Realism of H. de Balzac - Honore de Balzac

Essays on literary works - 2023

Realism of H. de Balzac
Honore de Balzac

The formation of French realism, starting with the work of Stendhal, took place in parallel with the further development of romanticism in France. It is significant that Victor Hugo (1802-1885) and George Sand (1804-1876) were the first who came out with support and generally positively assessed the realistic searches of Stendhal and Balzac, bright representatives of French romanticism of the Restoration and Revolution of 1830 era.

In general , However, it should be emphasized that French realism, especially in the period of its formation, was not a closed and internally complete system. It arose as a natural stage in the development of the world literary process, as an integral part of it, widely using and creatively comprehending the artistic discoveries of previous and contemporary literary movements and trends, in particular romanticism.

Stendhal's treatise Racine and Shakespeare, as well as the preface to Balzac's The Human Comedy, outlined the basic principles of the rapidly developing realism in France. Revealing the essence of realistic art, Balzac wrote: "The task of art is not to copy nature, but to express it." In the preface to The Dark Case, the writer also put forward his own concept of an artistic image (“type”), emphasizing, first of all, its difference from any real person. Typicality, in his opinion, reflects in the phenomenon the most important features of the general, and only for this reason the "type" can only be "the creation of the creative activity of the artist."

"Poetry of fact", "poetry of reality" became fertile ground for realist writers. The main difference between realism and romanticism became clear. If romanticism, in creating the otherness of reality, repelled from the inner world of the writer, expressing the inner aspiration of the artist's consciousness, directed to the world of reality, then realism, on the contrary, repelled from the realities of the reality surrounding him. It was this essential difference between realism and romanticism that George Sand drew attention to in her letter to Honore de Balzac: “You take a person as he appears to your eyes, and I feel called upon to portray him as I would like to see.”

Hence the different understanding by realists and romantics of the image of the author in a work of art. For example, in The Human Comedy, the image of the author, as a rule, is not singled out as a person at all. And this is the fundamental artistic decision of Balzac the realist. Even when the image of the author expresses his own point of view, he only states the facts. The narration itself, in the name of artistic verisimilitude, is emphatically impersonal: “Although Madame de Langey did not confide her thoughts to anyone, we have the right to assume ...” (“The Duchess de Langey”); “Perhaps this story brought him back to the happy days of life ...” (“Facino Cane”); “Each of these knights, if the data is accurate ...” (“The Old Maid”).The French researcher of the "Human Comedy", a contemporary of the writer A. Wurmser, believed that Honore de Balzac "can be called Darwin's predecessor", because "he develops the concept of the struggle for existence and natural selection." In the writer’s works, the “struggle for existence” is the pursuit of material values, and “natural selection” is the principle according to which the strongest wins and survives in this struggle, the one in whom cold calculation kills all living human feelings.

At the same time, the realism of Balzac, in its accents, differs significantly from the realism of Stendhal. If Balzac, as the “secretary of French society”, “first of all paints its customs, customs and laws, without shying away from psychologism, then Stendhal, as an “observer of human characters”, is primarily a psychologist.

The core of the composition of Stendhal's novels is invariably the story of one person, from which his favorite "memoir-biographical" development of the narrative originates. In the novels of Balzac, especially of the later period, the composition is “eventful”, it is always based on a case that unites all the characters, involving them in a complex cycle of actions, one way or another connected with this case. Therefore, Balzac the narrator embraces with his mind's eye the vast expanses of the social and moral life of his heroes, digging to the historical truth of his age, to those social conditions that form the characters of his heroes.

The originality of Balzac's realism was most clearly manifested in the writer's novel "Father Goriot" and in the story "Gobsek", associated with the novel by some common characters.