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' Gefuge der Sprachen'. Studien zu System und Soziologie der Dialekte. Festschrift fur Robert Hunderling zum 60. Geburstag.

Balzac, the familiar authorial presence, not content to let his characters play out the story, rarely hesitates to point out the drama of the scene for which he thinks an explication is necessaire. Often his strong voice favours theatrical, zoological, architectural, or archaeological metaphors to describe his mimetic narrative, thus guiding the reader to be attentive to a novel's semiotic features as well. These explicate not just events, but composition: semiosis displays and explicates the genotextual process of the story in addition to the story itself. Julia Kristeva's opposition of the genotext to the phenotext usefully introduces a way to grasp the activity of the signifying productivity within the text in its visible, phenomenal form. (1) While genetic criticism may rightfully claim early versions as its territory, to understand the processes of composition and creation, the genotext is that aspect of the phenotext that contains and displays the traces of those complex engendering processes. This is the quality of the text that I am calling semiotic.

The genotextual process is, remarkably, almost always visible in the Balzacian phenotext, and it is fascinating to watch Balzac show his hand. His skill in integrating semiotic explanation into mimetic narrative is characteristic. The novels and short stories of La Comedie humaine are rich in figures that carry interpretive value for the layer of writing, though they belong to the layer of plot. Such figures are mimetic because they arise in the plot and generate it. A mimetic figure may consist of a theme or motif or leitmotif of significant meaning in the story, a represented image whose expression on the semiotic level is analogous to its role in the plot. Mimetic figures thus stand for semiotic structures. In La Maison Nucingen, for instance, the narrative circulates, accumulates, is invented or stolen, and so on in a manner analogous to the way money circulates, accumulates, is invented, stolen. (2) In similar fashion, letters of credit that pass from hand to hand, accruing interest, figure the increasing narrative interest in the short novel Une fille d'E ve. Balzac being the novelist that he is, we have little difficulty grasping the connections between the level of events and the level of composition; the author has done much to make the analogy obvious, by devising terms of comparison, indulging in pointed metaphoric turns, deploying lexical virtuosity, and so on. While writing about his characters, Balzac is always writing about his writing too; while telling his story, he takes pains to tell us how it comes to us. The mimetic narrative inscribes simultaneously the conditions and limits of the composition. For the great explicator who drew La Comedie humaine from his own vital substance, the drama of its invention is worth our interest as much as the dramas it recounts--and perhaps the very limits of that vitality dictated such an economy of means.

This replication or reduplication of mimetic figures in semiotic structures might be the subject of a broad study of La Comedie humaine, for the number of novels and stories whose semiosis is revealed by such a 'decoding' process is, I think, quite high. Here the analysis of Ursule Mirouet (1841) will show two striking mimetic figures of semiosis at work in the composition: genealogy and inheritance.

In this first novel of the Scenes de la Vie de Province a familiar picture of the provincial town emerges, one found in several other Balzac novels. Here Nemours is represented as the stifling, narrow-minded milieu in which a stupid, greedy, and powerful bourgeoisie smothers the good and the noble. As if to underscore the underlying dichotomy of Paris and the provinces, several escapes to the capital serve to identify it as the place where one makes money (or spends it), and as the locus of illumination and knowledge. While money flows loosely in Paris, in Nemours it is as inbred as the social structure, in which noxious ignorance breeds unchecked. The peasantry are exploited and cheated by the rising bourgeois, who hold all the positions in town, while the aristocracy stubbornly retains its Ancien Regime prejudices and falls by its own impoverishments, under the determined attack of the bourgeoisie. The social picture is a standard in Balzac, as I have suggested, but two figures of semiosis particularize it: the omnipresent relations among the four families of Minoret, Levrault, Massin, and Cremiere representing the pervasive extension of the bourgeoisie, and, on the other hand, the extraordinary coterie enfolding the heroine, uniquely identified by its appurtenance to no class and by its elite intellectuality. I characterize as genealogical the relations constructed among the four bourgeois families, whereas the classless idealists are connected by inheritance, particularly in the case of the relation between the two central characters, Ursule Mirouet and her tutor. The pure and innocent Ursule is put in grave danger by the lowly evils of the triumphant bourgeoisie, as in Pierrette and La Vieille Fille, but in this novel everything nevertheless ends happily, with order, justice, truth, and light, thanks to spiritualism. For a major purpose of the novel is to demonstrate that spirituality triumphs over materiality. Balzac opposes these deeper themes of the novel in the same way as genealogy and inheritance, structures which these themes extend into the domain of thought. The topic is central and vital to La Comedie humaine, but no subject however profound is immune to those puns and word games Balzac can never resist. Consider this sterling example, in which lapidary wit puts spirituality and materiality momentarily on the same plane, the better to provoke a reflection on their differences: 'Croyez-vous aux revenants? dit Zelie au cure.--Croyez-vous aux revenus? repondit le pretre en souriant' (p. 301). (3) The play on words is underscored by a kind of ironic or dubious chiasmus: the materialistic Zelie speaks of ghosts, while the priest reminds her of money. Like so many Balzacian novels, it seems, this one is built on series of oppositions, functioning in tandem.

