Basic principles of Balzac's work - Honore de Balzac

Essays on literary works - 2023

Basic principles of Balzac's work
Honore de Balzac

Philosophical studies give an idea - the most general - about the author's attitude to creativity ("Unknown Masterpiece"), passions and the human mind ("Search for the Absolute"), reflections on the "social driver of all events" ("Shagreen Skin"). Scenes of customs in the forms of life itself recreate reality, revealing its true essence. Because of the prejudiced portrayal of modernity, critics often called Balzac an immoral writer, to which he replied: “If the pictures drawn by the writer were false, criticism would accuse him (the author) of slandering modern society. But when criticism already recognizes them as truthful, it means that the work is not immoral. Balzac formulated the basic principles of his work in the Preface to the Human Comedy in 1842.

This is the manifesto of realistic art in France. His method is based on science. The names of nature explorers J. Cuvier, G. V. Leionitz and J. L. P. Buffon point to the sources of his theory. This is a statement of the interconnection and interdependence of all parts of a living organism, and for the writer - the unity of a social organism with its imaginary fragmentation and disunity. At the same time, it is a statement of the dependence of each organism on the environment, as well as the search for a system in the life of society and the cause-and-effect relationships of its development. Comparing the world of nature with human society, Balzac was always aware of significant differences and more causes and their great complexity when it comes to the world of people. That is why the writer argued that human society must be portrayed in constant change,

Creating his history of society as a history of customs, Balzac proceeded from the need to depict "men, women and things", understanding by "things" the material embodiment of people's thinking. Things in Balzac are the beliefs of people, the objective course of events, in the novel world they are material objects, realities characteristic of a certain historical time. It is because of this that he devotes a significant place to descriptions of the scene, portraits of characters, their clothes: all this together determines the hero’s beliefs, his social function. His realism is analytical, the author explores the causes and essence of certain types created by the social environment.

Balzac considered the social environment to be the main driver of passions and events in human society. Creating a history of the customs of his time, Balzac considered it necessary, following W. Scott, to show modern society through the image of personal relationships. In the center of his story are families and family relations, but the author shows how they obey the main trends of the time, how relations in the families of the Rastignacs, de Restos, Nusingens, Tailfers - bourgeois and aristocrats - are built on monetary calculations, as on his deathbed, Father Goriot shouts that money can buy everything, even daughters. Only the workers of Bianchon, Desplein and their ilk are capable of showing sincere human care: they were not hooked by the corrosive power of gold.

Arguing that French society itself should be a historian, and assigning himself - the author - the role of secretary, Balzac at the same time declared that the novel should be a “better world”, the writer should be equal to statesmen, since he expresses a certain idea about “human affairs” , gives a "philosophy of history", based on "complete devotion to principles". About himself, he said that he was writing the history of his society, based on the principles of religion and monarchy. Being a follower of his contemporaries-historians F. Guizot, O. Mignet, O. Thierry, Balzac, like them, did not accept the Restoration regime destroyed by the July Revolution, but, unlike them, Balzac did not see the resolution of disagreements in the July Monarchy. Trying to find social balance, he idealized a legal - legitimate - monarchy, hoping for a firm power of the king.

Resilience is created, in his opinion, and religion. But in the whole of The Human Comedy, wrote compatriot B. Andrea Wurmser, "you will not find praises of the monarchy or Catholicism." Philosophical studies. The Unknown Masterpiece (1830) is dedicated to the relationship between the truth of life and the truth of art. Particularly important are the positions of the artists Porbus (Francois Porbus the Younger (1750-1620) - a Flemish artist who worked in Paris) and Frenhofer - a personality invented by the author. The clash of their positions reveals Balzac's attitude to creativity. Frenhofer argues: "The purpose of art is not to copy nature, but to express it ... Otherwise, the sculptor would have done his job by removing a plaster copy from a woman ... We need to capture soul, content, movement and life."Frenhofer himself set himself an impossible goal, which is contrary to real art: he wants to create a living woman on the canvas with the help of paints. It even seems to him that she smiles at him, that she - his Beautiful Noiseza - breathes, her whole image - physical and spiritual - surpasses the image of a real person. But only Frenhofer sees this ideal creature and this ideally executed creature, and his students, including Porbus, in the corner of the picture saw “the tip of a bare foot, which is visible from the chaos of colors, tones, indefinite shades that form some kind of shapeless nebula - the tip of a seductive leg, a living leg.

The enthusiasm, on the one hand, for form, and, on the other hand, for the desire to put art above reality and replace reality with it, led the brilliant artist to disaster. Personally, Balzac, not accepting either subjectivity or copying in art, is convinced that it should recreate nature, capture its soul and essence. The author called the philosophical story “Shagreen Skin” (1831) “the formula of our present century, our life, our egoism”, pointing out that everything in it is “myth and symbol”.

The French word le chagrin itself can be translated as "shagreen" (shagreen skin), but it has a homonym hardly unknown to Balzac: le chagrin - "sorrow", "woe". And this is important: the fantastic, all-powerful pebbled skin, having freed the hero from poverty, actually caused even more grief. It destroyed the ability for creative impulses, the desire to enjoy life, the feeling of pity for others that unites a person with people, finally destroyed the spirituality of the one who owns it. It was because of this that Balzac made the banker Tailfer, who became rich by committing a murder, one of the first to greet Raphael de Valentin with the words: “You are ours ...”. The words: "The French are equal before the law" - henceforth for him lies, with which the charter begins. He will not obey the laws, but the laws will obey him.”

Depicting the rebirth of Raphael de Valentin after receiving millions, using the conventions allowed in the philosophical genre, Balzac created an almost fantastic picture of the existence of his hero, who, having become a servant of his wealth, turned into an automaton. The combination of philosophical fantasy and the depiction of reality in the forms of life itself determines the artistic specificity of the story. Linking the life of his hero with fantastic shagreen skin, Balzac, for example, depicted the physical suffering of Raphael, a tuberculosis patient, with medical accuracy. In "Shagreen leather"

Balzac presented a fantastic case as the quintessence of the laws of his time and, with its help, showed the main social driver of society - monetary interest, which destroys the individual. The antithesis of two female images is also subordinated to this goal - Polina, who was the embodiment of kindness, disinterested love, and Theodora, in which the soullessness, narcissism, ambition, vanity and terrible boredom inherent in society are condensed, born of the world of money, which can give everything except life and loving human heart. One of the important images of the story is the antiquarian who reveals to Raphael "the secret of human life." According to him, and they reflect Balzac's thoughts, which will be directly embodied in his novels, human life can be denoted by the verbs "wish", "be able" and "know". "Wishing burns us," he says, - and to be able - destroys, but to know gives our weak body the opportunity to always be in a calm state. All young ambitious people, scientists and poets of Balzac - Rastignac, Chardon, Sechard, Valentin are in a state of "desire".

Only those who have a strong will and know how to adapt to a society where everything is for sale and where everything is bought can achieve the state of “being able to”. Only one Rastignac himself becomes a minister, marries the heiress of millions. Chardon temporarily manages to achieve what he wants with the help of a fugitive convict Vautrin. Valentin receives a destructive, but almighty shagreen skin, which acts like Vautrin: it makes it possible to join the benefits of society, but for this it requires humility and life.