Marcel Proust’s relationship with Balzac and his work was ambivalent. He didn’t like how Balzac didn’t want to separate life and fiction. He puts, Proust wrote in his Saint-Beuve essay, “the triumphs achieved in life on the same level as those in literature.” He also had only limited use for Balzac’s style.
Balzac’s style suggests nothing, it reflects nothing, it explains.
Marcel Proust in “Against Saint-Beuve”
“Strictly speaking,” Proust said, one cannot speak of a style in this case. While he sensed a “uniform substance with large surfaces of uniform luster” in Flaubert, he could only recognize a stylistic chaos in Balzac, “elements of a future, not yet existing style side by side.” Balzac’s style does not indicate anything, it reflects nothing against, he explains.”
Unlike Flaubert and a few other role models, Proust did not dedicate his own study to Balzac – and yet the author of the “Human Comedy” played a major role in his own life and work. Numerous Balzac pastiches bear witness to this. Even in his attempt at a novel, Jean Santeuil, the foreword is about Balzac and his readers. It is similar in “Against Saint-Beuve”.
Charlus and Morel equal Vautrin and Lucien de Rubempré
After Proust had worked on Balzac for a long time and nevertheless defended himself against Saint-Beuve and his literary criticism, which was always biographically motivated, he suddenly switched from the essayistic to the fictional and reports on visits by a first-person narrator to Monsieur and Madame de Guermantes.
The master of the house does not want to be disturbed, but Madame de Guermantes has a heart for Proust’s first-person narrator, who is bored. She asks him if he doesn’t want to go up to her husband: “You only need to be taken to the library on the second floor, you will find him there reading Balzac.” Later, in “Research”, Balzac Mentioned frequently: by the Guermantes, by Madame de Villeparisis, by Gilberte, who reads The Girl with the Gold Eyes at the beginning of Time Rediscovered.
But above all by Charlus, the greatest Balzac expert and lover in Proust’s “research”. Proust is always concerned with aristocracy and homosexuality, especially in the character of Charlus. The unfortunate relationship he has with Morel is reminiscent of Lucien de Rubempré’s relationship with Vautrin aka Carlos Herrera in The Lost Illusions and The Glory and Misery of the Courtesans.
In general, the names, the staff, “Balzac’s wonderful invention of keeping the same characters in all his novels” – a model for Proust. He conducted plenty of name and place name discourses and last but not least he composed the title of his “Recherche” (“À la recherche de temps perdu”) from “Illusions perdues” and “La Recherche de l’Absolu”, a philosophical study by Balzac .
What does that mean now that Proust died exactly one hundred years ago this Friday, November 18? Keep reading Proust, of course – but maybe it’s also about conquering another, huge literary continent, that of Balzac.
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