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Title:The Portrait of The Jew in The Balzacian Novel
Author(s):Grodzinsky, Frances Schlamowitz
Department / Program:French
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, Romance
Abstract:Unlike other novelists of the early nineteenth century, Honore de Balzac created important literary characters who were Jewish. Although he borrowed certain traits, his Jews were not the stereotypes commonly found in earlier literature. Balzac used his ability to penetrate the facade of reality in order to explore human experience and to depict French society. Because the Jews had a special relationship to the French community, they were also scrutinized by the author. As he began to observe the Jew, his perspicacity dispelled the superficiality of the demonic archetype which was commonly accepted. As Balzac probed into the motivation of the Jew, he realized his own affinity with them. In his portraits of the Jew he created outsiders and pariahs with all the strengths of such excluded types and challenged them to triumph over the society which rejected them. Balzac develops in the successful Jew, a Promethean figure who uses his authenticity, will and intelligence to achieve his goal.
This thesis examines the character of the successful Jew and constrasts it with the character of the Jew who fails. Because the Jew obtained his power from the acqusition of gold, it assumed a critical role in his life. Balzac did not dismiss the Jew's need for gold as simply greed or avarice, but rather he portrayed it as synonymous with the need to control one's own life. In La Comedie Humaine gold is a force that influences and directs the destinies of many. For the Jew, however, it assumes an additional significance. It is used by Balzac as the sign of the Jew. Gold represents not only the source of the Jew's power, but the idea of sensuality and beauty in the Jewesses.
The portrait of the Jew is first examined in Clotilde de Luisignan, an early work. Next the novels in La Comedie Humaine which contain Jewish characters are examined in the context of Balzac's literary career. Most of the developed Jewish portraits are found in his later novels. Two, however, Gobseck and Pauline de Villenoix appear early in the work. They serve as the first positive Jewish portraits and stand out among the superficial references to Jewish moneylenders which are scattered throughout the early novels. Gobseck becomes the model on which portraits of other successful Jews are based and developed.
This thesis investigates the physical, mental and moral make-up of the Jew in Balzacian society. Balzac defines the Jews as a race rather than a religious group. His characters, while performing traditional "Jewish" roles in society, create their own worth and forge their own futures by the use of their will, and intelligence. The plight of the Jew is that he is born a Jew and defined by others as such. He overcomes this either by accepting his Jewishness and asserting himself or by running away from it. Those who opt for the former belong to a group that Sartre in Reflexions sur la Question Juive identifies as authentic; the others are inauthentic. This Sartrean analysis is expanded to include some non-Jews who belong to the group of outcasts and artists which the Jew comes to represent. The authentic Jews are identified with Prometheus and the Promethean Will. This mythic hero is compared to the successful Jew and the study of the will examined in light of Louis Lambert's "Treatise on the Will."
Finally the Jew is examined as artist, genius and artist/genius. The true artist, Josepha Mirah, is contrasted to Nathan, and the genius of the successful Jew is revealed. In Balzacian society the Jew stands out as an extraordinary character in a unique role.
Issue Date:1980
Description:186 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8026505
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-14
Date Deposited:1980

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