- Balzac, Literary Sociologist by Allan H. Pasco
In his tenth book, Balzac, Literary Sociologist, Allan H. Pasco displays the broad proficiency of a cultural historian and the meticulousness of a literary specialist, securing once again his place amongst top Balzacian scholars and dix-neuviémistes. Arguing that Honoré de Balzac was more than a talented storyteller and was, in fact, a "proto-sociologist" (viii) with "a desire to explain the organization of existence" (19), Pasco explores ten of Balzac's lesser-studied works from Scènes de la vie de province. While many scholars acclaim Balzac's ability to tell a good story , Pasco claims the "historical and sociological unity of his composition" (176) evidenced in this section of La comédie humaine demonstrates his interest and mastery in "[detailing] the interpersonal causes, effects, problems, and potential remedies" of July Monarchy France (23). Pasco ultimately argues that "the first step toward an adequate interpretation of [End Page 144] [Balzac's] artistry is to recognize that his 'fiction' is rather shallow […], but that he has with considerable accuracy recreated an entire 'background' society" (234).
In each chapter, Pasco focuses on an individual work (Ursule Mirouët, Eugénie Grandet, Pierrette, Le curé de Tours, La rabouilleuse, "L'illustre Gaudissart," La muse du département, La vieille fille, Le cabinet des antiques, Illusions perdues), highlighting Balzac's most effective and favorite literary devices such as "allusive oppositions" (83), "narratological repetitions" (110), tragedy and comedy, and the mock heroic. Without fail, Pasco examines the etymologies and allusions of character names and story titles, retells the intrigue of each story often focusing on female protagonists, illuminates details such as Birotteau's silver shoe buckle in Le curé de Tours (106) and the symbolic boue of Illusions perdues (217), and examines deeper connections between the works themselves (La vieille fille and Le cabinet des antiques in chapters 9 and 10, for instance). The book reads cohesively and repeatedly supports Pasco's assertation that what Balzac sought through his narrative scaffolding and background development was a solution to the "nation's troubles" (249): the gerontocracy needed to make room for the youth, and the provincials needed to "move into the modern age" (249).
Throughout this important and refined work, Pasco defines his terminology and methodologies, references essential secondary studies, examines inter- and cross-textual allusions (Paul et Virginie, Adolphe, etc.), and details key social and interpersonal issues raised by Balzac—religion, capitalism, inheritance, class conflict, abuse, sterility, journalism and art, provincial verses Parisian life—thus creating a comprehensive yet accessible work suitable for literature students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The introduction is especially strong and appropriate for pedagogical use as it concisely recaps the tumultuous conflicts of nineteenth-century France while providing a historiography of contributions to the field of Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary studies. French scholars of all sorts will be inspired to (re)read Balzac (the little-known Pierrette, for example) and will learn undoubtedly from Pasco's literary-sociological lens and clear, eloquent writing style. [End Page 145]