Introduction to the Dramas of Balzac

Introduction to the Dramas of Balzac


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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Introduction to the Dramas of Balzac, by Epiphanius Wilson and J. Walker McSpaddenThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it,give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online atwww.gutenberg.orgTitle: Introduction to the Dramas of BalzacAuthor: Epiphanius Wilson and J. Walker McSpaddenRelease Date: February 3, 2006 [EBook #8598]Language: English*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK DRAMAS OF BALZAC ***Produced by John Bickers and DagnyINTRODUCTION TO THE DRAMAS OF BALZACBYEPIPHANIUS WILSON AND J. WALKER MCSPADDENCONTENTS Balzac as a Dramatist By Epiphanius Wilson Introduction By J. Walker McSpaddenBALZAC AS A DRAMATISTBYEPIPHANIUS WILSONHonore de Balzac is known to the world in general as a novel-writer, a producer of romances, in which begin the reign ofrealism in French fiction. His Comedie Humaine is a description of French society, as it existed from the time of theRevolution to that of the Restoration. In this series of stories we find the author engaged in analyzing the manners,motives and external life of the French man and woman in all grades of society. When we open these volumes, we entera gallery of striking and varied pictures, which glow with all the color, chiaroscuro and life-like detail of a Dutch panel. Thepower of Balzac is unique as a descriptive writer; ...



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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Introduction tothe Dramas of Balzac, by Epiphanius Wilson and J.Walker McSpaddenThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere atno cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under theterms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.orgTitle: Introduction to the Dramas of BalzacAuthor: Epiphanius Wilson and J. WalkerMcSpaddenRelease Date: February 3, 2006 [EBook #8598]Language: English*E*B* OSTOAK RDT ROAFM TAHSI SO FP RBOALJZEACCT  *G**UTENBERGProduced by John Bickers and Dagny
Honore de Balzac is known to the world in generalas a novel-writer, a producer of romances, in whichbegin the reign of realism in French fiction. HisComedie Humaine is a description of Frenchsociety, as it existed from the time of theRevolution to that of the Restoration. In this seriesof stories we find the author engaged in analyzingthe manners, motives and external life of theFrench man and woman in all grades of society.When we open these volumes, we enter a galleryof striking and varied pictures, which glow with allthe color, chiaroscuro and life-like detail of a Dutchpanel. The power of Balzac is unique as adescriptive writer; his knowledge of the femaleheart is more profound, and covers a far widerrange than anything exhibited by a provincialauthor, such as Richardson. But he has also themarvelous faculty of suggesting spiritual facts inthe life and consciousness of his characters, by thepicturesque touches with which he brings before ustheir external surroundings—the towns, streets andhouses in which they dwell; the furniture,ornaments and arrangement of their rooms, andthe clothes they wear. He depends upon thesedetails for throwing into relief such a portrait as thatof Pons or Madame Hulot. He himself wasindividualized by his knobbed cane abroad, and hisBenedictine habit and statuette of Napoleon athome; but every single one of his creations seemsto have in some shape or other a cane, a robe or adecorative attribute, which distinguishes eachindividual, as if by a badge, from every othermember of the company in the Comedy of Life.
