Economies of Change: Form and Transformation in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

Economies of Change: Form and Transformation in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

Economies of Change: Form and Transformation in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

Economies of Change: Form and Transformation in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

Synopsis

Economies of Change provides a discussion of the importance of literary form in the work of 19th century novelists.

Excerpt

We have seen that the antiquarian in La Peau de chagrin sees knowledge as gained through the negation (sacrifice or loss) of experience. the same view informs most autobiographical writing, where the narrating-I finds compensation for the failures (emotional, epistemological, moral) in his experience in the knowledge that he has acquired and that gives him the authority to tell his life story. the paradigmatic example of such an endeavor is Proust Recherche where, through the autobiographical work of art, "lost time" of experience (or wasted life) is "regained," recuperated and transformed.

This would seem at first to also be the goal in Balzac Le Lys dans la vallée (1836), a first-person narrative in which Félix de Vandenesse tells his mistress, Natalie, the story of his life. Beginning his long letter--a letter that is as intimate in its confession as it is elaborate in its rhetoric and style-Félix evokes the figure of the poet who would tell his life story:

A quel talent nourri de larmes devrons-nous un jour la plus émouvante élégie, la peinture des tourments subis en silence par les âmes dont les racines tendres encore ne rencontrent que de durs cailloux dans le sol domestique, dont les premières frondaisons sont déchirées par des mains haineuses, dont les fleurs sont atteintes par la gelée au moment où elles s'ouvrent? Quel poète nous dira les douleurs de l'enfant dont les lèvres sucent un sein amer, et dont les sourires sont réprimés par le feu dévorant d'un œil sévère? (45)

(What unknown talent, nourished with tears, will some day give us the most moving elegy; the portrayal of torments undergone in silence by souls whose still tender roots meet nothing but hard pebbles in the soil of home; whose first green shoots are torn by hate-filled hands, whose flowers are nipped by frost just as they open? What poet will sing the heartaches of the child whose lips have sucked a bitter breast, whose smiles are driven back by the consuming fire of a stern eye?; 1-2.) . . .

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