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La Jeune fille dans la Comedie humaine d'Honore de Balzac Mitchell, Dawna Louise

Abstract

Honoré de Balzac filled the imaginary world of his Comédie humaine with a vast array of characters of all ages, types and social classes. Although, in general, the girls among them play a secondary role, they nevertheless form a group which is not only interesting, but which receives a special form of attention from its creator. In Balzac's view, the typical girl (who is also his ideal) is sweet, pure and docile, and most of the girls he depicts fall into this category, although they often combine with these passive traits a surprising degree of will-power. They are nearly all extremely beautiful; their every word and gesture is filled with the natural charm of youth and innocence. They live in a narrowly restricted world, always under the watchful eye of their mothers or guardians, carefully sheltered from the corrupting influences of the real world outside their small circle of family and acquaintances. Their days are spent doing needlework, helping with household chores and going for walks, well chaperoned, of course. These girls and their monotonous lives are, in themselves, of limited interest for Balzac. Their real importance lies in their future, when, as wives and mothers, they will assume a meaningful function in society, and it is therefore their preparation for this future role which is of primary concern to the novelist. In his opinion, the usual training which girls receive in feminine accomplishments and rudimentary knowledge is far from being an adequate and worthwhile education. Their heads are filled with useless information while, at the same time, all the realities of life, the things they most urgently need to know about society, human nature and especially the opposite sex, are carefully hidden from them in the name of decency and propriety. Completely naive and ignorant, they are then exposed without protection to the problems and dangers of life, all too often with the result that they fall an easy prey to the first handsome man they meet or, what is a far worse disaster, they prove to be unhappy and therefore unfaithful wives. Among the girls of the Comédie humaine, it is only those few who, belonging to enlightened families and taught not only high principles but also some of the basic facts of life, are able to achieve successful marriages and happy lives. Because passion, according to Balzac's theories, is the basic force behind all human behaviour, it is only when love enters the lives of these girls that they really begin to develop as individuals. The discovery of love is, for them, a sudden revelation, an awakening to the true meaning of life and of their own destinies. Love gives Eugénie Grandet the courage to stand up to her tyrannical father; it fills Ursule Mirouët with the strength and determination needed to achieve the marriage she desires; it inspires in Rosalie de Watteville a diabolical cunning by which she manipulates all those around her, prevents a marriage and affects the outcome of an election. For Balzac, the more a woman has experienced passion, the more attractive and interesting she becomes, and it is primarily for this reason that the girls in the Comédie humaine , still on the threshold of life, play a less important role than the more mature feminine characters.

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