UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dimensions of Vautrin Shaw, Penelope Angela Holmes


This thesis is concerned with the early stirrings of Vautrin in Balzac's consciousness, his sources both literary and historical and the shaping of these early beginnings into the mesmeric figure as we know him today. Our aim will be to present a coherent and succinct view of the dominating forces which the master novelist has interwoven in his character. The first chapter traces the dominant literary trends relevant to Vautrin's creation. Mood and personality of the character as well as their meaning in the context of romantic literature are explored. An important question is whether Vautrin has a prototype. Answers to this question precede discussion of the extent to which Vautrin is Balzac's creation. Upon establishing Vautrin's sources in literature, we next consider his historical and contemporary roots. Thus, an attempt is made to look beyond literary influences to people and events which influenced Balzac's perception of his world and, therefore, the development of his character. The extent to which Balzac found his literary inspiration in the people and the events of contemporary society, and the extent to which he related these observations to previous literary trends will be weighed. Turning from a factual study to a literary one, we take a look at the dominating forces in Vautrin himself. The first concern of Chapter Two will be to evaluate the impact of these forces in the character on the reader. Balzac tried to evoke a particular aura around Vautrin and a study of the author's presentation of his character is designed to provide clues as to his success. We will also look at Balzac's method of developing an aura surrounding Vautrin, his past and present sources of wealth and prestige, among the underworld. Consideration of Vautrin's power, his own awareness of it and how he uses it will be a central focal point in this chapter. With the discovery of Vautrin's essence, we shall see how it complements and even motivates his dominating passion. Thus the third chapter, being the pivotal one in this study, attempts not only to depict the reasons behind his determination to revolt and the results thereof, but is largely concerned with linking the character to his creator, literally and philosophically. It is deemed especially important to convey that Vautrin is well able to stand on his own convictions, though the evident parallels with Balzac's own social consciousness are openly discussed. Our fourth chapter focuses on a chink in Vautrin's otherwise impervious facade: his overwhelming need of love. Partly because of its revolutionary spirit, partly in spite of it, Vautrin's need for love is not satisfied in conventional terms. The ambiguity of the love he feels for Theodore Calvi, Eugene de Rastignac and then Lucien de Rubempre', absorbs our interest in this chapter. Most important however, is the view of this need for love in light of his own downfall as a figure of revolt. To what extent did Balzac predict it? Could Vautrin have succeeded if he had been capable of a more conventional love? The human side of this calculating figure is revealed to us through these questions. Our final chapter turns its focus back to the author. In his use of realism and allegory, Balzac adds a greater dimension to this already powerful figure. Our ability to participate as actively as we do in the characterization is s seen in terms of Balzac's mastery of these two literary formulae.

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