Personality and Society in Balzac’s Novels
The most perfect examples of Balzac are the novels “Lost Illusions” and “Peasants”. In these works, society itself really becomes a historian. For the first time, in the Lost Illusions, the writer and then literature appeared to have a “self-movement” of society: they began to live independently in the novel, showing their needs, their essence, and diverse social strata.
The provincial bourgeoisie in the person of the Cuente brothers and father Seshar was able to ruin and dishonor the honest talented inventor David Seshar. The provincial aristocrats and the provincial bourgeois penetrate the Paris salons, borrow their ways of making a career by destroying rivals. The Parisians themselves … bloodless, but in a fierce struggle, the state of swagger, political, and salon intrigues gain a privileged position, thereby causing the envy and hatred of the vanquished.
Balzac shows how success and success are sold and bought in personal life, art, politics, and commerce. We see that in this world only the strength and unscrupulousness that create external brilliance are valued. Humanity, honesty, talent are not needed by this society. The most remarkable story for the laws of society is the story of David Séchard, a talented inventor who had to give up work on his discovery, and – especially the poet Lucien Chardon.
This is their path – the path of losing illusions, a characteristic phenomenon in France. Lucien is like a young Rastignac, but without the willpower and cynical willingness to sell himself, and Raphael de Valantin – who is addicted, but lacks the strength to conquer this world himself.
Lucien is immediately distinguished from David Séchard by a craving for respect and selfishness. His naivety, reverie, ability to fall under the influence of others leads to disaster: he actually renounces his talent, becomes a corrupt journalist, carries out dishonorable acts and ends with suicide in prison, horrified by the chain of actions he has committed. Balzac shows how the illusions of a young man who knows the inhuman laws of the modern world are scattered.
These laws are the same for the province and the capital – in Paris they are more cynical and at the same time more hidden under the guise of hypocrisy.
Balzac’s novels indicate that society dooms a person to abandon illusions. For honest people, this means deepening in personal life, as happened with David Seshar and his wife Eve. Some heroes learn to profitably trade their beliefs and talents.
But only those who, like Rastignac, have a strong will and are not exposed to the temptation of sensuality can win. An exception are members of the Commonwealth, to which Lucien Chardon joins for a certain time. This is an association of disinterested and talented ministers of science, art, public figures who live in cold attics, who live from hand to mouth, but do not renounce their beliefs.
These people help each other, do not seek fame, but are inspired by the idea to benefit society and develop their field of knowledge or art.
At the heart of their life is work. The Commonwealth is led by Daniel D’Artez, a writer and philosopher whose aesthetic program is similar to that of Balzac himself. The Commonwealth includes Republican Michel Chretien, who dreams of a European Federation. But the author himself realizes that the Commonwealth is a dream, because of this, its members are mostly only schematically depicted, the scenes of their meetings are somewhat sentimental, which is unusual for the talent of the author of “Human Comedy”.
Balzac himself called the novel “Peasants” “research”, he examined the opposition of the new nobility that appeared during the time of Napoleon, the bourgeoisie and the peasantry, and this is for him a class that “will someday swallow the bourgeoisie, like the bourgeoisie devoured the nobility in its time”.
Balzac does not idealize the peasants – nevertheless, they are not only extortionists and deceivers from him: they remember 1789 well, they know that the revolution did not liberate them, that all their prosperity, as once, is a hoe, and that lord the same, although it is now called Work. An unclean, lying and dark peasant Furson appears before the readers as a kind of philosopher, a revolutionary in his soul, who remembers the years of the revolution: “The curse of poverty, Your Excellency,” he says to the general, “grows and grows much higher than your highest oaks and gallows are made of oaks … ”
The spirit of the revolution lived in the memory of the people. It is precisely because of this that the oppressed peasant turns out to be the accuser of the gentlemen who do not respect him. This is the result of a “study” conducted by Balzac in this novel.
The melodramatic finale of the work does not belong to its author, but was completed at the request of the widow of the writer Evelina Ganskaya.