Balzac, James, and the Realistic Novel

Balzac, James, and the Realistic Novel

William W. Stowe
Copyright Date: 1983
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zv29j
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  • Book Info
    Balzac, James, and the Realistic Novel
    Book Description:

    This book has a double purpose: to compare the literary projects, theories, and careers of Balzac and Henry James, and to develop a theory of realism that can account for their unabashed mimetic intentions and for their novels' sophisticated textuality.

    Originally published in 1986.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5707-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. NOTE ON TEXTS AND TRANSLATIONS
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. 1 Systematic Realism
    (pp. 3-20)

    One clue to the similarity between Balzac’s project for the realistic novel and James’s can be found in their common understanding of the place of subject matter in the novel-writing process. Both writers seem to have believed they had found the appropriate subject matter ready to hand in the world. In fact, they created the “reality” they claimed to have discovered.¹

    In the preface toUne Fille d’EveBalzac explains his choice of subject matter this way:

    The author does not yet know of any observer who has noticed how much French manners excel those of other countries, literarily speaking,...

  7. 2 Interpretation: Le Père Goriot and The American
    (pp. 21-55)

    In some forms of the novel of education the projected reader learns the same lessons as the main character: how to behave in society, say, or how to use one’s native grit, pluck, and, of course, honesty, to turn a tidy profit in some great free-enterprise jungle. In other, more sophisticated forms, the reader maintains a certain distance from the characters, and learns a different though related set of lessons. In both cases, however, the reader ideally takes part in, rather than simply observing, an educational process.

    InLe Père GoriotandThe Americanthe reader learns one set of...

  8. 3 Representation: Illusions perdues and The Princess Casamassima
    (pp. 56-99)

    We value models for their elegance and for their representational power. Model airplanes and doll-houses delight children because they are attractive and because they stand for the real thing. Mathematical formulas and computer programs please their makers by their simplicity, their efficiency, and their ability to stand for economic systems, physical laws and functions, and so on. Realistic novels attract readers by their literary qualities and by their faithful representations of human experience.

    The novels of James and Balzac present their readers with two kinds of models, representing simultaneously the physical, social world, and the various processes of representation itself,...

  9. 4 Late Balzacian Realism: La Cousine Bette
    (pp. 100-129)

    Balzac and James never ceased to be interested in the problematics of interpretation and representation, but they did sometimes, especially in their later years, produce texts which assume the complex nature of these processes without thematizing them. Such texts are less self-reflexive, less overtly meta-textual than the ones we have been examining, but they are not for this reason any less sophisticated, either artistically or epistemologically. Indeed, the two texts to which we turn now are not only among their authors’ most complex and successful productions, they also represent significant new solutions to the problems of realistic writing and, despite...

  10. 5 Realism, the Drama of Consciousness, and the Text: The Wings of the Dove
    (pp. 130-170)

    InThe Wings of the DoveJames develops two strategies for realism which could be seen as syntheses of Balzac’s techniques inLa Cousine Bette. First, he broadens and deepens the model of the theater of the passions, combining its conventional plot structure and its tendency to allegory with his own newly-developed notions of the place of the dramatic in prose fiction. The result is what he calls a “drama of consciousness”¹ in which some of the dramatic action is displaced from the stage of the world to the stage of the characters’ minds, and the drama of the clash...

  11. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 171-174)

    French avant-garde writers and critics of the last forty years or so have seen their work as a reaction against something they condescendingly refer to as “Balzacian realism.” This mythical mode of writing is defined, oddly enough, by reference not to Balzac’s fictions, but to his brief “Avant-propos” and to those introductions to the various sections of theComédie humainecomposed at his behest by Félix Davin.¹

    When critics of Balzacian realism take the time, as Roland Barthes did, toreadBalzac, they discover not the transparent reportage that Balzac may have had and that Davin certainly did have in...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 175-200)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 201-204)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-205)