The art of characterization exhibited by the authorfascinates us; we gaze and examine as if we wereface to face with real personages, whose passionsare laid bare, whose life is traced, whosecountenance is portrayed with miraculousness,distinctness and verisimilitude. All the phenomenaof life in the camp, the court, the boudoir, the lowfaubourg, or the country chateau are ranged inorder, and catalogued. This is done with relentlessaudacity, often with a touch of grotesqueexaggeration, but always with almost wearyingminuteness. Sometimes this great writer finds thata description of actuality fails to give the truespiritual key to a situation, and he overflows intoallegory, or Swendenborgian mysticism, just asBastien-Lepage resorts to a coating of actual gilt,in depicting that radiant light in his Jeanne d'Arcwhich flat pigment could not adequately represent.But this very effort of Balzac to attain realisticcharacterization has resulted in producing what theordinary reader will look upon as a defect in hisstories. When we compared above the stories ofthis writer to a painting, we had been as near thetruth, if we had likened them to a reflection orphotograph of a scene. For in a painting, the artistat his own will arranges the light and shade andgroups, and combines according to his own fancythe figures and objects which he finds in nature. Herepresents not what is, but what might be, anactual scene. He aims at a specific effect. To thiseffect everything is sacrificed, for his work is asynthesis, not a mere analysis. Balzac does notaim at an effect, above and independent of his
analysis. His sole effort is to emphasize the factswhich his analysis brings to light, and when he hassucceeded in this, the sole end he aims at isattained. Thus action is less important in hisestimation than impression. His stories aretherefore often quite unsymmetrical, evenanecdotic, in construction; some of them are mereepisodes, in which the action is irrelevant, andsometimes he boldly ends an elaborate romancewithout any dramatic denouement at all. Webelieve that Honore de Balzac was the first ofEuropean writers to inaugurate the novel withoutdenouement, and to give the world examples of theliterary torso whose beauty and charm consist notin its completeness, but in the vigor and life-likeanimation of the lines, features, and contours of adetached trunk.It is not surprising, therefore, that when we cometo study the dramas of Balzac we find that the veryqualities that give effectiveness to a stagerepresentation are wanting in them. For thequalities which make a realistic tale impressiverender a play intolerable. Thus Balzac's stagepieces are interesting, exciting and vivid in manypassages, but they cannot stand the searchingglare of the footlights. Balzac, in the first place,looked upon the drama as a department ofliterature inferior to that of romance, andsomewhat cavalierly condescended to the stagewithout reckoning on either its possibilities or itslimitations. He did not take to play-writing becausehe had exhausted his vein of fiction, but becausehe was in need of money. This was during the last
years of his life. In this period he wrote the fiveplays which are included in the authorized editionof his works.Balzac's first play was Vautrin, and Vautrin appearsas the name of the most astonishing and mostoriginal character which Balzac has created andintroduced in the five or six greatest novels of theComedy. So transcendent, super-human andsatanic is Vautrin, Herrera, or Jacques Collin, ashe is indifferently called, that a French critic hasinterpreted this personage as a mere allegoricalembodiment of the seductions of Parisian life, asthey exist side by side with the potency andresourcefulness of crime in the French metropolis.Vautrin is described in the Comedie Humaine asthe tempter and benefactor of Lucien deRubempre, whom he loves with an intensedevotion, and would exploit as a power andinfluence in the social, literary and political world.The deep-dyed criminal seems to live a life ofpleasure, fashion and social rank in the person ofthis protege. The abnormal, and in some degreequixotic, nature of this attachment is a purelyBalzacian conception, and the contradictionsinvolved in this character, with all the intellectualand physical endowments which pertain to it, aresometimes such as to bring the sublime in perilousproximity to the ridiculous. How such a fantasticcreation can be so treated as to do less violence tothe laws of artistic harmony and reserve may beseen in Hugo's Valjean, which was undoubtedlysuggested by Balzac's Vautrin. In the play of