The action begins in 1829 and turns repeatedly to near and distant past times to provide necessary explanations, until a return to the present and the proper start of the drama. After a rich, enlightened life in Paris, the philosophically-minded doctor Denis Minoret has returned in 1815 to Nemours, where he was born, to finish his life with his ward and three chosen friends: the abbe Chaperon, justice of the peace Bongrand, and Captain Jordy. Together, these four men raise Ursule Mirouet, Minoret's deceased wife's half-brother's child, who in 1815 was an orphan of ten months. Minoret's nieces and nephew are fearful of losing their inheritance to Ursule. The striking opening portrays their alarm when the doctor attends Mass for the first time in his life (his conversion to the church is the work of Ursule, who is now fifteen, and of animal magnetism). Upon the doctor's death, Ursule receives no inheritance, for Minoret-Levrault, the nephew, steals three 'inscriptions de rentes en trois pour cent, au porteur' intended for Ursule and together worth 36,000 francs of rente; for good measure, Minoret-Levrault burns the doctor's will. In the purity of her spirituality, Ursule is visited by the doctor's image in her dreams. He shows her Minoret-Levrault's crime, and the numbers of the inscriptions de rente; she recovers the fortune the doctor had bequeathed her, marries Savinien de Portenduere, the aristocratic object of her heart, and moves to Paris. Minoret-Levrault undergoes a conversion and turns to a life of good, but his wife Zelie loses her mind when their son Desire dies after an accident.

One can admire the astute and successful design that combines an affair of succession with a story of animal magnetism, for Ursule recovers her stolen inheritance only because she possesses somnambulistic powers. For Balzac, this combination whereby a material gain results from a spiritual faculty is not in the least contradictory. Rather, it is central, as I shall show.

Minoret at eighty-three can well be called an 'oncle a succession' (p. 32): his nephew Minoret-Levrault, niece Mme Cremiere-Cremiere, and first cousin once removed Mme Massin-Levrault with their spouses expect to inherit the doctor's considerable wealth, and in fact they have virtually no other collective designation than 'les heritiers'. (4) Only the sociologist in Balzac prompts him occasionally to insert this eminently romanesque designation (romanesque because it is loaded with plot-value) into the broader one of 'la bourgeoisie' of Nemours, thus overdetermining the heirs' hateful incarnations. As Savinien de Portenduere will say, 'Ces bourgeois sont comme des chiens a la curee' (p. 232), referring, precisely, to the 'heritiers'. The strength of their evil lies partly in their common purpose as 'coheritiers': 'Conspiration, coalition, l'ensemble des convoitises se forment volontiers en une association des forces tendues vers un meme but. Dans presque chaque roman de Balzac, autour d'une figure qui est a la fois une victime et un objet d'envie, se constitue un cercle de volontes avides, comme, par exemple, dans le roman de La Vieille Fille.' (5)

Balzac often indulged in complex genealogies, notably in Pierrette, La Rabouilleuse, and Les Paysans, but none is so relentless, so pervasive, so inescapable in its action as the one he creates here. (6) It is the mimetic figure of his semiosis. The four indigenous families of Nemours (Minoret, Massin, Levrault, and Cremiere) forge the links of a 'zigzag' network; they are the four 'navettes' that weave the 'lacis' of a 'toile humaine', the pieces configuring the 'kaleidoscope domestique' of the bourgeois cousinage (pp. 40, 41, 42). The image of a kaleidoscope, in which the same few pieces taking different positions form pictures or configurations, aptly renders the internal cross-breedings and the thousands of possible varieties stemming from them. Minutely, obsessively explicative, the genealogy of these families, which Balzac anchors in the time of Louis XI, is both an obstacle to reading and an excellent example of a text presuming ignorance. Its complexity would stump a genealogical scientist, so Balzac writes: 'Les variations de ce kaleidoscope domestique a quatre elements se compliquaient tellement par les naissances et par les mariages, que l'arbre genealogique des bourgeois de Nemours eut embarrasse les Benedictins de l'Almanach de Gotha eux-memes' (p. 40). (My own response to such complexity is to draw the family tree.) Ubiquitous hyphenated combinations of the four names arise under Louis XIII, and arise in Balzac's text as an astonishing exercise in excessive, unreasonable writing:

Ces quatre familles produisaient deja des Massin-Cremiere, des Levrault-Massin, des Massin-Minoret, des Minoret-Minoret, des Cremiere-Levrault, des Levrault-Minoret-Massin, des Massin-Levrault, des Minoret-Massin, des Massin-Massin, des Cremiere-Massin, tout cela bariole de junior, de fils aine, de Cremiere-Francois, de Levrault-Jacques, de Jean-Minoret. (p. 40)


