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Inscriptive masculinity in Balzac's "Comedie humaine"

Alana K Eldrige, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This reading of La Comédie humaine traces the narrative paradigm of the young hero within Balzac’s literary universe. A dynamic literary signifier in nineteenth-century literature, the young hero epitomizes the problematic existence encountered by the individual in post-revolutionary France. At the same time, he serves as a mouth-piece for an entire youthful generation burdened by historical memory. Left to assert his position in a society devoid of legitimate authority, the young hero seeks avenues for historical self-creation. And, at every turn, he is reminded of the illegitimacy of his own position. The historical dead-end experienced by the young hero serves therefore as a springboard upon which Balzac launches his own aesthetic enterprise. In the author’s repeated denial of the possibility for restoration, underscoring the division between past and present in the nineteenth-century historical consciousness, Balzac wishes to simulate its reconciliation through a writing of continuity. In exploring the fatal legacy of Napoleon’s self-generative imperative, Balzac reveals a lopsided vision of the young hero. Dictated by a politics of gender or the ideological softening of the masculine portrait portrayed in art and in literature, Balzac establishes a critical framework for an aesthetic reading of his disempowered or feminized young hero. His assertion of the textual model’s corrective - to posit an absolute - is revealed in the poetic enterprise of re-Creation; that is, the “creative pact,” or a poetical contract ( a poésie du mal) designed to rewrite origins, and reinstate masculine authority. In pushing the dialectic for creation to its extreme, Balzac attaches a performative value to the young hero, scripting him thus as a literary signifier ordained to rival natural creation. However, the discourse of youth and the hero, emphasizing an important development in the Balzacian novel, reveals a young hero that is finally impotent. While Balzac does not give up on the potential for self-realization, the locus for recreation in post-revolutionary society is posited as exterior to France and, by extension, exterior to the French novel.^

Subject Area

Language, Modern|Literature, Romance

Recommended Citation

Eldrige, Alana K, "Inscriptive masculinity in Balzac's "Comedie humaine"" (2009). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3350446.