Vautrin, the main character, instead of appearingsublime, becomes absurd, and the action is utterlydestitute of that plausibility and coherence whichshould make the most improbable incidents of aplay hang together with logical sequence.Balzac in the Resources of Quinola merelyreproduces David Sechard, though he places himin the reign of Philip the Second of Spain. He wentfar out of his way to make Fontanares the firstinventor of the steamboat; the improbability of sucha supposition quite forfeits the interest of thespectators and, in attempting to effect a lovedenouement, he disgusts us by uniting the noblediscoverer with the vile Faustine. Even the elementof humor is wanting in his portrayal of Quinola—who is a combination of the slave in a Latincomedy and the fool, or Touchstone ofShakespeare. This play is, however, ingenious,powerful and interesting in many passages.Pamela Giraud is fantastic and painful in its plot.Balzac's ideal woman, the Pauline of the Peau deChagrin, is here placed in a situation revolting evento a Parisian audience; but the selfish worldlinessof the rich and noble is contrasted with the puredisinterestedness of a poor working girl in all ofBalzac's strongest, most searching style. Thedenouement is well brought about and satisfactory,but scarcely atones for the outrageous nature ofthe principal situation.aBnaldz tahc e wlifaes  oefs phiesc iraollmy aan nceosv eilsi stth oef  lihfies  hoew sn apwe rgiooidn,g
on around him. The principal character in TheStepmother is a Napoleonist general typical ofmany who must have lived in the first half of thenineteenth century. The ruling passion of Generalde Grandchamp is hatred for those who desertedthe cause or forsook the standard of the FirstConsul. This antipathy is exaggerated by Balzacinto murderous hatred, and is the indirect cause ofdeath to the General's daughter, Pauline, and herlover, the son of a soldier of the First Empire, who,by deserting Napoleon, had fallen under the Comtede Grandchamp's ban. The situation is, however,complicated by the guilty passion which Gertrude,the stepmother of Pauline and wife of theGeneral's old age, feels for the lover of Pauline.The main interest of the drama lies in the strugglebetween these two women, every detail of which iselaborated with true Balzacian gusto and insight.We expect to see virtue triumphant, and Paulineunited to the excellent Ferdinand. When they bothdie of poison, and Gertrude becomes repentant,we feel that the denouement is not satisfactory.The jealousy of the woman and the hatred of theman have not blended properly.But there can be no doubt at all that if Balzac hadlived, he might have turned out a successfulplaywright. When he began his career as adramatic writer he was like a musician taking up anunfamiliar instrument, an organist who was tryingthe violin, or a painter working in an unknownmedium. His last written play was his best.Fortunately, the plot did not deal with any of thosedesperate love passions which Balzac in his novels
has analyzed and described with such relentlessand even brutal frankness. It is filled throughoutwith a genial humanity, as bright and as expressiveas that which fills the atmosphere of She Stoops toConquer or A School for Scandal. The charactersare neither demons, like Cousin Betty, nor recklessdebauchees, like Gertrude in The Stepmother. Thewhole motif is comic. Moliere himself might havelent a touch of his refined and fragrant wit to thecomposition; and the situation is one which theauthor could realize from experience, but had onlylearned to regard from a humorous standpoint inthe ripeness of his premature old age. Balzacmakes money rule in his stories, as the mostpotent factor of social life. He describes poverty asthe supreme evil, and wealth as the object ofuniversal aspiration. In line with this attitude comesMercadet with his trials and schemes. Scenes ofridiculous surprises succeed each other till by thereturn of the absconder with a large fortune, thegreedy, usurious creditors are at last paid in full,and poetic justice is satisfied by the marriage ofJulie to the poor man of her choice.EPIPHANIUS WILSON.INTRODUCTIONBY
J. WALKER MCSPADDENThe greatest fame of Balzac will rest in the future,as in the past, upon his novels and short stories.These comprise the bulk of his work and his mostnoteworthy effort—an effort so pronounced as tohide all side-excursions. For this reason his chiefside-excursion—into the realms of drama—hasbeen almost entirely overlooked. Indeed, many ofhis readers are unaware that he ever wrote plays,while others have passed them by with the ideathat they were slight, devoid of interest, and to beclassified with the Works of Youth. Completeeditions—so-called—of Balzac's works havefostered this belief by omitting the dramas; and ithas remained for the present edition to include, forthe first time, this valuable material, not alone forits own sake, but also in order to show the many-sided author as he was, in all his efficiencies andoccasional deficiencies.For those readers who now make the acquaintanceof the dramas, we would say briefly that the BalzacTheatre comprises five plays —Vautrin, LesRessources de Quinola, Pamela Giraud, LaMaratre, and Mercadet. These plays are in prose.They do not belong to the apprenticeship period ofthe Works of Youth, but were produced in theheyday of his powers, revealing the mature manand the subtle analyst of character, not at his best,but at a point far above his worst. True, theirproduction aroused condemnation on the part ofmany contemporary dramatic critics, and were thesource of much annoyance and little financial gain