Surely this is Balzac at his most obsessive. These connections (to which are added a fifth name, the notaire whose full name Cremiere-Dionis usually appears as just Dionis, and who is associated with Massin-Levrault in usury) make it impossible to apprehend a character without also interrogating his relationships; in reading for knowledge, we read multiple relations, and thus we approach impossible closure. The hyphen as link between different items tellingly invokes the alliances that offer 'le curieux spectacle de l'irradiation de quelques familles autochtones' (p. 39) and the 'entrecroisements de races au fond des provinces' (p. 39). (7) These 'hyphenated' relations become emblems of the complex narration, mimetic figures of the plot and the structure of writing. A further complication, for my reading at least, stems from a certain laxity in using the full versions of the names: Massin-Levrault is often called simply Massin; Cremiere is actually Cremiere-Cremiere, and so on. Balzac relies heavily on the reader's assiduity in acquiring knowledge. But also, this repeated mechanism allows the name Minoret to apply equally to the two chief antagonists in the possession of the fortune, the doctor and his nephew.

A second set of relations concerns what Balzac innovatively called 'cognomenisme': the connection of a person's name to his metier, as when the profession gives rise to the name. In the present case, cognomenism justifies designating the person by the profession; thus Minoret-Levrault is the 'maitre de poste', Cremiere is the 'percepteur de Nemours', and Massin is the 'greffier de la justice de paix', and these designations are as likely to occur as the names, in Balzac's writing. The effect is to lend greater weight to the dominating forces of the bourgeois who govern both the social and the narrative structures.

In juxtaposition to this semiotic structure, excessive in its manifestations, Balzac places the harmonious unity of Ursule Mirouet. Several passages underscore this unity; for instance:

Bientot la melancolie de ses pensees insensiblement adoucie teignit en quelque sorte ses heures, et relia toutes ces choses par une indefinissable harmonie: ce fut une exquise proprete, la plus exacte symetrie dans la disposition des meubles [...] une paix que les habitudes de la jeune fille communiquaient aux choses et qui rendit son chez-soi aimable. (p. 239)

While the spider's web of the bourgeois genealogy surrounds the doctor's succession ('ils essayerent d'entourer moins l'oncle que la succession' (p. 51)) and nearly destroys the rightful heiress, the plot schemes to explain how the fortune comes to the central figure, Ursule Mirouet, after being lost among the collaterals. The circulation of money, never secondary in Balzac, follows a complex structure analogous to the excessive complexities of the genealogy.

Autochthonous families thus form the bourgeoisie of Nemours, which is endogamous, materialistic, anti-intellectual, and anti-musical. The heirs are unable to appreciate Ursule's piano-playing of Beethoven's seventh symphony ('Bete a vent', says Mme Cremiere, the Mrs Malaprop of the heritiers (p. 159)). They want nothing so much as to demolish Minoret's exquisite library after his death. In contrast, Minoret's chosen company explicitly excludes the bourgeoisie and is exogamous, spiritual, intellectual, and musical. Ursule's upbringing reproduces the ideals of the 'siecle des lumieres', and the members of the minute society that divides her from the town are repeatedly characterized by their luminosity and illumination (pp. 55, 56, 60). They constitute a 'famille d'esprits choisis', whose 'fraternite' forms a 'societe compacte, exclusive' (p. 61), an 'oasis' (p. 61) in the doctor's salon. Under the effect of the light that streams forth from Ursule, the doctor's wall of incredulity cracks and crumbles (pp. 115, 118). From the opening pages, after Minoret's conversion, the mystical and the spiritual flow freely in his household, buoyed up by the cure. In the confrontation between the heritiers and Ursule, these many structures of opposition repeatedly place Ursule outside the materialistic pathways by which a succession passes.

The plot exacerbates this repudiation of bourgeois breeding and inbreeding, not without irony, when it brings about the passage of the succession through illegitimacy, for Ursule's father Joseph Mirouet is the illegitimate though recognized half-brother of the doctor Minoret's wife. (8) It is useful to spell out this relationship (an explication necessaire, as it were). Minoret's wife, also called Ursule Mirouet, was the daughter of Valentin Mirouet, an organist and builder of musical instruments. (Having left Nemours in his youth, Minoret did not take a wife from among the bourgeois cousinage.) This first Ursule Mirouet died in 1793, leaving the doctor childless after several children died. Ursule's father Valentin, meanwhile, had an illegitimate son in his old age, Joseph, whose mother he did not marry, in order to avoid bringing dishonour to the legitimate Ursule. Joseph Mirouet, 'excessivement mauvais sujet' (p. 80), after a romanesque existence, married Dinah Grollman in Germany, and the legitimate product of that union is the Ursule Mirouet who is the heroine of this novel, born in 1814 and costing her mother's life. Joseph Mirouet, 'le beau-frere naturel' of the doctor or the half-brother of the doctor's wife, died soon after, leaving Ursule an orphan. Thus Balzac can describe her as the doctor's 'niece naturelle' (p. 121), since her father is the illegitimate brother of the doctor's wife. It is to be noted that the relationship, which is only half a blood relation, passes through the wife, not the doctor, and that the first Ursule Mirouet was dead twenty-one years before the heroine was born. There is, strictly speaking, no blood relation between Denis Minoret and Ursule Mirouet, and the text underscores this fact by calling him her 'parrain' and her 'tuteur', never her uncle.

