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For Love or for Money

Balzac's Rhetorical Realism

Armine Kotin Mortimer

Publication Year: 2011

Everyone agrees that Balzac is a realistic writer, but what do we actually mean when we say that? This book examines the richness and variety of Balzac’s approaches to realism, employing several different interpretive methods. Taking love and money as the “Prime Movers” of the world of La Comédie humaine, twenty-one chapters provide detailed analyses of the many strategies by which the writing forges the powerful impression of reality, the construction we famously think of as Balzacian realism. Each chapter sets the methods and aims of its analysis, with particular attention to the language that conveys the sense of reality. Plots, devices, or interpretive systems (including genealogies) function as images or reflections of how the novels make their meanings. The analyses converge on the central point: how did Balzac invent realism? No less than this fundamental question lies behind the interpretations this book provides, a question to which the conclusion provides a full answer. A major book in English devoted entirely to Balzac was overdue. Here is the American voice of Balzac studies, an engaging, insightful, and revealing excursion among the masterworks of one of the most important authors of all time.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-xi

I would like to thank three research assistants who were doctoral students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Juliette Dade helped with translations and became proficient at rendering Balzac (and sometimes Mortimer) into English. In addition, she tracked down references and typed up...

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1. Introduction: The Prime Movers

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pp. 1-12

This apparently minor moment in the student’s life gives a rhetorical image of the power of money to make things happen. It is typical of Balzac’s rhetoric that the small event—money finding its way into the pocket—connects to the momentous by means of rhetorical embellishment. A metaphorical column...

I. Rhetorical Forms of Realism

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pp. 13-27

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2. Mimetic Figures of Semiosis

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pp. 15-31

Balzac’s only epistolary novel in La Comédie humaine, Mémoires de deux jeunes mariées, serves to inaugurate the reader into the general problematic of reading a Balzacian narrative. It exposes and explicates how to understand the mimetic world the writer creates, and because it lacks the familiar...

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3. From Heteronomy to Unity: Les Chouans

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pp. 32-46

Les Chouans is the only novel of the Scènes de la vie militaire, and it earns its right to inhabit that classification of the Études de moeurs because it depicts the conflict between the forces of the Republic and the Chouans, insurgents loyal to the exiled royal family, in the last year of the eighteenth century. In...

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4. Tenebrous Affairs and Necessary Explications

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pp. 47-62

One of the strongest claims to realism lies in the desire or need to explain; at the same time, the novelist puts his creative power at risk. Commenting about the secret the novelist purports to convey, Chantal Massol writes: “En s’affirmant détenteur de secrets, le romancier s’arroge un pouvoir-dire....

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5. Self-Narration and the Fakery of Imitation

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pp. 63-79

Although Balzac wrote only a small portion of La Comédie humaine using first-person narration, there are several stories in which the topic of identity dominates and self-narration occurs via third-person narrative. Balzac embodied his own self in so many of his characters that self-narration can...

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6. The Double Representation of the History of César Birotteau

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pp. 80-93

Broadly speaking, illusion and reality—terms used with some caution—are the two modes by which César Birotteau’s history is represented.1 The novel begins impressionistically with Constance Birotteau awakening in fear from a dream in which she has seen herself doubled—an old woman in rags begging...

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7. La Maison Nucingen, A Financial Narrative

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pp. 94-106

The principal theme of La Maison Nucingen, belonging to the Études de moeurs, is high finance, but this short novel or long novella also provides one of the best illustrations of the semiosis of narration. A story about a financial coup as well as about a narrative in the process of creating itself, the novella...

II. Semiotic Images of Realism

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pp. 107-121

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8. Myth and Mendacity: Pierrette and Beatrice Cenci

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pp. 109-127

No tale is too slight, in La Comédie humaine, to bear a political burden, and Pierrette, as slight as its pitiful heroine, shoulders a disproportionately weighty charge. In this short novel of 1840, an innocent young girl dies, not just because of neglect and abuse by her hateful unmarried cousins, but also...

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9. The Corset of La vieille fille

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pp. 128-138

As a piece of underwear, a corset would seem to have no plausible connection to actual writing; but as a semiotic device of mimesis, the corset worn by Rose Cormon in La vieille fille calls attention to the rhetoric of realism in this novel. Being semiotic, it functions as a reading device and therefore...

