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Adumbrative allusion in Balzac's Illusions perdues.

Balzac was a master of allusion. He usually embedded his allusive patterns so seamlessly that, although they may work on the reader's subconscious, they only call attention to themselves with great subtlety. While in most cases, as for example when he alludes to the female novelists Mme Girardin, Mme Guizot, and others in La muse du departement, he forms simple parallels that make his adventures seem more forceful and pertinent for contemporary readers, in some cases the allusions establish antitheses. In Splendeurs et miseres des courtisanes, for example, the clear references to the biblical story of Esther and Mordecai create an obvious opposition to Balzac's Esther, for the latter serves not the sovereign God of the Hebrews but the maleficent Jacques Collin or Vautrin. Occasionally, the allusions create surprising complexity, encompassing entire works. I think of Eugenie Grandet, an instance where the author's references to the Bible and church history establish dueling religions that oppose Mammon to love. In all cases, Balzac's allusions add complexity and richness to the tapestry he weaves. (1)

The allusions in Illusions perdues (1837-43) serve to adumbrate Lucien's fate. In 1819, shortly before the period when Illusions perdues was set, the writer and critic Henri de Latouche had revealed Andre Chenier to the French public. Balzac refers to the revolutionary poet a number of times and, as the Pleiade editor, Roland Chollet, notes, associated him with "toute une atmosphere morale de jeunesse, d'exaltation, d'idealisme forcene" (5.147n2). Certainly, for Balzac, Chenier was unquestionably one of the great poets of France. He tried early on to pastiche him, he cited his poems in his letters, he took various passages to serve as epigraphs in his pre-Comedie humaine novels by Lord R'hoone, and what Chollet terms his delicate appreciation of Latouche's preface to the 1820 edition of Chenier leaves no doubt of the novelist's appreciation: "Un poete retrouve par un poete,"Lucien says (5.147 and n2). As Balzac put it in one of his letters to Madame Hanska, Chenier was for him "le poete de l'amour, le plus grand des poetes francais" (Lettres a Madame Hanska 1.71).

The text of Illusions perdues refers to Chenier repeatedly in connection with the two enthusiastic young men, Lucien and David, and casts long shadows of meaning forward, in particular relationship to Lucien. Such reiterations always indicate importance in La Comedie humaine. Most obviously, Lucien resembles Chenier as a great promise that was never fulfilled, however different the reasons for this lack of success. As Latouche put it, "Andre Chenier n'avait en mourant ... qu'un nom promis a la celebrite." (2) Likewise, Balzac leaves no doubt that Lucien is an eagle, although young (5.147, 173), at least until his repeated failures reveal him as at most an "aiglon" (e.g., 5.577). Eagles are characterized by their daring flight, speed, and close association with thunder, fire, intelligence, and action (Cirlot 87, 321; Chevalier 750). Appropriately, given his desire for "gloire" and his love of flashy attire, his name derives from the etymon lux or "light" (Hanks 212-13). The text makes it clear that the young man could have established himself as an outstanding poet had he been stronger and capable of refusing easy paths to success, first as a journalist, then as a corrupt socialite. David, on the other hand, is "ce boeuf."He wonderfully characterizes ox's symbolic qualities of patience, submission, and self-sacrifice (5.147, 559; Cirlot 236, 321, 750).

For some three years David and Lucien had enjoyed getting together to read great, recent works of art and science. On one day in particular, David has just received a small 18mo volume of Chenier's poems, published in 1820, and he reads several: "Neere, puis celle du Jeune Malade, puis l'elegie sur le suicide, celle dans le goute ancien, et les deux derniers iambes" (5.147). Unquestionably, the readings emphasize the young men's enjoyment of the poetic moment. Both are at the beginning of their adult lives, and neither has had any real success. Furthermore, other that the baseless optimism of youth, neither has yet reason for hope. The references to Chenier are perfectly aligned in tone and context with the rest of the Illusions perdues.

Those who know Chenier's work might well be struck by curious parallels between the poet's and the novelist's characters. Perhaps the most notable is the revolutionary poet's mention on a number of occasions of the abandonment of a mother, especially on recalling that Lucien also left his mother behind.

