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BALZAC AND THE SHORT-STORY
In his preface to Argow le pirate, otherwise known as Annette et
le criminel,^ Balzac writes as follows:
J'ose dire que cet ouvrage offrira de plus le m^rite d'une autre difficult^
vaincue, plus grande que les lecteurs ne sauraient I'imaginer, et qui ne peut
^tre guSre appr^ci^e que par les auteurs eux-m^mes.
En g6n6ral, I'on ne se tire d'affaire dans la composition d'un roman
que par la multitude des personnages et la vari6t6 des situations, et Ton n'a
pas beaucoup d'exemples de romans h deux ou trois personnages, restreints
k une seule situation.
Dans ce genre, Caleb Williams, le chef-d'oeuvre du c616bre Godwin, est,
de notre ^poque, le seul ouvrage que Ton connaisse, et I'int^ret en est prodi-
gieux. Le roman d' Annette ne contient, de mSme que dans Williams, que
deux personnages marquants, et l'int6ret m'en a sembl6 assez fort, surtout
au quatriSme volume; mais j'en dis peut-^tre plus que la modestie, qui
convient k un pauvre bachelier, ne le comporte; je m'arrete done ^
A fiction on this order, with only two or three characters, based
upon a single situation, calls to mind the short-story, that form of
brief narrative which has flourished so remarkably in the United
States since Poe, and of which the evolution, in the case of English
and American literature, has been so diligently studied.' Were
Balzac and his French contemporaries interested in such a form?
France has an imposing short-story literature, yet little effort has
' Paris, E. Buissot, 1824, 4 vols, in 12. This is one of tlie unsigned OBuvres de
jeunesse; cf. Lovenjoul, Histoire des teuvres de Balzac, 3d ed., 256.
2 1, 15-16. This preface is reprinted in Lovenjoul, op. cil., 450-53.
' For definitions of the short-story, cf. Brander Matthews, The Philosophy of the
Short-Story, New York, 1901; H. S. Canby, The Short Story, New York, 1902; Bliss
Perry, A Study of Prose Fiction, Boston, 1902 ; Clayton Hamilton, Materials and Methods
of Fiction, New York, 1908. The somewhat narrow limits set by Poe, whose famous
dictum in a review of Twice Told Tales is the point of departure for most students of
short-story technique, are accepted in the present discussion. Poe's remarks, in part,
are as follows (Works, New York, Crowell, 1902, XI, 108): "A skilful literary artist has
constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accomodate his inci-
dents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to
be wrought out, he then invents such incidents — he then combines such events as may
best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. If his very initial sentence tend
not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole
composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect,
is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill,
a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a
kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction."
For historical studies of the form, cf. H. S. Canby, The Short Story in English, New
York, 1909; C. S. Baldwin, American Short Stories, New York, 1909; C. A. Smith,
The American Short Story, Boston, 1912.
331] 71 [Modern Philologi, December, 1914
72 Horatio E. Smith
been made to trace the sources of the genre in that country; the
most noteworthy contribution, Professor Baldwin's, in his Introduc-
tion to American Short Stories,^ is, as he himself suggests, only a
general survey, "pending further discussion."^ Here appears to be
a promising field of investigation, practically unworked. The fol-
lowing inquiry into the relation of Balzac to the short-story, prompted
by the above-quoted remarks from Argow le pirate, represents merely
an initial and tentative excursion into this new territory.
The reference to Caleb Williams, in Balzac's preface, is significant.
He is correct in ascribing to Godwin's novel the interest that rests
upon a vivid presentation of one situation; from beginning to end
the attention is fastened upon the relations of Williams and the
man who is first his patron and then his persecutor, Falkland, and,
throughout, the action is based upon the unconfessed crime of the
latter. The following comment in Godwin's preface shows how he
himself valued the effect of such a structure:
I felt that I had a great advantage in thus carrying back my invention
from the ultimate conclusion to the first commencement of the train of adven-
tures upon which I purposed to employ my pen. An entire unity of plot
would be the infallible result; and the unity of spirit and interest in a tale
truly considered gives it a powerful hold on the reader which can scarcely
be generated with equal success in any other way.'
