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THREE PARADIGMS AND PROFESSIONALISM B A L Z A C I A N R E A L I S M I N D I S C U R S I V E C O N T E X T F LAUBERT WAS IN THE MIDST of composing Madame Bovary when he wrote to Louise Colet, on December 27, 1852, “in the grip of a ghastly terror.” This sensation had been provoked , Flaubert went on to explain, by his discovery of an uncanny resemblance between Balzac’s Louis Lambert and his own experience: “Lambert is, in all but a few particulars, my poor Alfred. I have found some of our sentences (from years ago) almost word for word: the conversationsbetweenthetwoschoolfriendsareourconversations,or analogous. There is a story about the manuscript stolen by the two of them, and remarks made by the schoolmaster—all of which happened to me, etc. etc.”1 To find one’s life anticipated in this way was frightening enough in itself, but what made matters even worse was that Balzac seemedtohaveanticipatedFlaubert’s textaswell:“Mymothershowed me a scene in Balzac’s Un Médecin de campagne [sic] (she discovered it yesterday) exactly the same as one in my Bovary: a visit to a wet nurse. (I had never read that book, any more than I had Louis Lambert.) There are the same details, the same effects, the same meaning.” Recognizing thathehadbeenunconsciouslytranscribingidéesreçue,Flaubertfound himself on the brink of panic. Only his confidence that his style eclipsedBalzac’sgavehimthestrengthofmindtoquelltheanxietyhe feltatdiscoveringhisrealistpredecessor’sversionofanovelincluding a country doctor: “One would think I had copied it, if it weren’t that my page is infinitely better written, no boasting intended.” That Le Médecin de campagne, of all Balzac’s novels, should give rise to such a strong anxiety of influence in Flaubert is surprising, in view of that novel’s relatively marginal status in the Balzacian canon.2 Despite Balzac’s own claim that it formed the keystone to the entire Comédie,LeMédecinhasbeenrelegatedbymostliterarycriticstosecondary status. Tagged as one of Balzac’s utopian fictions, it is not considered an important realistic novel of the caliber of Le Père Goriot, Illusions perdues, or Eugènie Grandet. Literary histories of realism usually broach the comparison between Balzac and Flaubert by citing one of PARA DIGM S AND PROF ESSIONA LISM 47 these latter novels. Yet for Flaubert himself, Le Médecin was the novel thatmosturgentlyforcedhimtoassertastylisticidentitydistinct from his literary forefather’s. Flaubert’s aesthetic anxiety raises a number of questions for anyone interested in discriminating not only among various realisms, but between realism and utopianism as literary modes.Whatrelationshipcanbeestablishedbetweenthissupposedly utopian novel and Balzacian realism in general? If Le Médecin and Madame Bovary share certain sentences in common (as well as certain aspectsofsettingandcharacterconveyedthroughthesesentences ),can we move beyond Flaubert’s defensive value judgment about how his prose is “infinitely better written,” to clarify the differences in generic presuppositions that make the same sentence function as a different statement in the two novels?3 Can we then rely on these differences to develop some nonaxiological precepts about the nature of Balzacian realism?If, as I suggest inthe previous chapter, Flaubert’s realism can be described as “medical,” and if Balzac’s utopianism stands in some close relation to that medical perspective, Balzac’s realism may also turn out to be medical in its own distinctive way—a way that makes it possible for Balzac to imagine a utopia where the physician rules as hero,ratherthan(aswithFlaubert)onlyarealisticworldpremisedon the absence of that heroic physician. I shall return to these questions later in this chapter. Here I simply wouldlike tostresshow such questions fitintothelarger debate about the history of the realistic novel. That Balzac and Flaubert belong within a single literary tradition called realism has been relatively firmly established by critics of widely varying persuasions. But in agreeing on a coherent line of descent, modern critics have hardly escaped the anxiety Flaubert himself registers about his relation to Balzac. Critics cope with their anxiety, most commonly, just as Flaubert does—by making a value judgment in favor of one or the other novelist, so that each stands as the negation or antithesis of the other. Thus Balzac is “classical,” Flaubert “modern”; Balzac is “readerly,” Flaubert “writerly”; Balzac lacks Flaubert’s style, Flaubert lacks Balzac’s energy; Balzac’s realism is “critical,” Flaubert’s is “merely descriptive.”4 Such “simple abstractions” (to borrow a phrase from Marx) may sootheone’sangst,buttheydonotgoveryfarinprovidingsatisfactory answers to the general questions that anyone interested in realism is...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400820689
Related ISBN
9780691029542
MARC Record
OCLC
179077097
Pages
252
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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