"The Human Comedy" is the name of a novel cycle by Honore de Balzac. The novel are linked by Balzak's idea of showing the society he lived in so the cycle could also be referred to as the history of behavior. Balzac doesn't write about main events of the human history but about the nature of an individual and society. In "The Human Comedy" he tried to show all the social-political states, philosophic movements, society's moral stance, social classes and the secrets of people's psyche. There were supposed to be 137 novels but he managed to write only 91.
In order to understand "The Human comedy" Balzac divided it into six parts which are: "Scenes from private life", "Scenes from provincial life", "Scenes from Parisian Life", "Scenes from political life", "Scenes from military life" and "Scenes from country life". Balzac's most famous works are in this novel cycle and they are "Le Père Goriot" in the first part, Eugénie Grandet" in the second and "The Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans" in the third part of "The Human Comedy".
After writing many works he decided to write a prologue for "The Human Comedy" which was published in 1842. He stated that he decided to write it because of some critics who came down hard on his work. The critics weren't negative but Balzac felt that he had to explain some things about his life work. He didn't care much about the negative criticism because he thought they were a sign of his work being revolutionary and honest in speaking out about the true society's condition.
The prologue isn't only an introduction to the massive novel cycle. Balzac, besides talking about his previous and future works, states out his opinions about art, literature, reader's and artist's nature and the society which accepts or attacks literary works. He also writes about philosophy, politics, religion, the political organization of his country… This essay is also important for worldwide literature because it's considered to be Realism's manifest and Balzac one of its founders who through his unique style set the path for many other Realism's writers.
His ambition to be the first to describe a moment in history by inventing various characters and without describing some event is notable in the prologue. In the beginning he compared people to animals but not by describing all kinds of people but by presenting one kind which presents them all.
The prologue is an important literary work which contains the idea and the theme of Balzac's entire literary opus.
Honore de Balzac started writing "The Human Comedy" 12 years before he started writing the prologue. He felt the need to describe his literary project, idea and the beginning of his writing in an objective way. The first idea for "The Human Comedy" appeared after Balzac compared people with animals. Balzac came to that comparison after reading some studies about the relationship between science and infinity, whether it's about organic chemistry, studies about flora and fauna… What's important to know is that all of those sciences have one rule in common: Unity of substance. By that principle there is only one "animal" and all the other creatures are made by the same rules. The animal gets its appearance and a surrounding in which she'll develop so we can conclude that differences between animals are just their surroundings.
Those studies make Balzac believe that society is much like nature. Just like surroundings define animals, society defines an individual and precisely because of that there is an equal number of human and animal species. Balzac asks himself isn't the difference between a soldier, warrior, lawyer, salesman, teacher, poet and pauper the same as the difference between a donkey, wolf, lion, sheep…
The animal world has some boundaries that can't be applied in society. For example, when we describe a lion it is easy to describe a lioness, but a description of a man makes it no easy for us to describe a woman because she isn't only the male's female. Women are complex creatures, and they aren't all alike even when their social statuses are the same. Also, people have a lot more drama going on than animals. People fight just like animals, but the higher level of intelligence makes their struggles more complex. Animals also don't know anything about art, science as we do. Animal's habits, despite being different, among species they are alike, but not the same, while habits in social classes change through centuries, and that's why a work that's supposed to speak out about the diversity of society had to explain men's and women's nature.
Writers of all times have never written a history of behavior. A certain writer even spend his whole life describing the Greek temper and behavior but the problem was people couldn't relate to a work in which they have a thousand character descriptions which are meant to represent society. All the other artists and storytellers of our time would create one or two characters through which they would describe a part of people's lives. Balzac was obsessed with Walter Scott's work because he managed to turn history into entertaining stories that also speak about people, but Scott failed in binding those works to one another. Balzac wanted to become the secretary of the society which would roughly translate to society's historian. Describing society, social events, human characters, vices, and virtues Balzac managed to write a history of behavior. He also wanted to write a book about France in the 19th century. Balzac, unlike Scott, tried to find a cause which makes people seek beauty and truth. He, as a writer, has to have an insight into people's principles, moral and politics. The true value of a writer is that he doubts everything, and so examines other people and events.