This method savors of Poe's "dehberately preconceived effect,"
and it is interesting to note, in passing, that Poe, in The Philosophy
of Composition, written in 1846, refers to the structure of Caleb
Williams and comments on the type of novel built to produce a
single, vivid impression.''
But Balzac's novel, in spite of his ambition, is less successful
than Godwin's. While its basis is the love of the bewitching Annette
1 See note 3, p. 71.
2 The following must also be mentioned: Una A.Taylor. " The Short Story in France,
1800-1900," Edinburgh Review, July, 1913 (the emphasis is on content, not on form,
and the word short-story is not used in the narrow technical sense); W. M. Hart, "The
Narrative Art of the Old French Fabliaux," KiUredge Anniversary Papers, Boston,
1913 (Professor Hart establishes the fact that the fabliaux, in their technique, are
forerunners of the short-story) ; J. B. Esenwein, Studying the Short Story, New York,
1912 (an Interesting reference [p. xx] to the brief tales of Balzac); F. BrunetiSre!
"Little French Masterpieces," Introduction to the Balzac volume. New York, 1903;
Spielhagen, "Beitrage zur Theorie und Technik des Romans" (Roman oder Novellet
VII), Leipzig, 1883.
» Caleb Williams, London, Routledge, 1903, p. xviii. It should be stated that,
while the date of Caleb Williams is 1794, this preface was not written until 1832 and of
course could not have been known to Balzac when he wrote Argow le pirate.
* Works, XIV, 193.
Balzac and the Short-Story 73
for a fierce but kind-hearted pirate, there are so many other char-
acters and so many extraneous events that the impression of unity
is obscured. An item worth noting, however, is the fact that Balzac
occasionally feels the lack of concision and stops the narrative, in
accordance with what is later his constant practice, in order to apolo-
gize to the reader.^ One remark, at the end of the novel, where,
after reporting the demise of the lovers, Balzac allows himself to
discourse on the fates of the other characters, deserves quotation :
Ainsi qu'au th^dtre, lorsqu'une fois le noeud d'un drame est tranche,
il devient tellement impossible de r^ussir k int^resser, qu'on a fait une loi
de cesser k I'instant ; mais la curiosity des lecteurs ne seroit pas satisf aite si
je n'achevois pas de donner le detail des actions du lieutenant, qui, toutes
criminelles et horribles qu'elles soient, ont un genre d'int6ret pour certains
lecteurs. Alors il sera loisible k celui qui ne s'int6resse qu'S, Annette et au
Criminel d'en rester Ik. Ceux qui voudront tout connaltre n'auront qu'a
Evidently, the author still had in mind the unity which he set out
The preface is more important than the novel. It is of consider-
able interest that as early as 1824 — Professor Baldwin finds the first
French short-story in 1836 — Balzac deliberately attempts the peculiar
singleness of effect which later becomes the chief desideratum of the
short-story. Furthermore, Balzac's comprehension of the principle
involved, and his discernment in selecting Caleb Williams as an
example, are proven by the statements of Godwin and Poe concern-
ing the unity of Caleb Williams, and it is clear that his remarks
represent, not a vague generalization, but an opinion that is well
The other compositions grouped as Balzac's (Euvres de jeunesse^
are in no way suggestive; they may therefore be dismissed at once
and the attention directed to the products of the author's maturity.
Several of his narratives of the years 1830-32 deserve notice, and the
next step will be to examine these, in chronological order, and to
point out whatever is of interest from the point of view of short-story
' II, 100, 243, 250-51. « IV, 212.
' Cf. the following works by Lovenjoxil: Histoire des oeuvres de Balzac, 3d ed., 255-
56; Une page perdue de Balzac, Paris, 1903, 135-67.