Cette Neere, helas! qu'il nommait sa Neere, Qui pour lui criminelle abandonna sa mere [...] ("Neere" 68)

Neere (Neaera), Chenier's persona, is feminine, and Balzac insists on the femininity of Lucien's beauty. For example, he had a woman's delicate feet, and, moreover, "il avait les hanches conformees comme celles d'une femme" (5.145). Perhaps only on recalling such descriptions will the reader sense the foreshadowing and see the parallel: like Chenier's Neere, Lucien abandoned his mother. The theme of maternal abandonment is emphasized when it is picked up again in "Malade" (called the "Jeune malade"in most editions), this time with a masculine hero.
 [Apollon, p]rends pitie de sa mere aux larmes condamnee, Qui ne vit
 que pour lui, qui meurt abandonnee, Qui n'a pas du rester pour voir
 mourir son fils. ("Malade"37)

 Enfant [dit la mere], tu veux mourir? Tu veux, dans ses vieux ans,
 Laisser ta mere seul avec ses cheveux blancs? (ibid. 37-38)

The reason for this abandonment is, of course, romantic love for another, the kind of extreme love that leaves the lover without choice, helpless before his mistress. However much he feels and anticipates the pain that comes to himself and others from uncontrollable passion, he must pursue the young woman of his dreams.
 O portez, portez-moi sur les bords d'Erimanthe,
 Que je la voie encor, cette vierge charmante!
 O que je voie au loin la fumee a longs flots
 S'elever de ce toit au bord de cet enclos ... (ibid. 39-40)

 --Ah! mon fils, c'est l'amour! c'est l'amour insense
 Qui t'a, jusqu'a ce point, cruellement blesse? (ibid. 40)

As the poet tells his mother, he recognizes that such a love will inevitably lead to his death.
 Jette tout a ses pieds; apprends-lui qui je suis.
 Dis-lui que je me meurs, que tu n'a plus de fils.
 Pars; et si tu reviens sans les avoir flechis [Dieux, temple,
 autel, deesse],
 Adieu, ma mere, adieu, tu n'auras plus de fils. (ibid. 41)

It is certainly no accident that in Balzac's text the poem alludes not only to Lucien's mother and to the love that leads him away from home, but also to his repeated threats to commit suicide, as well as to his eventual death in Splendeurs et miseres by his own hand.

The means of Lucien's death is indicated by the next poem he and David read, "Elegie XVIII," which Latouche labeled an elegy and described as "dans le gout ancien" (ibid. 128-29; other editions title it "La jeune Tarentine"). Although Chenier did not commit suicide, as did Lucien, his repeated desire for death rings forth in a number of his poems and looms over the revolutionary poet's entire volume. For those who have read Illusions perdues' sequel, Splendeurs et miseres des courtisanes, the laments recall the vision of Lucien's lonely, miserable death in prison. As Chenier says, for example,
 Aujourd'hui qu'au tombeau je suis prete a descendre,
 Mes amis, dans vos mains je depose ma cendre.
 Je ne veux point, couvert d'un funebre linceuil,
 Que les pontifes saints autour de mon cercueil,
 Appeles aux accens de l'airain lent et sombre,
 De leur chant lamentable accompagnent mon ombre....
 Je meurs. Avant le soir j'ai fini ma journee (Elegie VI: 92-93)

Or in one of the iambes that David and Lucien read aloud: "Vienne, vienne la mort! que la mort me delivre!" (Iambe III: 267), and in the last iambe, Chenier recognizes that his death approaches: "Le sommeil du tombeau pressera mes paupieres" (Iambe IV: 270).

Some of Chenier's verses seem to describe a place very much like the young poet's final jail cell where he killed himself in Splendeurs et miseres des courtisanes.
 Accoutumons-nous a l'oubli.
 Oublies comme moi dans cet affreux repaire,
 Que pouvaient mes amis? Oui, de leur main cherie,
 Un mot a travers ces barreaux ... (Iambe II: 265-66)

As one would expect, during Lucien's reading at Madame de Bargeton's lusterless gathering of her acquaintances, Chenier's masterful poem, "L'Aveugle"elicited widespread boredom (5.199). Earlier, David and Lucien could scarcely contain their enthusiasm. The latter "baisa le livre, et les deux amis pleurerent, car tous deux aimaient avec idolatrie. ... La Camille d'Andre Chenier etait devenue pour David son Eve adoree, et pour Lucien une grande dame qu'il courtisait" (5.147). In reading and rereading Chenier's "L'Aveugle"about Homer, Lucien leaves no doubt he aspired to the Greek poet's greatness.

