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A Note on Balzac and Galdós

From: Anales Galdosianos
Volume 47, 2012
pp. 11-21 | 10.1353/ang.2012.0009

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The first time I read Balzac's Les employés was in 1957, after I had read Ricardo Gullón's splendid edition of Miau. It was a professional reading. I was looking for clues to corroborate what Professor Gullón had found about the possible influence of Balzac's novel on Galdós's. Therefore, I focused on the Galdós novel mentioned by him. A recent casual, and un-professional second reading of Balzac's novel in an English translation published in the Centennial Edition of his works surprised me. It is this surprise that I wish to share with my fellow galdosistas.

Of course, the presence of Balzac in Galdós has been the subject of many studies throughout the years. Professor Stephen Gilman in his wonderful book on Galdós devoted an interesting chapter that he called "A Colloquium of Novelists" in which he presents "the notion of a spontaneous and intuitive dialogue" (154) among novelists during the XIX th Century. Thus, it is not surprising that in our readings, however casual, of Galdós's novels we may find echoes of Cervantes, Dickens, Balzac, or themes that appear in novelists such as Flaubert, James, Tolstoy. In the particular case of Les employés there have been several detailed studies of its presence in Miau. Ricardo Gullón's, however, seems to have been the first one to have specifically mentioned Les employés as a source for Miau in his "Estudio preliminar" (subsequently republished under the title of Galdós, novelista moderno). It is important to stress anew what Gullón concludes after pointing out similarities and differences between these two novels:

No tiene sentido plantear el problema de las influencias sino es para mostrar cómo, arrancando de una experiencia común, se escriben dos obras, la primera de las cuales incita al autor de la segunda no a imitar (my italics), sino a corregir -si puede decirse así sin atribuir la menor petulancia a la actitud galdosiana -y a superar las insuficiencias de aquélla.


Keeping in mind this wise advice, I should like to write about the experience I had when reading Les employés the second time, as mentioned at the beginning. As I advanced in my reading of it, another novel kept appearing in my subconscious until it became impossible to disregard it. What was there, before my mind's eye was, in addition to Miau, La de Bringas.

It is interesting to note, before going any further, that Balzac's novel, originally dated July 1836, had "appeared in the Presse just a year after its composition, but it was called La femme supérieure, which name it kept on its publication by Werdet as a book in 1838" (Saintsbury xii). The interest here lies in the fact that Balzac's first intention was to emphasize the plot dealing with Célestine Rabourdin's social ambitions and her relationship to her husband Xavier and to the secretary-general Clément Chardin des Lupeaulx. It is this triangle that first linked for me Balzac's novel to La de Bringas with its own triangle Rosalía-don Francisco-Pez. But besides that, Balzac's description of des Lupeaulx immediately called to my mind don Manuel María José del Pez: "Selfish and vain; supple and proud; sensual and gluttonous [...] the secretary-general was one among the crowd of mediocrities which form the kernel of the political world" (225).

What unites Célestine and Rosalía are their social ambitions and the length they are willing, or not, to go in order to obtain their desired ends. However, as the original title that Balzac chose for his novel indicates, Célestine is a "superior woman," morally and intellectually, something that could hardly be said about Rosalía de Bringas.

In the present form that we read Les employés today, it begins with a portrait of its female protagonist, Célestine Rabourdin, née Leprince. She was the only daughter of one M. Leprince, a retired and reputedly wealthy auctioneer. Xavier Rabourdin, the male protagonist, fell in love with Mlle. Leprince, then seventeen years old. She was endowed with two hundred...

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