74 Horatio E. Smith
The first is Une passion dans le desert (1830). After a brief
introduction, in which, apropos of wild-animal training, the tale
of the old soldier is brought up, a curt sentence starts the exposition:
Lors de I'expMition entreprise dans la haute Egypte par le general
Desaix, un soldat provengal, 6tant tomb6 au pouvoir des Maugrabins, fut
emmen6 par ces Arabes dans les ddserts situes au del^ des cataractes du Nil.^
By the end of the first paragraph we have been told how the soldier
escapes on a horse, rides the horse to death, and finds himself help-
less in the middle of the desert. This is a good beginning; we are
now acquainted with the hero and the setting. In view of Poe's
requirement that the very first part of the narrative be constructed
with an eye to the single preconceived effect of the whole, the direct-
ness with which Balzac sets out is striking, and, even if he lack the
supreme skill of the American, he achieves here, as well as in certain
other cases, an able initial paragraph. Following a description of
the beauty and the dreadful soUtude of the desert, the despair of
the soldier is put with that concision which is a prime factor in the
short-story: "Le Provengal avait vingt-deux ans, il arma sa cara-
bine."^ But he postpones suicide, finds a shelter, fells a palm tree
so as to put a barrier at its entrance — and at this point there is a
ring of foreboding in the narrator's voice:
Quand, vers le soir, ce roi du desert tomba, le bruit de sa chute retentit
au loin, et il y eut une sorte de g6missement pousse par la solitude; le soldat
en fr6mit comme s'il ellt entendu quelque voix lui pr6dire un malheur.'
Here Balzac is employing an accredited short-story device, sug-
gesting the characteristic tone of the narrative and thereby intensi-
fying the totality of effect. In the night the man awakes and
discovers at his side in the cave a panther. There follows a graphic
and plausible enough description of the taming of the beast. The
situation during the ensuing days, when the man's impulse to plunge
a knife into the creature is several times blocked by her trustfulness,
is made exceedingly tense, and there is a careful ordering of the
incidents with a view to bringing the suspense to a head. At length,
in their games, the panther suddenly shows irritation and starts
to bite and is instantly killed by her companion, who at once regrets
his haste in resenting what may have been simply playfulness. The
I CEuiires completes, idition difinitive. XII, 312. = XII, 314. > XII, 315.
Balzac and the Short-Story 75
narrative ends tersely: "Et les soldats qui avaient vu mon drapeau,
et qui accoururent k mon secours, me trouv^rent tout en larmes."*
With this dramatic close Balzac completes the requirements, and
it becomes clear that at least one of his compositions possesses that
harmony, resting upon a well-arranged series of incidents leading
to a single decisive act, which constitutes a successful short-story.
The harmony, moreover, is increased, the whole is closer knit,
thanks to the fact that the soldier constantly compares the panther
to womankind, and, more specifically, to a former mistress of his.
Before leaving this narrative a difference in editions must be noticed.
Whereas in the first edition there is the swift denoHment above
described, in the edition definitive^ four extra paragraphs are inserted
immediately before the final solution; here the lady, to whom the
story is being told, and the narrator converse about the outcome
of the adventure. The resultant heightening of the suspense becomes
an irritation, and the more direct culmination in the first edition
is better. Furthermore, in the first edition the final sentence of the
story stands, as it should, at the end of a paragraph, and the conclu-
sion, a kind of envoy which Balzac attaches, begins with a fresh
paragraph. There is no such division in the edition definitive, and
the finality of the narrative proper is consequently less complete.
In Jisus-Christ en Flandre (1831), there is added to the main
narrative an account of a vision which the author has in a church
near the scene of the story, but this fragment, which originally
appeared separately under the title L'Eglise, and which was not
appended until 1845,' is in no way essential* and may in the present
consideration be wholly disregarded. The subject is a miracle:
Christ saves the lives of those who have sufficient faith to walk with
him across a tempestuous sea. The preparation for the single
climateric moment when the miracle takes place is skilful. A feel-
ing is created at the outset that the last traveler to board the ferry
is no ordinary person — and that perhaps his joining the company
for this trip, when a storm is brewing, is no ordinary event. Frequent
• XII, 324. In the first edition (Revue de Paris, December, 1830), the ending reads:
*'me trouvSrent tout en larmes — §vanoui."
2 XII, 324. s Of. Lovenjoul, op. cit.. 177.
* Cf. Modern Language Notes, XXIX, 20 : "The last third [of Jesus-Christ en Flandre]
is open to criticism as having hardly any connection with the plot."