The inner meaning of "The Human Comedy" is based on the law which states that people aren't bad or good and that urges and abilities are inside all of us. Contrary to the ruling opinion, society can make people better, and the thing that makes us evil is greed. For Balzac Catholicism is perfect to kill evil and vicious tendencies in people. Christianity and especially Catholicism are the main component of social order as well as thoughts and passion which are the most destructive. Since Christianity was the one that created new nations Balzac thinks it's the only one that can preserve them. From that emerges the need for monarchy because, for Balzac, Catholicism and government are the same principles. Balzac also thinks that elections are a perfect but not the only way to establish new laws because a lot of people, to which the new laws apply to, can't participate in the elections. Their interests would be better taken care of by a monarchy because elections turn into the reign of the masses which in the end doesn't assume responsibilities for its actions and the governance becomes a legalized tyranny.
Under the threat his work could be considered immoral he emphasizes that every man who stand up against any evil or abuse should be accused of being immoral. When people have nothing to reproach they start accusing writer of being immoral and especially if the writer tells the truth. We have two examples of such accusations: Socrates and Jesus Christ. Both of them were judged by their societies and when they wanted to execute them they just called them immoral to justify their own crimes.
Balzac was aware that some parts of his work would show the dark sides of society and it will seem like he's supporting people to be immoral but he explains that he's trying to show things like they are. He considers himself to be historian and history, unlike the novel, doesn't aspire to beauty. It doesn't change to be more appealing, while novels aspire to create a better reality. Balzac stated Walter Scott as an example for adjustment of writing to live up to the hypocrite standards of his country and for that he falsely described female characteristics in his most famous female characters. Balzac states that a protestant doesn't have ideals because her love, honor, and purity are just her way of fulfilling her duties because she is ended if she does anything wrong. Unlike her, a catholic woman can sin and be forgiven, so her honor is a matter of choice, therefore, more valuable. Because of that protestant writer like Scott sees only one type of woman while catholic women are all different. Scott didn't describe passion completely with all its transgressions, punishments, and redemptions which emphasize the virtues of passion. Every inhuman act for Balzac is led by passion and it's the foundation of faith, history, novels and art.
Balzac thinks that people's future will stay the same no matter the science and its accomplishments. Electricity will not change the human nature just like Columbus's and Galileo's researches won't and the same law applies to people's relationship with God.
Balzac plans to show over three million different characters of a single time. All of them will have to have a surrounding in which they will be presented and that's why Balzac divided his work into six parts: Scenes of Parisian, private, provincial, political, military and country life. His character studies will be divided into those six books and they will altogether create a history of society in which every one of them will correspond to a certain general idea. Scenes from private life will describe childhood and youth, Scenes from provincial life will describe passion and personal interests, Scenes from Parisian life will describe vices and licentiousness. The mentioned three books will paint us a picture of the social life. The other books speak out about individual who present common interests of all people which also include war invasions. The last one is Scenes from country life which represents the purest characters of the whole "Human Comedy". The characters of that book are the carriers of the moral principles.
Balzac lets us know that he will write two other parts of such kind: Pathology of social life and Monograph of Virtues. He only hopes he will live long enough to get everything done. His biggest support are his friends who truly stand by him without attacking or insulting him. The last thing Balzac tells his readers that he only recognizes those works signed by him. The name of the work is completely justified because it covers a critic and a history of society as well as its principles and illnesses.
Honore de Balzac Biography
Honore de Balzac was born in France in 1799. He was a dramatic, storyteller and novel writer and all of his novels belong to Realism. He was born in a respectable family and he planned to be an attorney. Since he never received enough love and warmth from his family in 1820 he decided to break all ties with them and moved to Paris to dedicate himself to writing.
He was disappointed when he couldn't achieve fame in a short and easy way so he started doing questionable jobs. His failed jobs bring him into a financial crisis. After that he dedicated himself to literature for the rest of his life in order to pay off his debts.
In 1829 he published a novel "Les Chouans" and the novel made part of "The Human Comedy". In "The Human Comedy" he described his vision of the Parisian society of the 19th century. In a short period of time he created more than a hundred works. His most famous novels are "Lost Illusions", "Le Pere Goriot", "Cousin Pons", "Cousin Bett", "Louis Lambert"…
Completely exhausted with work and paying off debts he died in Paris in 1850 when he was 51 years old.
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