The emergence of French realism, beginning with the work of Stendhal, occurred in parallel with the further development of romanticism in France. It is indicative that the first who supported and largely appreciated the realistic search for Stendhal and Balzac were Viktor Hugo and George Sand, vivid representatives of the French Romanticism of the Restoration and Revolution of 1830.
On the whole, it should be specially emphasized that French realism, especially at the time of its formation, was not a closed and internally completed system. It arose as a regular stage in the development of the world literary process, as an integral part of it, widely using and creatively comprehending the artistic discoveries of previous and contemporary literary trends and trends, in particular Romanticism.
The treatise of Stendhal “Racine and Shakespeare”, as well as the preface to Balzac’s “Human Comedy”, outlined the main principles of the realism that is
rapidly developing in France. Disclosing the essence of realistic art, Balzac wrote: “The task of art is not to copy nature, but to express it.” In the preface to the “Dark Affair”, the writer put forward his own concept of the artistic image, emphasizing, above all, its difference from any real person. Typical, in his opinion, reflects in the phenomenon the most important features of the common, and only therefore the “type” can only be “the creation of the artist’s creative activity.”
“Poetry of fact”, “poetry of real reality” has become fertile ground for realist writers. The main difference between realism and romanticism became clear. If romanticism in the creation of otherness of reality pushed away from the writer’s inner world, expressing the inner aspiration of the artist’s consciousness, directed toward the world of reality, then realism, on the contrary, was based on the realities of its surrounding reality. It was to this significant difference between realism and romanticism that George Sand, in his letter to Honore
de Balzac, drew attention: “You take a person as he sees your eyes, and I feel the urge to portray him as I would like to see.”
Hence the different understanding by realists and romantics of the image of the author in the work of art. For example, in the “Human Comedy”, the author’s image, as a rule, is not generally distinguished as a person. And this is the principal artistic decision of Balzac the Realist. Even when the image of the author expresses his own point of view – he only states the facts. The very narrative, in the name of artistic plausibility, is emphatically impersonal: “Although Madame de Lange did not believe her thoughts to anyone, we have the right to assume…”; “Perhaps this story brought him back to happy days of life…”; “Each of these knights, if the data is accurate…”.
The French researcher of the “Human Comedy” contemporary writer A. Wurmser believed that Honore de Balzac “can be called the predecessor of Darwin,” because “he develops the notion of struggle for existence and natural selection.” In the writings of the writer, the “struggle for existence” is a pursuit of material values, and “natural selection” is the principle according to which the strongest, the one in whom cold calculation kills all living human feelings, wins in this struggle.
At the same time, Balzac’s realism with his accents differs significantly from the realism of Stendhal. If Balzac, as the “secretary of the French society,” first of all portrays his customs, manners and laws, without running into psychology, then Stendhal, as an “observer of human characters,” is primarily a psychologist.
The core of the composition of Stendhal’s novels is invariably the history of one person, hence the beginning of his favorite “memoir-biographical” unfolding of the narrative. In the novels of Balzac, especially the late period, the composition of “events”, it is always based on the case, which unites all the characters, involving them in a complex cycle of actions, one way or another related to this case. That’s why Balzac-narrator covers with his mind’s eye the vast spaces of social and moral life of his heroes, digging up to the historical truth of his age, to those social conditions that shape the characters of his heroes.
The most distinctive feature of Balzac’s realism was manifested in the novel “Father Gorio” and in the novel “Gobsek”, related to the novel by some common heroes.