrival of a coach carrying his son, Désiré, who is returning home to Nemours from Paris after completing his law studies. Another Minoret, Doctor...

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2. Intersections: Realys, Stagecoaches, Walks (Balzac bis)

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pp. 40-75

So fascinated was Balzac by the question of roads and transportation that within a year after composing Ursule Mirouët, he returned to the subject of road travel in Un Début dans la vie.1 This short novel opens with an extended sequence set in and around a coach on the road between Paris and L’Isle...

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3. Performances: Horses, Optical Telegraphs (Stendhal)

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pp. 76-102

In the first part of Stendhal’s novel Lucien Leuwen, when the principal female character, Mme. de Chasteller, begins to fall in love with the male protagonist, Lucien Leuwen, she tries desperately to understand who he really is and what he...

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4. Velocities: Precision, Overload (Dumas)

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pp. 103-130

In chapter 85 of Alexandre Dumas’s Le Comte de Monte- Cristo, Monte-Cristo embarks on a stagecoach trip to Normandy, where he has invited Albert de Morcerf to accompany him. His intention is to remove Albert from the increasingly...

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Conclusion: Speed Kills (Zola)

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pp. 131-142

While concentrating on the historical period after the Revolution and before 1850, before the extensive development of the railway system in France, I have wanted to demonstrate that an infrastructure for—and an expectation...


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pp. 143-150

Works Cited

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pp. 151-154


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pp. 155-157

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090479
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252028724

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 785782179
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Real Time

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • French fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism
  • Speed in literature.
  • Communication in literature.
  • Balzac, Honoré de, -- 1799-1850 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Zola, Emile, 1840-1902 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Stendhal, 1783-1842 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Dumas, Alexandre, 1802-1870 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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