Allan H. Pasco
Balzac, Literary Sociologist
Palgrave Macmillan 2016
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in BiographyNew Books in French StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network July 8, 2017 Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed
In Balzac, Literary Sociologist (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), Allan H. Pasco explores the talents of the writer whose reputation has been primarily based on his extraordinary gift to compose captivating stories. In his meticulously conducted research, Allan Pasco argues that Honor de Balzac was not only a storyteller: he was “a sociologist avant l’heure” (113) and “a competent historian” (234).
Balzac, Literary Sociologist offers a detailed analysis of more than ten literary pieces. While emphasizing Balzac’s mastery in managing plots and narratives, Allan Pasco invites his readers to pay close attention to the aspects that help reconstruct historical and sociocultural environments of nineteenth-century France. Undergoing a tumultuous period that involved a number of deep, drastic and dramatic changes, France was struggling with the rudiments of the past that were holding back the development of the country; at the same time, new developments did not effectively contribute to the construction of a stable society: a vision of the future was blurry.
A conflict of the old and the young, involving a wide array of themes and motives, appears to epitomize the disruptions defining nineteenth-century French society. Poverty, corruption, ambitions of the aristocracy, despair of the poor signaled the old’s inability (and lack of willingness and desire) to implement new and productive changes; the young, on the other hand, more often than not lacked knowledge and experience to overcome stagnation. Moreover, disruptions were augmented by the loss of moral virtues: honesty, benevolence, dignity, kindness, love were often sacrificed for money that became a new god. In his analysis, Allan Pasco offers a new reading of Balzac’s works which can be considered acute and insightful commentaries on the phenomena outlining a transformational period in the history of French society. In addition to the predictable topics (class, aristocracy, church and religion, the rich and the poor, etc.), Balzac, Literary Sociologist includes insightful explorations of topics which appear to be rather symptomatic in terms of the society’s crises: suicide, failed marriages, fatherless children, the stagnation of the province and the hardships of the city life. Allan Pasco also draws attention to Balzac’s comments on life in Paris: Paris is presented as a significant locus epitomizing struggles of the country and of the individual.
Undoubtedly, historical and sociocultural permutations involve not only society but the individual as well. As Allan Pasco’s research demonstrates, Balzac through his individual stories, which, at a larger scale, constitute an extensive vision of the society and the world, was responding to the historical environment that was shaping the individuals inner world. From this perspective, Balzac’s works highlight the interconnectedness of the inside and outside worlds: captivating stories are pretexts to sociological and philosophical speculations and observations. In his book, Allan Pasco states that Balzac was a sociologist and a historian: in this interview, the author adds that Balzac was “a great historian.” Balzac, Literary Sociologist proves inexhaustible potential and power of literature.
Allan H. Pasco is the Hall Distinguished Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of Kansas.