Exogamy compounded by illegitimacy thus defines Ursule's distinctness from the bourgeois cousinage. In this matter the text exploits French law, which held that legitimization of bastards did not extend to the next generation: 'la filiation naturelle ne depassait pas le premier degre', according to notes in the Folio edition (p. 389). The legitimate child of an illegitimate child can make no claim on its grandfather. Ursule, second-generation offspring of illegitimacy, is an 'etrangere' to the doctor (p. 132), 'car on peut soutenir qu'il n'existe aucun lien de parente entre Ursule et le docteur' (p. 122), according to Dionis the notaire. Balzac's text maintains and sustains this absence of relation, and indeed depends on it. The legal situation is however complicated enough to require two sets of explanations in Balzac's text (which are yet not adequate without the extensive additional information found in the editor's notes). The explanation Dionis supplies to the heirs, supplemented by information from Goupil the clerk and Desire, newly become a lawyer (pp. 121-26), stands on the side of the heritiers, while justice of the peace Bongrand's detailed discussion with the doctor (pp. 132-34) seeks Ursule's interest, naturally. Yet both come to the same conclusion, the gist of which is that Minoret cannot leave his fortune to Ursule by making a will in her favour. Now, this is not strictly speaking the case. If Minoret were Ursule's natural father, the law would prevent his leaving his entire fortune to her, for the spirit of the law is to prevent the natural parent's predilection for the illegitimate child from disinheriting the legitimate children; but, as Balzac wrote (in referring to an earlier version), 'Ursule Mirouet est evidemment une etrangere pour le Dr Minoret' (CH, 3:1533). In fact Minoret could write a will in Ursule's favour, just as he does write one bequeathing 36,000 francs of rente to Savinien, with the belief that he will share them with Ursule. What really prevents the doctor from bequeathing his fortune directly to Ursule is quite precisely the greediness of the heritiers and their very conviction that they deserve Minoret's entire fortune. So certain and predictable is this circumstance that both camps reach the same conclusion, that the doctor cannot bequeath his fortune to Ursule, and for the same reason: the heirs are sure to bring a lawsuit against Ursule, who would be, though legally in her right, too feeble to win. As Balzac wrote, 'le docteur, justement effraye de cette perspective, renonce a laisser a sa filleule sa succession par testament' (CH, 3:1533).

In legal terms, then, there is no family relationship and thus no relation of genealogy between Minoret and Ursule. Instead, by a semantic turn, the doctor 'inherited' her when Joseph Mirouet 'legua sa fille au docteur' (p. 81). (9) This welcome metaphor provides an excellent example of Balzac's supplying pointed markers for our guidance. Inheritance is the indicator of desire and preference: Minoret is father, friend, mother, doctor, and godfather to Ursule (p. 138); desire and preference govern their relations by will and testament, whereas mindless and reiterated intermarriage produced the genealogy. One may say that interest governs the genealogy, desire the inheritance; or, in the basic terms that so frequently arise as prime movers in La Comedie humaine, Money on the one hand, Love on the other. As Nicole Mozet writes: 'Espace utopique dans une certaine mesure, le Nemours balzacien est le lieu d'une stupefiante redefinition de la filialite, concue en termes d'amour et non plus en termes de sang.' (10) We learn in detail about the 'paternite trompee' of the doctor (p. 82), who compensates for the loss of his several children by accepting 'avec bonheur le legs que lui fit Joseph Mirouet' (p. 82; my italics). Minoret's letter expressing his last wishes and telling Ursule where to find the inscriptions de rente recalls her resemblance to the first Ursule Mirouet, his wife, which also motivates his paternal affection, and it mentions 'le serment que j'ai fait a ton pauvre pere de le remplacer' (p. 219): the oath is the subtext of this text and a metaphor of inheritance. Thus Ursule replaces the doctor's wife, the doctor replaces Ursule's father, in a perfect and closed system, which also recovers lost time by superposing past and present. Attached to this letter is a testament which gives 36,000 francs of rente to Savinien de Portenduere, in case Ursule refuses to take the money herself. Indirectly, this provision in the letter underscores how Ursule is defined by her refusal of greediness, her refusal to 'salir par des pensees d'interet' (p. 239) her affection for her tutor, while thoughts of interest alone characterize the greed of the heirs. Most important, I take a key word from the short testament itself to characterize the essential nature of the relations of inheritance between Minoret and Ursule: preference. The doctor writes that his money is to go to Savinien 'par preference a tous mes heritiers' (p. 221). (As a minor point contributing to the relations by inheritance, the captain Jordy writes a touching will by which he bequeaths his 10,000 francs of savings to Ursule (p. 86).)