76 Horatio E. Smith
repetitions of this motif help in holding the narrative true to its course.
During the approach of the storm the reader is completely informed
as to the characteristics of the passengers, so that he is ready to
focus his gaze, with full appreciation, upon their behavior in face of
peril. The manner in which Balzac suggests the supernatural, and
his general method of presentation, call to mind what Professor
Baldwin, speaking of American short-stories, terms static art. Of
Poe, Professor Baldwin writes:
he gained his own peculiar triumphs in the static — in a situation developed
by exquisite gradation of such infinitesimal incidents as compose Berenice
to an intense climax of emotional suggestion, rather than in a situation
developed by gradation of events to a climax of action.^
In Balzac's tale, the climax is certainly one of action, but the prepa-
ration consists of a deliberate adjustment of the setting with an
eye to the selection of such details as will emphasize the meaning of
this action; there are few events before the decisive one. In other
words, the static and the kinetic are combined. The subject, I
think, does not lend itself to short-story treatment as readily as that
of Une passion dans de desert, yet the structure undoubtedly warrants
the classification of this narrative as an example of the type under
discussion, the second to be found in Balzac by 1831.
The theme of La grande Breteche (1832)^ suggests that of Poe's
The Cask of Amontillado (1846), an impeccable short-story. The
unique effect, in both compositions, rests upon the narration of an
act of vengeance: one man murders another by shutting him up
behind a wall of solid masonry; in Poe the cause for revenge is not
specified, in Balzac a husband thus punishes a lover. It must be
explained at the outset that Balzac's story consists of three parts,
and that for the present comparison the first two may be dismissed
with a word. The interest, throughout, is in the mystery of a certain
deserted house: after an introductory description sounding a note
of gloom, the first part shows that the abandonment of the estate
has been decreed by the will of the deceased countess, without
revealing her motive, the second vaguely suggests an explanation by
a reference to a Spaniard who may have been the lover, and the third
1 p. 22.
2 La grande BreUche is published by Jessup and Canby, with a page of comment,
in The Book of the Short Story. New York, 1912.
Balzac and the Short-Story 77
part is a complete solution. The whole is harmonious, and illus-
trates the possibilities of a short-story based upon a process of
ratiocination, as suggested by Poe,i with the interest depending
upon the manner in which the man who exposes the mystery accumu-
lates and arranges his data, but it is somewhat long and detailed,
with an occasional short digression. The third section, which con-
sists of the tale of Rosalie, the maid of the countess, is more compact
than the other parts, is in itself complete, and affords an excellent
opportunity for comparison with the work of Poe, the master crafts-
man. The first and second parts contribute largely to the suspense,
yet no violence is done to the structure when the third part is con-
Foe's beginning illustrates admirably his principle that the initial
sentence shall tend to the outbringing of the single effect of the story :
The thousand injuries of Portunato I had borne as I best could, but
when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.^
With Balzac, the start is direct enough, but cumbersome:
La chambre que Madame de Merret occupait h la BretSche 6tait situ6e
au rez-de-chaussle. Un petit cabinet de quatre pieds de profondeur environ,
pratiquS dans I'int^rieur du mur, lui servait de garde-robe.'
It will be seen later that the closet is essential to the story, but the
forced and clumsy allusion to it in the second sentence is utterly
different from Foe's reference, at once casual and natural, to the
niche in the wall, which, in his tale, plays the corresponding r61e.
The remainder of Balzac's initial paragraph is well done: he proceeds
to tell how, one evening, the husband comes home late, enters his
wife's chamber, and is caused to suspect, by her manner and by a
noise as if a door had been shut just before his arrival, that some-
body is hidden in the closet. The action is rapid: the wife swears
innocence, the husband's suspicions grow, he sends for a mason and
has the closet walled up during the night, and stays with his wife
constantly for several weeks. Whenever there is a sound in the
closet and the wife begs for mercy, he answers — and this sentence
closes the narrative: "Vous avez jur6 sur la croix qu'il n'y avait
\k personne."* It is clear from a remark which Balzac makes else-
> Works. XI, 109. 2 Ibid., VI, 167. a (Euvres, IV, 577. « IV, 583.