With the repeated references to the poems celebrating "Camille," where Chenier expresses his passionate love for his mistress, Balzac's allusion becomes very certain. Chenier's Camille is generally considered to be the beautiful, bourgeois Mme Bonneuil [1748-1829]. Despite her class and appearance, for Lucien she parallels the unattractive Mme de Bargeton, whom Paris sees as "une femme grande, seche, couperosee, fanee, plus que rousse, anguleuse, guindee, precieuse, pretentieuse, provinciale dans son parler, mal arrangee surtout!" (5.273). Nonetheless, both women are considerably older than their lovers, both are unfaithful, and both eventually break with the impoverished poets. In 1791, Le Brun called Mme de Bonneuil a "coquette surannee,"an "adroite friponne,"who "trompe l'Amour et croit tromper le Temps." Perhaps even more to the point, for Le Brun, Chenier's Camille is a "berceuse douairiere"with aristocratic pretentions, whose "l'antique jeunesse / Plait encore a l'amour dupe" (Buisson 1.401-07, for Lebrun, v 404-05). Lucien's friend Vernon calls Mme de Bargeton "l'os de Seiche" (5.447). Both revolutionary and Balzacian poets are beguiled (berces) with false hopes and illusions by their pretentious mistresses.

Before leaving Angouleme for Paris, Mme de Bargeton was intensely interested in the young poet Lucien. On at least one social occasion where she was attempting to highlight his talent, the text portrays her in a turban (5.191), perhaps modeling Madame de Stael, who affected turbans, sponsored Benjamin Constant, and avidly sought prominence and attention. And like Madame de Stael, Madame de Bargeton was accustomed to "dominer ce monde de toute la hauteur de son intelligence" (5.203). When Lucien returns and attempts to regain his position as favorite, the narrator will term her "la Corinne d'Angouleme" (5.455). Although many years older than Lucien, she saw herself as someone who, similar to the famous novelist, could guide and form an artist. Especially if Lucien were the genius she thought him to be, as his mentor/muse her position in society would be reinforced. Although Madame de Bargeton's relations with the young man were entirely chaste, it does not seem that she planned to keep her distance always. When she decides to discard Lucien, she thinks, "Quel bonheur pour moi d'avoir tenu ce petit drole a distance et de ne lui avoir rien accorde!" (5.283). In his poetry, at least, Chenier pretends to be a similarly unsatisfied aspirant to the beautiful Creole's attentions, rather than that of the successful lover he was thought to be for a time (Buisson 405-06).

Balzac's Lucien was the son of a dead pharmacist and a well-born woman (nee Rubenpre) who was declassee by her marriage to a commoner and now by her occupation as a nurse (she cares for pregnant women). Lucien's family name of Chardon, or "thistle,"is itself ridiculous, and he will expend an enormous amount of energy attempting to adopt his mother's name officially. In the social circles the young poet would like to penetrate, substituting the name Lucien de Rubempre for Lucien Chardon would be a distinct advantage. Madame d'Espard made that very clear, me serait tres dur de m'appeler madame Chardon" (5.480). It was an unrefined, course country name, after all. "Le chardon, est generalement considere comme d'un abord reveche, desagreable; et aussi comme la nourriture des anes" (Chevalier 174).

As another foreshadowing of Lucien's eventual fate, Balzac turned to a Biblical allusion. Although Lucien has no legal right to the name of his mother's Rubempre family, he nonetheless assumes it, hoping futilely that it will be regularized by the authorities. Like the biblical Ruben who, by sleeping with his father's concubine, asserted a right that was not lawfully his, and thus lost his birthright (Genesis 35.22, 49.3-4), Lucien illegitimately affects his mother's name. In Illusions perdues, he will be disappointed in his attempt to legitimate the name and become M. de Rubempre. Certainly, when the faubourg's aristocrats deny him the use of the maternal name, they accompany this refusal with rejection, leaving him in a world of prostitutes, journalists, and criminals.