In short, the doctor chooses to pass the succession to Ursule by a mechanism that does not fall under the legality of the relations defined by intermarriages and births. This mechanism relies on the significant instances of writing called the inscriptions de rente au porteur. These and the holographic will each represent sure values. The fortune the doctor leaves to his cherished 'pupille' in the form of the inscriptions de rente au porteur are hidden in the pages of a folio volume of the Pandectes in his library. (11) The money that has been converted to these inscriptions no longer has any connection to the succession or the doctor's estate, any more than Ursule has to Minoret, legally speaking. Rather, these written papers have value only for the hands that hold them. Since they are immediately related to their cash value, they can be removed from the succession both literally (as by robbery) and in terms of the financial portion they represent. This monetary writing thus become emblematic of the positionality of the writing in this novel. Both the nature of the writing and its location are figures for how writing achieves significance and value by its location; eventually the position of the inscriptions will become the focus of spiritualism, the value of which resides specifically in its placement in the narrative. As for the doctor's will, once it is stolen and burned it has no value of any sort; the fact that both camps continue to look for a will as if it were merely unfound indicates that it too depends on position for value. As Balzac asserts, 'Pour les monuments comme pour les hommes, la position fait tout' (p. 33).

By these mechanisms Minoret arranges for his preferred relation to inherit most of his money. But when Minoret-Levrault steals the money, and tells no one, the full value of the estate becomes moot. ('Et les valeurs?', asks the priest. 'Courez donc apres!', says Bongrand (p. 233).) Those portions of Minoret's succession that are known, including his house, are divided among the three heritiers, while Ursule receives nothing. Thus the theft of the inscriptions and the will restarts the action, a rebondissement so well known in the theatre, and requires the putting into play of that other significant mechanism of the narrative, the one grounded in spirituality. Predilection characterizes the reader's desire to see the money returned to Ursule, but, true to her upbringing and her nature, Ursule refuses to employ the various greedy strategies proposed to her by the bourgeois. The harmful actions of the domestic coalition, centred on Minoret-Levrault's theft of the inscriptions de rente au porteur, vulgar narrative expedient, counteract the reader's desire until spiritualism, a concrete and active manifestation of a penetrating influence focused by will and desire, conquers materialism and brings the money to the unitary figure of composition, Ursule.

The narrative's recourse to somnambulism, in which the dead doctor appears and tells Ursule where her money is, figures the concentration of unitary thought, a compelling goal for Balzac's composition. It is the mechanism by which the money that the inscriptions represent passes from genealogy to inheritance, representing the genotextual process by which money enters the system of the spiritual, in the narrative. A passing homage to Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, mentioned in the explication necessaire that justifies the doctor's conversion to magnetism and mesmerism, is no incidental reference but a precious guide to the structure of the plot and its thought (p. 94). Balzac is at his most fervent in his explanation of magnetism, anchored in its opposition to the materialism of eighteenth-century philosophy (for which 'le vide n'existe pas' (p. 94)) and supporting the unity of composition. What for Balzac is a misrecognized or badly exploited phenomenon of nature manifest not only in the inscrutable Orient but also in Jesus Christ was in the eighteenth century 'repousse par les doubles atteintes des gens religieux et des philosophes materialistes egalement alarmes' (p. 93). Balzac compares this erroneous assessment of magnetism to the 'sort qu'avait eu la verite dans la personne de Galilee' in the sixteenth century (p. 93). To Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire belongs the merit of the 'immense progres que font en ce moment les sciences naturelles' (p. 94), under the idea of unity. That such a unity takes the form, in this novel, of magnetism or mesmerism, in their somnambulistic variant, stems from Balzac's profound belief in the 'vieux pouvoir humain' (p. 94) that allows one to influence another by concentrating one's will. The fullest expression of this belief resides no doubt in the quasi-treatise, Louis Lambert.