78 Horatio E. Smith
where that he valued the dramatic quaUty of this final scene.^
Certainly it is as effective as Poe's: "Against the new masonry I
re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no
mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!"^
Balzac's structure is skilful, especially at the climax, but the main
part of Poe's story is in two ways superior. Poe's totality of effect
is enhanced by the simplicity of the plot, which is such that there
are only two characters and that the action flows steadily in a single
direction and ends in a swift catastrophe. In La grande Breteche,
such incidents have been chosen that the introduction of several
subsidiary characters is required and the denoiknent is less sudden,
and the result, although the unity is excellent, is second to Poe's.
Again, in the Cash of Amontillado, the unity of tone is heightened,
the note of menace and the suggestion of revenge are maintained, by
the introduction of such details as Montresor's drinking to the long
life of Fortunato, who is to become his victim, and his reference
to the family motto. Nemo me impune lacessit. In La grande Breteche
there is no such device, although Balzac uses it elsewhere.
Poe's is a better short-story. The point is that while Balzac
has not been supremely successful — and no one would attempt to
set him up as a rival to Poe — and while it has been necessary to lift
this story bodily out of its context, yet this is a narrative which meets
the requirements of the short-story type.'
A discussion of La femme abandonnee (1832) may well consist
of a comparison with Gautier's La morte amoureuse, which is nearly
contemporary (1836) and which is named by Professor Baldwin as
a genuine short-story— and the first one in France. La morte
amoureuse deals with the liaison of a priest and a female vampire;
it is fantastic after the manner of Hoffmann, and herein utterly
different from Balzac's composition, but it closely resembles the
latter in the fact that the interest is sharply focussed upon the rela-
tion of one man and one woman. With Balzac, as with Gautier,
* La muse du departement, VI, 437. In Balzac's Letires d VHranglre, II, 420, we read:
"ces petites tenuinaisons, comme David Sechard, qui content plus cher h I'^crivain que
de bons faciles sujets neufs." Evidently Balzac feels that the bringing a story to a
successful close is as difficult as It is desirable.
2 VI, 175.
s It should be added that a comparison of earlier versions of the story with the
edition definitive, reveals in the latter several important omissions and several minor
ones, particularly in the first and second parts of the story, the effect of which Is greater
Balzac and the Short-Stoky 79
the action begins at once: a young Parisian, convalescent, is sent
to the home of a country cousin, finds the society dull, and becomes
eager to make the acquaintance of Madame de Beaus^ant, who is
living in seclusion in the neighborhood since her abandonment by
her lover, Ajuda-Pinto. He is sufficiently naive and clever to win
her affection, and they live happily together for a number of years,
until the man is persuaded into a marriage of expediency. The
final separation is ultimately followed by the man's suicide.
La morte amoureuse is, without reservation, short-story in form,
and La femme abandonnee is not, yet the basic narrative of the latter
is just as susceptible of short-story treatment. Balzac has not
attained, very likely did not seek, the necessary compactness. Much
space is devoted, at the outset, to a description of provincial society
life; the account is shrewd and advances the narrative in that it pre-
pares the reader to understand how ready the bored Parisian becomes
for the relief of an interesting woman, yet this last effect a modern
short-story writer would have secured with much greater economy of
words, and any others he would have disregarded. Occasional slighter
pauses for similar Balzacian comment are open to like criticism.
At the point where the liaison is broken, the action is not swift
enough; there is a lack of the terseness essential to the short-story
once the cUmax is passed, a terseness not unlike that required in
dramatic writing and mentioned by Balzac apropos of Argow le
pirate.'^ Here the fault Ues in the subject-matter rather than in
Balzac's presentation ;2 the turning back of this man to his mistress
could be only a gradual process, whereas, in La morte amoureuse,
a single visit to the tomb of the woman suffices to precipitate an
entirely plausible catastrophe. The two stories exemplify the point
made by Mr. Clayton Hamilton that the material of the short-story
must be more striking than that of the novel, the short-story writer
not having "sufficient time at his disposal to reveal the full human
significance of the commonplace."' And it is clear that the task
of giving artistic unity to a fiction based upon the commonplace
was a severe one for Balzac, for he writes in a letter to Madame
' See p. 000, n. 0.
