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WiUiam W. Stowe. Balzac, James, and the Realistic Novel. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1983. xviii, 203 pp. $23.00. $10.50 pb. Henry James acknowledged his appreciation for the work of Balzac more emphaticaUy than he did for that of any other novelist. We have a written record of James's admiration and indebtedness—as he himself called it—from the chapter on Balzac in French Poets and Novelists (1878) to "The Lesson of Balzac" (1905). Given the extent of James's interest in Balzac (and other French novelists), it is not surprising that a fair amount of work has been done in the last fifteen years on James and the great French realists. GeneraUy speaking, this work has been of one of two types. Adeline Tintner's articles are representative of the source studies that constitute the first type. The second type considers James and the French novelists in the light of their historical, intellectual, and artistic context; LyaU H. Powers' Henry James and the Naturalist Movement is a classic example of this type. Also of this type are the subject of this review, WilUam Stowe's Balzac, James, and the Realistic Novel, and the finest comparative study of Balzac and James yet written, Peter Brooks's The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess (1976; 1985). Brooks's book is not without relevance here, for not only do Stowe's ideas owe much to Brooks—as Stowe admits (xiv)—but the method of Stowe's overaU argument is similar to that of Brooks. The Melodramatic Imagination derives a working definition of "melodrama" from French nineteenth-century theater and then applies this definition to novels of Balzac and James. The only disappointment for James scholars is that Brooks's ultimate focus is neither on James nor on Balzac but on the manner in which his own definition of melodrama does or does not apply to nineteenth-century fiction. As the conclusion of the book suggests, the novels of other (though not all) writers could have been used as examples in place of those of Balzac and James. The novels of James and Balzac are unquestionably the primary focus of Balzac, James, and the Realistic Novel; however, at the same time, Stowe uses Balzac's and James's novels to support his broader understanding of realism—an understanding that, commendably, does not attempt "to rival . . . Auerbach or Lukács, Fanger or Levin," but to "accommodate various ideological positions" (19). Stowe's definition of realism ("systematic realism," as he calls it) stresses both mimesis and textuality. Balzac's and James's realism is "concerned with the faithful representation of the world as they see it, with the textual simulation of systems in that world, and with the production of literary systems which are convincing analogues of worldly experience." At the same time, their novels "are selective, emphasizing and exploring particular structures of experience rather than attempting to reproduce experience itself." Four chapters devoted to close readings are the heart of Balzac, James, and the Realistic Novel. Each chapter considers one novel by Balzac and one by James (the last pair takes two chapters). Le Père Goriot and The American are subjects of the first chapter; Illusions perdues and The Princess Casamassima are looked at in the second; and the third and fourth chapters examine La Cousine Bette and The Wings of the Dove. The pairings, thus, are presented chronologically, as each author's early, middle, and late periods are represented. This arrangement is not 222 The Henry James Review coincidental, since Stowe is able to show that the careers of the two novelists are "congruent": they chose "to explore similar patterns of experience at similar stages of their artistic development" (20). There is an additional reason for Stowe's choice of pairings. His point is to show that a particular function or process is especiaUy important in each pair of novels. In the first pair, The American and Le Père Goriot, "experience is seen in terms of the process of interpretation" (20); representation is the important process in Illusions perdues and The Princess Casamassima. FinaUy, in La Cousine Bette and The Wings of the Dove...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 221-223
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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