In Ursule Mirouet, the mesmeric expression of unity of composition underlies the novel as the principle of its effects. The profoundly motivated link with the luminous figure of Ursule Mirouet stems from Balzac's description of this 'science des fluides imponderables' (p. 96) as 'etroitement lie[e] par la nature de ses phenomenes a la lumiere' (p. 96). The significant role of music proposes another image of the expression. Thus:

Il existe en toute musique, outre la pensee du compositeur, l'ame de l'executant [Ursule], qui, par un privilege acquis seulement a cet art, peut donner du sens et de la poesie a des phrases sans grande valeur [...]. Par sa sublime et pe rilleuse organisation, Ursule appartenait a cette ecole de genies si rares [...]. Par un jeu a la fois suave et reveur, son ame parlait a l'ame du jeune homme [Savinien] et l'enveloppait comme d'un nuage par des idees presque visibles. (p. 186)

Language invests writing, by a similar process, with the spiritual harmonies that genius evokes. Music, mesmeric concentration of thought, harmonic unity, genius, all combine to elevate the composition of the novel to the level of the sublime.

No doubt it is necessary to grant to a Christian God his part in the symbolic or semantic structures of this novel; such are the observations of readers such as Allan Pasco. (12) The conversion of the deist but 'incredule' (pp. 99, 102) doctor to Christian religion motivates his faith in his ability to protect Ursule after his death. Yet, since this protection from beyond death takes the form of somnambulism, a science to which Balzac takes the trouble to provide its letters of patent, we should think of a God and a Christianity secularized by these explications necessaires. Significantly, it is to Chaperon the priest that Balzac gives the task of explaining the doctor's scientific understanding of somnambulism, as if to suggest that religion recognizes the superior ability of science to explain:

Il avait reconnu la possibilite de l'existence d'un monde spirituel, d'un monde des idees. Si les idees sont une creation propre a l'homme, si elles subsistent en vivant d'une vie qui leur soit propre, elles doivent avoir des formes insaisissables a nos sens exterieurs, mais perceptibles a nos sens interieurs quand ils sont dans certaines conditions. Ainsi les idees de votre parrain peuvent vous envelopper et peut-etre les avez-vous revetues de son apparence. Puis, si Minoret a commis ces actions, elles se resolvent en idees; car toute action est le resultat de plusieurs idees. Or, si les idees se meuvent dans le monde spirituel, votre esprit a pu les apercevoir en y penetrant. (p. 281)

Here Balzac offers the double guide of the converted non-believer, Minoret, and the intelligent, unbigoted priest, Chaperon, to make it possible for the reader to believe also--believe in somnambulism, that is. It takes very little reflection to extend this explanation to the process of composition, and to realize that Balzac grounds in a scientific vision of unity the spiritual basis of La Comedie humaine.

Though the puissant mesmerist, whose demonstrations in Paris convince and help to convert Minoret, may well describe his power as emanating from God (p. 101), though his healing may well be compared to the Saviour's (p. 99), the narrative significantly elevates this power to the status of science and principle. Faith and unity are taken up by the scientific system of La Comedie humaine, where they achieve Balzac's most glorious illustration; they belong to its narrative and semiotic systems, no longer to the real world.

Francoise Gaillard describes diversity as an avatar of the same, in a rich commentary on the 'science' in the avant-propos of La Comedie humaine. She shows that for Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, as for Balzac, the theory is one of analogy, which postulates a principle of resemblance and a principle of continuity between species. (13) Analogy underlies Minoret's love for Ursule, as it relates exogamy to the quality of being a stranger; analogy as a principle of composition is found in the semiotic structures that establish the link via preference and predilection. Founded on analogy, the semiotic unity of the novel is figured by the passage I have described from a system of relations based on genealogy (intermarriage) to a system based on inheritance, desire, and the generosity that consistently characterize Ursule Mirouet, the ultimate figure of Balzac's exchange with his reader. (14) When the descendant of exogamous and illegitimate unions marries the only eligible aristocrat in town, the happy alliance reaffirms the inheritance against the harmful posterity of the bourgeois cousinage of Nemours.

Spirituality in its manifestation focuses on written texts, especially on their position. This necessary connection between the spiritual and writing has been well prepared. Ursule's visionary genius specifically includes the ability to see written texts: while Savinien is at sea, Ursule sees each of his letters in a dream before they arrive, and never fails to announce their arrival by recounting her dream (p. 199). Likewise, what convinced the doctor of the real existence of magnetism was the mesmerized subject's ability to see Minoret's two billets de banque stored between the last two leaves of the second volume of the Pandectes (p. 106). The position of the 500 franc notes gives them their value in the narrative of the magnetic experiments, for the precision with which the subject locates them leaves the doctor thunderstruck (p. 107).

Connecting semiosis to mimesis, we can say that the passing of the fortune from a genealogy described as a noxious system, mindless and materialistic, to an inheritance formed by love and preference provides both the mimetic frame of the narrative and the semiotic structure of our reading. The very materiality of money lends strength and consistency to the ideality of the moral plot here: when the money is lost among the collaterals, it figures error in the spiritual sense, and failure of the narrative. When it is at last returned to Ursule, it figures the reward of spirituality and recovery from error. In like fashion, we are in error until we realize the power of spirituality to unify composition. That is the message of the unity of composition: the ideal is not contaminated by the real.