9 Yet the responsibility, from the short-story point of view, is still Balzac's. Cf.
the quotation from Poe, p. 71, n. 3.
* Materials and Methods of Fiction, p. 178.
80 Horatio E. Smith
Hanska: "Les ^v6nements sont si difficiles k coordonner, quand on
veut rester vrai."^ The realist is not pre-eminently fitted to con-
struct short-stories; his modus operandi is frequently the reverse
of that prescribed by Poe,^ and the degree of unity which he attains
is almost inevitably less striking. Balzac's stories become less sug-
gestive of the type under discussion as they become more realistic,
and if he were the unalloyed realist sometimes conceived, there
would be less reason for studying his relation to the short-story,
but there is enough of the romantic and even of the melodramatic
in his writing to compel attention here.
The ending of La femme abandonnee is quite as successful as
Gautier's; the latter writes of the vampire: "Elle se dissipa dans
I'air comme une fum^e, et je ne la revis plus,"' while Balzac says:
"M. de Nueil passa dans un boudoir attenant au salon, oil il avait
mis son fusil en revenant de la chasse, et se tua."* The concision
and finality of each are all they should be. In each a moral follows,
and from the short-story viewpoint Gautier is superior, for in a single
short paragraph, with the effect of the tale still wholly fresh, he
develops the priestly injunction: "Ne regardez jamais une femme,"
while Balzac, for his comment upon the position of the man and the
woman and the inevitable result of the man's marriage, requires five
times as much space — and at such a point mere physical dimensions
are significant. Here, as elsewhere in the story, the nature of the
subject — soul analysis, and not romanticism after the manner of
Gautier — and Balzac's love for details and explanations, block what
could easily be made a successful short-story. I have considered
La femme abandonnee at length because it is a short-story manque,
a near short-story, so to speak, because it suggests Gautier's expert
production, and because it illustrates so aptly the conflict of the
short-story and reaUsm.
Of these four narratives, the first three, I think, are short-stories.
It is upon them, and upon the preface of 1824, that an estimate of
Balzac's significance in the history of the genre must be based. The
material which follows, although in general it corroborates the
impression already made, is here offered largely in the interest of
' Lettres d VUangire, II, 178. ' Nouvelles, Paris, Charpentier, 1871, p. 295.
2 See p. 71, u. 3. « III, 78.
Balzac and the Short-Stoby 81
Of the other brief tales, many appear suggestive on account
of certain details, an effective beginning or ending, an adroit economy
in construction, but none requires long consideration here.' Of the
C antes drolatiques, the majority of which have a Rabelaisian fluidity
of style remote from the short-story manner, four are clearly short-
story in conception, if not in execution. These are: La belle ImpS-
ria, La mye du roy, La pucelle de Thilouze, Le frere d'armes. Yet not
one of these completely satisfies; in each the effectiveness is some-
how clogged, the impetus deflected, and the result is not precisely
what Poe and his successors demand. This is by no means equivalent
to saying that the tales would be more artistic had they been made
fully to conform to these particular requirements; the type under
discussion is not necessarily excellent above all others, and many a
good narrative could be fitted to its conditions only by mutilation.
Among the longer fictions, several written during the period of
maturity, such as Le cure de Tours, L' Enfant maudit, Ursule Mirouet,
and Le lys dans la vallee, possess in some degree that unity to which
Balzac refers in 1824 as a desideratum.
La muse du departement is of special interest because it is pat-
terned upon Benjamin Constant's Adolphe,^ of which the singleness
of effect is so complete. It has been seen that, in his preface to
Argow le pirate, Balzac suggested that, of contemporary novels,
Caleb Williams was the only one possessing the unity which he
describes. He might well have mentioned Adolphe (1816),' of which
Constant himself says that it was written to persuade several friends
"de la possibilite de donner une sorte d'inter^t k un roman dont les
personnages se reduisaient a deux, et dont la situation serait toujours
la m^me."* Later, Balzac admires Adolphe,^ refers to "ces delicieux
1 Cf. La paix du manage, Le message, Le chef~d' auvre iiiconnu, Le comae de Carlsruhe
(.(Euvres, pp. 271-73).