By foreshadowing, adumbration constitutes an important means of giving order to works of art. Stendhal would use various prophesies in La chartreuse de Parme and a newspaper clipping in Le rouge et le noir to hint of the final outcome. In fact, the very title of the former novel (that Balzac admired) has no other function than to prepare Fabrice's withdrawal from society, an event that is not even mentioned until he actually accepts his calling to a charterhouse in the last few pages of the novel. The title can hardly fail, however, to remain in the reader's consciousness, giving the promise of a certain direction, if not structure, to the apparently meandering plot. Similarly, given the generic tradition of the popular musical, West Side Story, spectators are encouraged to expect a joyous ending, but the musical also implicitly prepares the reader for an eventual tragic fate by the allusion to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliette. For a final example, Huysmans was partial to dreams, so much so that he organized an entire novel, En rade, around the progression of three complex dreams related to late nineteenth-century occultists and leading to the foreshadowed ending. These are just a few of the devices that expert writers use to prepare future events and, indeed, even the culmination of characters' fates and of the story.

Any allusion, whether to myth, legend, the Bible, history, or current events may consciously or unconsciously remind knowledgeable readers of patterns that will enhance their experience of a text, since they often support or highlight the essential, textual movements and structures. An allusion may, as with the Balzac's reference to the biblical Ruben, be a simple indication of where the hero is heading and how he will end. It could, like the allusion to Mme de Stael, be a limited reminder of one or more traits that have occurred elsewhere, thus emphasizing Madame de Bargeton's pretentiousness. Or it may suggest a complex image sufficiently intricate to tie many pages and several books together, as with the allusion to Chenier. In Illusions perdues, the allusions work together to emphasize the events of the hapless poet's experience. We know that Lucien will follow Mme de Bargeton to Paris, where, as he learns, she becomes ashamed of his country airs and drops him "dans la boue de Paris" (5.291) for the attentions of another admirer who can initiate her into the ways of capital city. The actual events are not the same in the case of Lucien and Chenier, no more than with Lucien and Ruben, or Madame de Bargeton and Madame de Stael, but the general outline of Lucien's failure to measure up to the dashing young men that people theatre and society is clear from the various allusions Balzac exploits.



Balzac, Honore de. Illusions perdues. Ed. Roland Chollet. La Comedie humaine. 12 vols. Bibliotheque de la Pleiade. Paris: Gallimard, 1976-81.

--. Lettres a Madame Hanska. Ed. Roger Pierrot. 4 vols. Paris: Bibliophiles de l'Originale, 1967-71.

Buisson, George, and Edouard Guitton, Eds. "Notes et variantes."Elegies. OEuvres poetiques. By Andre Chenier. T 1. Paris: Paradigme, 2005. 401-07.

Chenier, Andre. Poesies d'Andre Chenier. Ed. Henri de Latouche. Paris: Baudouin Freres, 1820.

Chevalier, Jean, and Alain Gheerbrant. Dictionnaire des symbols, mythes, reves, coutumes, gestes, formes, figures, couleurs, nombres. Paris: Robert Laffont, 1969.

Cirlot, J. E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962.

Hanks, Patrick, and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of First Names. Oxford: OUP, 1992.

Latouche, Henri de. "Sur la vie et les ouvrages d'Andre Chenier."Poesies d'Andre Chenier. i-iv.

Pasco, Allan H. Balzacian Montage: Configuring La Comedie humaine. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1991.

--. Allusion: A Literary Graft. 1994: Charlottesville: Rookwood P, 2002.

(1) Pasco, Balzacian Montage 49-50, 110-13; Allusion 1111-20.

(2) Latouche i. By mentioning the size, "in-18" (5.147), Balzac indicates the 1820 edition, which I shall cite (rather than the original of 1819).
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Author:Pasco, Allan H.
Publication:Romance Notes
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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