Ursule Mirouet achieves a momentary unity that I can only describe as miraculous: Love and Money allied in perfect harmony. Their disastrous disjunction in so much of La Comedie humaine is here overturned. On the level of the great work, in other words, the progress Balzac perceived the novel could make, by following the zoological principle of the unity of composition, emerges in contrast to the catastrophic disunity of the work and of science up to this point. More precisely, it emerges by finding unity in the domain of disunity. Le Pere Goriot did nothing so much as to illustrate the calamity, the tragedy that results when characters cannot unite love with money: calamities that make tragic victims of Victorine Taillefer, Vautrin, Mme de Beauseant, Goriot, Delphine, and Anastasie, and against which, famously, Rastignac announces his struggle. Arlette Michel points out: 'Il s'agit de maintenir en presence des postulations antagonistes, de les faire jouer l'une par rapport a l'autre pour qu'il resulte de leur mise en relation non un moyen terme rassurant par sa stabilite, mais une realite radicalement neuve parce que nee d'une tension, d'un desequilibre corrige.' (15)

The oft-cited paean to Cuvier that Balzac included in La Peau de chagrin, in 1831, praises the science that the naturalist had raised to its acme. Balzac found in that science justification for his geology and his genealogy, the rich concrete matter of his created world, and it was cause for celebration. Cuvier represents the greatest materialist scientist. Starting with a mere bone, he could describe the organism:

Cuvier n'est-il pas le plus grand poete de notre siecle? [...] notre immortel naturaliste a reconstruit des mondes avec des os blanchis, a rebati comme Cadmus des cites avec des dents, a repeuple mille forets de tous les mysteres de la zoologie avec quelques fragments de houille, a retrouve des populations de geants dans le pied d'un mammouth. (16)

It suffices to come upon a fossilized trace, and the trick is turned: a world emerges: 'Soudain les marbres s'animalisent, la mort se vivifie, le monde se deroule!' (La Peau de chagrin, p. 78). The novelist's task is no less: to call forth the legions of the real world by describing a handful of them in the richness of their material existence.

Had Balzac taken his distance from Cuvier by the time he wrote Ursule Mirouet, ten years later, in 1841? I think not; rather, to Cuvier's science is added the revolution wrought by Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. What Cuvier represents for Balzac is the need to accumulate facts to make La Comedie humaine the most complete document possible, but Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire affirmed in the natural sciences what Balzac had long known in his art, that no meaning is possible without a structure that makes sense of the facts by putting them into positions where they carry meaning by their relations to others. The inscriptions de rente au porteur in Ursule Mirouet have this double value: they are simultaneously positive facts and a structure based on a principle of analogy, in their relation both to real money and to their location in the Pandectes. Cuvier stands for the material 'science' of collecting a succession, that of the heritiers of Minoret. The inspired science of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire founds the spiritual, which forges new relations based on desire, preference, generosity, and literature; then does the happy couple gain both love and money. As Goethe reportedly enthused, upon learning of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire's triumph in the 1830 debates with the system of Cuvier:

L'esprit dominera et sera souverain de la matiere. On jettera des regards dans les grandes lois de la creation, dans le laboratoire secret de Dieu! Si nous ne connaissons que la methode analytique, si nous ne nous occupons que de la partie materielle, si nous ne sentons pas le souffe de l'Esprit qui donne a tout sa forme et qui, par une loi intime, empeche toute deviation, qu'est-ce donc que l'etude de la nature? (17)

Applied to the novel, once again, this naturalistic principle authorizes the claim to a superior realism founded in analogy; as Gaillard observes, 'La quete obstinee d'un principe de liaison est en meme temps l'aveu d'une croyance dans la liaison comme principe de (la) realite' (Gaillard, p. 68).

The relations of inheritance, a semiotic structure, create money for Ursule where she would not have had any after the doctor's demise, just as she had no family of which she was the necessary heir. The mechanism of the inscriptions creates a real relationship where nothing existed before, and it creates, out of the absence of relation, the unity of desire and preference by involving writing. When the novel passes through oppositions before finding unity, oppositions give value to unity. As de Sacy writes, 'Les variations du type humain, matiere romanesque inepuisable, soulignent l'unite et la constance du plan sur lequel est construit l'homme' (de Sacy, p. 304).

(1) Julia Kristeva opposed genotext and phenotext in Revolution in Poetic Language (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), pp. 86-89. The phenotext is a signified structure governed by codes; it is the text as phenomenon, as product, with a material existence. The genotext is a signifying productivity, the field of signifiance. The phenotext is a structure; the genotext is a process.

