Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

Joyce and Balzac: Portraits of the Artist in the Age of Industrial Production

Academic journal article European Joyce Studies

Joyce and Balzac: Portraits of the Artist in the Age of Industrial Production

Article excerpt

Let me begin with the repetition of an improbable name: Paul de Kock. In Balzac's novel Illusions Perdues (1837-43),1 the impoverished journalist Etienne Lousteau, needing a new pair of gloves for the evening, sells his review copies of a number of new novels, including one by de Kock, a newcomer to the literary scene. The pages of de Kock' s novel are still uncut, and Lousteau will write the review without reading the book so as to be able to resell it.2 A few pages later, Lousteau' s editor tells him to write the review so as to compare de Kock favourably to Victor Ducange, an established writer of lucrative popular novels, because the editor has just struck a deal with a bookseller who has acquired two hundred copies of the novel, and who wants to "make a new author in the same style" as Ducange.3 Although Lousteau and his editor Finot are fictional characters, Ducange and de Kock are historical personages, both of them best-selling writers who found their audience among the emerging class of petitbourgeois readers produced by the introduction of public education after the French Revolution.4 Their audience was the concierge, the valet, the cook and, one might add, the bored housewife.5 Joyce shows us one of these readers in the fourth episode of Ulysses, where Molly Bloom, reading in bed in the morning, asks her husband to borrow another novel from the Capel Street library: "Get another of Paul de Kock's. Nice name he has" (U 4.358).6 Molly's taste in fiction is in keeping with the Blooms' taste in visual art; over the bed hangs a picture entitled Bath of the Nymph, "splendid masterpiece in art colours" given away with the Easter number of the (real) magazine Photo Bits (U 4.370).

These passing references to a minor but commercially successful writer are evidence of a debt that Joyce owes to Balzac, if only indirectly. In the two dozen novels that Balzac grouped together as Sc?nes de la vie parisienne, he invented the modern urban novel. He was the first to produce work whose ambition was to fully comprehend the conditions of survival in the contemporary urban setting, in which the private ambitions of fictional characters are subjected to the larger social and economic forces of modernity. These forces are made visible in Balzac not just from the panoramic view that takes in everyone from the shopkeeper to the cabinet minister; they are also objectified in the most precise detail: we know the street addresses of Balzac's characters. We can follow their movements across a map of Paris as readers of Joyce do with a map of Dublin.

The references to de Kock, however, have to do with a specific aspect of this modem urban universe: the place of literature as a cultural phenomenon, a profession, and a form of economic productivity. No writer of fiction is more authoritative and more ruthlessly analytical of literary activity in this context than Balzac, who charts every aspect of the process of literary production from the writer's inspiration to the making of paper, the working of presses, and the complex businesses of publishing, reviewing, advertising, and bookselling.7 De Kock, who lived out his days in a comfortable suburban villa, is a signal example of how to succeed in this world. By contrast, Balzac's Lucien de Rubempr?, like Joyce's Stephen Dedalus, is a model of how not to succeed. Balzac's project, however, is not just to provide a detailed exposition of the process of literary production. Rather, as Georg Luk?cs has shown, Balzac chronicles the "capitalisation of literature" and of the spirit that produces it.8 In Balzac, literature and even lyrical sensation are transformed into merchandise by the forces of capital that transform every aspect of modem life. This is not the least of Balzac's legacy for later writers such as Joyce. Allowing for differences in historical and geographical setting, Joyce's own fictional artists essentially find themselves confronted with the conditions of modem capital first defined by Balzac, and they must therefore make, or fail to make, their own pacts with it. …

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