Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Currencies: Fiscal Fortunes and Cultural Capital in Nineteenth-Century France, ed. Sarah Capitanio, Lisa, Downing, Paul Rowe, & Nicholas White (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2005). Copyright © 2005 Peter Lang AG.


Seen from an Olympian perspective, globalisation in today's world denotes the use of a standard model to establish relationships economic, cultural, and moral—across peoples in the absence of national boundaries capable of restraining the formation of such ties. From the national, or local, perspective, it is the invasive imposition of foreign influence in the form of a single model. From either vantage point, change and adaptation are the order of the day. Take-overs of one culture by another, whether hostile or friendly, are not historical novelties; what seems to distinguish globalisation is its planetary scope and impetus to take over aIl cultures with a single model. There is evidence of such a dynamic in La Comédie humaine, where French political and social instability of the post-revolutionary period was but an example, albeit the most important one, of a world-wide condition of developing capitalism. This dynamic was not leading to a world without borders, however, but to a changed cultural identity within the old confines; Balzac could not have known it, of course, but he was describing the formation of the modem nation-state. Of the many factors contributing to Balzac's social dynamism, I have chosen to focus on an aspect of the economic interplay between local currencies and the global monetary value represented by gold, specifically the embodiment of this interplay in the type of character who is able to move seamlessly between the two. That character-type is a transitional figure in Balzac's universe, ushering in new social and economic values that are not only foreign but also global in significance. Shunning the traditional stereotype of the Jew as such a figure, referring as it does to a now lost cultural past, Balzac privileges the figure of the partially assimilated Jew and its variants to mark specifically a society in transition.