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10. Genealogy and the Unmarried in La Rabouilleuse

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pp. 139-151

The third novel in Balzac’s trilogy against unmarried people, La Rabouilleuse (1842), contains one of his most complex genealogies, so complex that one cannot read the book without establishing its genealogical facts. René Guise devoted more than two dense pages of editorial material in the Folio edition...

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11. Ursule Mirouët: Genealogy and Inheritance

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pp. 152-166

In this first novel of the Scènes de la vie de Province, written in 1841, a familiar picture of the provincial town emerges, one that is found in several other Balzac novels. Here Nemours is represented as a stifling, narrowminded milieu in which a stupid, greedy, and powerful bourgeoisie smothers...

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12. Un prince de la bohème and Pierre Grassou, or How Love Makes Money

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pp. 167-174

In Un prince de la bohème, Claudine, a dancer known as Tullia, mistress of several rich important men, evolves into a bourgeoise by marrying the vaudeville writer du Bruel, which does not prevent her from falling madly in love with Charles-Édouard Rusticoli, comte de La Palférine, an impoverished...

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13. Voyages of Reflection, Reflections on Voyages

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pp. 175-191

“La pensée,” says Balzac in Le curé de village, “est constamment le point de départ et le point d’arrivée de toute société” [Ideas are invariably the departure point and the arrival point of any society] (9: 708). Expressing the concept of thinking by means of a metaphor of displacement, this Balzacian...

III. Mimetic Structures of Realism

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pp. 193-207

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14. Balzac and Poe

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pp. 195-207

In September 1839, in the first version of “The Fall of the House of Usher” published in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, Edgar Allan Poe wrote that Roderick Usher’s excited and highly distempered ideality led him to perform “a certain singular perversion and amplification of the wild air of the...

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15. Chemistry and Composition: La recherche de l’Absolu

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pp. 208-220

Love and money are very much at play in La recherche de l’Absolu, a novel whose foundation in science carries forward the interplay of materiality and spirituality found in Ursule Mirouët. Like that novel, there are pairs of semiotic terms. The objectives and processes of chemical science can be said to...

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16. The Capital of Money and the Science of Magnetism: Melmoth réconcilié

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pp. 221-229

Melmoth réconcilié lies among Balzac’s Études philosophiques and illustrates a visionary power in the pages describing the hero Castanier at the height of his fantastic abilities. But these moments of high-minded exposition of what Balzac considered a science degrade into satire and comic veniality as...

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17. Love, Music, and Opium: Medical Semiotics of Massimilla Doni

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pp. 230-241

This abundance of the creative principle, the root of the novella’s philosophy, expresses itself in the three forms of content my title begins with, objects of men’s desires and figures of the semiotics governing meaning in this story “rich in figures,” in Jeannine Jallat’s description (74). Music, love, and opium...

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18. The Language of Sex

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pp. 242-258

Love as Prime Mover in the Balzacian world would not be Balzacian if it did not include physical love. The word amour is ambiguous; le plaisir also. But among the different meanings of these words, there is one action that can be defined fairly unambiguously: sexual intercourse. The set of actions...

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19. Composed Past and Historical Present

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pp. 259-269

“Le passé composé,” in addition to being a verb tense (past or perfect), can be taken to refer to the past as Balzac composed it in any given text. By analogy with chemistry, the complement of composition is analysis. Together, these two processes constitute Balzac’s method: everything is either composition...

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20. Problems of Closure

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pp. 270-291

Realistic closure goes without saying. It normally lacks nothing and requires no complex elaboration, for when we think of narrative closure in a realistic work we usually have in mind the resolution of problems posed by the narration, producing the feeling of satisfaction that accompanies the completion of...

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21. Conclusion: Balzac’s Invention of Realism

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pp. 292-306

Balzac was writing in what Dominique Rabaté has called the “age of happy metonymy” (48). It was a time when discourse was confident of its power to call forth, develop, and expand narrative to the extent of imagining that it might recreate a whole from a mere fragment.1 For Balzac this notion validates...


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pp. 307-316


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pp. 317-333

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270677
E-ISBN-10: 0814270670
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211694
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211690

Page Count: 346
Illustrations: 5 line drawings, 1 photo
Publication Year: 2011