In an album of notes by Balzac, published under the title: Pensees, sujets, fragments
(Paris, Blaizot, 1910), are several outlines of plots which would have served for capital
short-stories. Cf. pp. 77-78, 86-87 (these two outlines are found, treated as ampUfled
anecdotes, in Balzac's £chantillon de causerie frantaise, XX, pp. 300-302 and 313-15,
respectively); p. 126, L'Original. Professor Canby, in The Short Story, p. 16, points
out similar "motifs and suggestions for stories" in Hawthorne's American Note-Books.
' Cf. Lettres d Vitrangire, II, 126.
»Le Breton (Balzac, Paris, 1905, p. 76) thinks that at this time (1824) Balzac had
not read Adolphe.
« Adolphe, Paris, 1864, pp. 29-30 (Preface de la troisigme edition). ' Cf. XXII, 517.
82 Horatio E. Smith
in-dix-huit nommfe Adolphe, Paul et Virginie, .... "^ as if approv-
ing the compactness of the story, and at length uses Adolphe as a
model. La muse du departement possesses only relative unity. Balzac
makes a capital effort to secure the effect described in his early
preface, and it is interesting that at this later point in his career
(1843) he has not lost sight of the value of such a method of composi-
tion, yet the novel lacks that harmony which Constant attains by
riveting the attention upon the man and the woman, by omitting
physical descriptions — of which Balzac is so fond — and creating
few subsidiary characters, and which makes of Adolphe a nearly
perfect short-story, Adolphe, which was written twenty years before
Gautier's La morte amoureuse.
No remarks of the weight of those in the preface to Argow exist
in Balzac's later critical comment. One or two bear out what he
said in 1824. In a review, written in 1840, of Cooper's Lac Ontario,'^
he says: " J'aime ces sujets simples, ils annoncent une grande force
de conception, et sont toujours pleins de richesses."' And in
the same number of the Revue parisienne, he utters a criticism
against complex plots and too many events in a novel,* but what he
champions in this case is not so much greater unity as greater atten-
tion to character study.* Balzac speaks with enthusiasm of what
he names the conte,^ and extols those who have excelled as conteursj'
but as far as can be determined from the list of writers which he adds,
what he prizes is simply supreme skill in narration. Certainly
short-story writing, practiced as an art, requires such narrative
power, but so do other forms of fiction equally estimable. Balzac's
realization of the vagueness of the term conte may be gauged by the
following remark, made apropos of Melmoth reconcilie: "Ce conte,
pour nous servir de I'expression a la mode et sous laquelle on con-
fond tons les travaux de I'auteur, de quelque nature qu'ils puissent
^tre."* And, as to this laxness, Balzac is not unlike his contempora-
1 XXri, 508.
• Balzac means The Pathfinder, of which the simplicity of plot is striking.
» XXIII. 585. < XXIII, 578.
' Cf., however, XXIII, 733: "La loi dominatrice est I'unitS dans la composition;
que vous placiez cette unitg, soit dans I'idee mere, soit dans le plan, sans elle il n'y a
que confusion" (of La chartreuse de Parme).
« XXII, 386; XXIII, 754; Lovenjoul, Page perdue de Balzac, p. 69.
' Penaees, sujets, fragments, p. 18.
5 XXII. 417.
Balzac and the Short-Story 83
ries, for there are a number of instances where he uses the words
conle, nouvelle, and roman without distinction.^
The net result of this investigation is to demonstrate that Balzac
took a lively interest in that kind of fiction of which the ultimate
development is the short-story, and that he himself wrote several
genuine short-stories. A more convincing case could be made out
for Balzac, if I marshaled the material differently, offering first the
negative evidence, and reserving for the end the presentation of
those facts which make it necessary to set aside the verdict of Pro-
fessor Baldwin that Balzac's " handling does not seem .... direct-
ive."* But a chronological arrangement is more satisfactory, as
being absolutely judicial, as emphasizing that Balzac was most
interested in highly unified narrative during the early part of his
career, at a time when it has been supposed the short-story was not
born in France, and, incidentally, before Balzac became a deep-dyed
realist, thus bearing out the view that the short-story is pre-eminently
a form for the romanticist.