(2) See my article 'La Maison Nucingen, ou le recit financier' (published under the name Kotin), Romanic Review, 69 (1978), 60-71. See also three short discussions in my conference paper, 'Mimetic Figures of Semiosis', in Repression and Expression: Social Codes and Literary Visions in Nineteenth-Century France, ed. by Carrol Coates (New York: Lang, 1996), pp. 47-54.

(3) Quotations from the novel are taken from Ursule Mirouet, ed. by Madeleine Ambriere-Fargeaud, Folio edn (Paris: Gallimard, 1981).

(4) Upon first arriving in Nemours, Minoret asks his nephew: 'Ai-je d'autres heritiers?' (p. 45), and, henceforth, whenever they are collectively mentioned, that is the word for the Massins, Levraults, Minorets, and Cremieres, almost exclusively. 'Heritiers' is used 105 times in the 220 pages of Volume III (ed. by Madeleine Ambriere-Fargeaud) of the Pleiade edition, 12 vols (Paris: Gallimard, 1976-81), by far the greatest number of occurrences among the 49 novels included in an electronic concordance of La Comedie humaine that I consulted. In addition, 'heritier' occurs 7 times in the singular, and the feminine 'heritiere' 5 times in singular and plural forms. 'Coheritier' and 'coheritieres' occur 6 times; 'bourgeois' and 'bourgeoise' 29 times, and 'bourgeoisie' 10 times. I note that the word 'heritier' applies to family members; the Petit Robert gives: 'parent appele par la loi a recueillir la succession d'un defunt [...]. Les heritiers ou heritiers du sang se distinguent des successeurs irreguliers, des legataires' (my italics).

(5) Georges Poulet, 'Balzac', in Les Metamorphoses du cercle (Paris: Plon, 1961), p. 209.

(6) Thierry Bodin sketches the development of Balzac's idea of the evil lurking in bourgeois genealogies, in his article 'Genealogie de la mediocratie dans Les Paysans', L'Annee balzacienne (1978), 91-101. The unfinished Les Heritiers Boirouge consists almost entirely of the family tree that ended up in Ursule Mirouet, but Balzac complicated the genealogy so much that he had to abandon that novel. In the Pleiade edition of Ursule Mirouet Madeleine Ambriere-Fargeaud writes: 'Ursule Mirouet, La Rabouilleuse, et Les Paysans peuvent etre consideres comme des avatars des Heritiers Boirouge, projet reparaissant, ondoyant et divers, mais toujours centre sur le grand theme du partage, de la succession' (3:1524).

(7) One also finds this 'curious spectacle' in the Swiss cantons, writes Balzac (p. 39). In January 1996, in Saas-Fee in the Wallis canton, one could see the surnames of about ten families, often linked by hyphens, emblazoned on every hotel, restaurant, store, or service in town.

(8) Nicole Mozet has called the novel 'une ve ritable apologie de la batardise et de la mesalliance' (Balzac au pluriel (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990), p. 53).

(9) The Petit Robert defines legs as 'disposition a titre gratuit faite par testament', just as the heritier is distinct from the legataire.

(10) Nicole Mozet, La Ville de province dans l'oeuvre de Balzac: L'espace romanesque: fantasmes et ideologie (Paris: Societe d'edition d'enseignement superieur, 1982), p. 219.

(11) Not only is it worthy of Minoret's keen sense of fairness to place these writings in a volume of the Roman civil law, which forms the basis for European law, but the wit in Balzac no doubt chose this title because it means, in Latin, 'book containing everything' (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, ed. by William Morris (New York: American Heritage, 1971)). Everything, indeed, for without the inscriptions de rente Ursule has a mere pittance; she is described as 'sans aucune fortune' (p. 232).

(12) 'Ursule Through the Glass Lightly', French Review, 65 (1991), 36-45.

(13) 'La science: Modele ou verite. Reflexions sur l'avant-propos a La Comedie humaine', in Balzac: L'invention du roman, ed. by Claude Duchet and Jacques Neefs (Paris: Belfond, 1982), pp. 64-65, 71.

(14) Arguing for a new nobility against his mother's prejudices, Savinien de Portenduere uses the telling metaphor 'une chimere' (p. 178) to designate the old system. The monstrous, composite animal figures another contrast to the harmonious unity of Ursule.

(15) 'Balzac et la rhetorique: modernite et tradition', L'Annee balzacienne (1988), 258.

(16) Balzac, La Peau de chagrin, ed. by Pierre Citron (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1971), p. 78.

(17) S. de Sacy quotes the Conversations de Goethe pendant les dernieres annees de sa vie, 1822-1832, collected by Eckermann, trans. by Emile Delerot, 2 vols (Paris: Charpentier, 1883), II, in 'Balzac, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire et l'unite de composition', Mercure de France, 303 (mai-aout 1948), no. 1018, 1er juin 1948, 303.

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Author:Newton, G.
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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