While it may be accepted as a matter of fact that several of
Balzac's compositions have the general structure demanded of a
narrator who desires "to produce a single narrative effect with the
greatest economy of means that is consistent with the utmost
emphasis,'" conclusions must be less precise when the more elastic
requirements, such as conciseness of style, are considered. It is
sure that the clean-cut exactness of Poe contributed to the success
of his tales and that Balzac's clumsiness hindered effectual com-
pression;* it is sure that Balzac did not possess the gift of epithet
which so distinguished Stevenson; but we promptly reach a point
where the problem becomes a matter of purely subjective literary
criticism, and speculation of that nature will not settle a point in
1 Balzac applies the term nouvelle to Illusions perdues (Lettres d VHTanghe, I, 337),
to Cousin Pons (XXIV. 517), to "la fln de Beatrix" (Lettres d I'Hrangire, II, 391). He
calls La peau de chagrin a conte (XXI, 494), Massimilla Doni a roman (XXIV, 281).
2 Pp. 32-33. With Professor Baldwin's characterization of four of Balzac's short
pieces, I agree heartily.
3 Clayton Hamilton, op. cit., p. 173.
< Not to mention the pressvu-e brought to bear upon him by publishers, and his
own interest in money-making. Of. Lettres d I'Urangire, II, 176: "La rapidite du travail
m'6te le sens de la composition; je n'y vols plus clair, je ne sais plus ce que je fais";
ibid., p. 6: "que pour avoir de I'argent pour moi, pour ma vie, 11 faut que j'6crive des
nouvelles." Cf. Le Breton, op. cit., chap. vlii.
84 HoKATio E. Smith
And, in any case, no one would seek to prove that Balzac was a
great short-story artist; there appear to have been none in France
until several decades later. But he contributed not a little to that
groping after a new form which was evident before 1850. In an
article on Poe in the Revue des deux mondes for October 15, 1846,'
is a survey of the status of the brief narrative in France at that time,
with a reference to the growing taste for compositions that are
"simples, laconiques, savamment concentr^es."^ It is suggested that
this is merely a backward swing of the pendulum, a return of such
contes as Voltaire's Candide. The impression of a student of English
and American short-stories would be — with due respect for the diffi-
culty of measuring " the currents, the depths and the tideways ....
of literary forms," as Professor Bliss Perry puts it' — that the develop-
ment of highly unified brief tales in France during this period is
more than a matter of action and reaction, that it is the genesis of
a comparatively new literary form. There is evidently no sharp
dividing line, such as we have in English, in the "perpetually quoted"
remarks of Poe. There is evidently a connection, in French as in
English and American literature,* between such novels as Balzac
praises in 1824 and the short-story, and it is likely that the influence
of Constant's Adolphe, which represents a distinct effort to concen-
trate, and of such narratives as Paul et Virginie, Atala and Ren&,
is by no means negligible. Furthermore it is probable that since
the type reached maturity in France it has not been confined within
the limits set by Poe, but has been handled after the manner of the
German Novelle, wherein the stress is upon the "nature of the con-
tent," rather than upon "the story's outward form."* But such
opinions must remain conjectural until substantiated by minute
examination of all the short-story literature of France.
Horatio E. Smith
• There is no reason to think that Balzac was acquainted with Poe, although the
first French translation of Poe appeared as early as 1846 (LauvriSre, Poe, Paris, 1904,
p. 726). Balzac did not read English.
' P. 366.
» Studi/ of Prose Fiction, p. 331.
« Of. Canby, The Short Story, p. 21.
» Modern Language Notes, XXIX, 40. Such a tendency is exemplified by Balzac
In Adieu, which, though lacking the compression of the narratives above analyzed,
achieves, as the result of developing a somewhat elaborate structure about a single nucleus,'
a unity quite as artistic. Another example is Balzac's Le succube (Contes drolatiques).