Balzac, Zola and psychology of lechery  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Balzac, Zola and psychology of lechery

According to the Wikipedia article (Feb 2011) on Émile Zola, "Zola claimed that Balzac had already investigated the psychology of lechery in the fictional character of Hector Hulot in La Cousine Bette (1846)."

Baron Hector Hulot, a creation by Honoré de Balzac in his novel Cousin Bette is the living manifestation of male sexual desire, unrestrained and unconcerned with its consequences for the man or his family. As the novel progresses, he becomes consumed by his libido, even in a physical sense; by the end of the book he is an elderly, decrepit shell of a man.

However, nothing can be found in the essays of Zola which resembles the phrase "psychology of lechery." What one finds is a reference to "human brutes."

In the preface to the second edition of Thérèse Raquin Zola notes that the characters in Thérèse Raquin (1867) are "human brutes", "Thérèse et Laurent sont des brutes humaines, rien de plus. J’ai cherché à suivre pas à pas dans ces brutes le travail sourd des passions, les poussées de l’instinct, les détraquements cérébraux survenus à la suite d’une crise nerveuse."

As can be read in the English language preface to Therese Raquin, translated by Edward Vizetelly:

"I have selected persons" ... "absolutely swayed by their nerves and blood, deprived of free will, impelled in every action of life, by the fatal lusts of the flesh. Therese and Laurent are human brutes, nothing more. I have sought to follow these brutes, step by step, in the secret labour of their passions, in the impulsion of their instincts, in the cerebral disorder resulting from the excessive strain on their nerves."

Indeed, the characters are often given animalistic tendencies. Zola would take up this idea again in his La Bête humaine of 1890.

Both the lives of Hector Hulot and Laurent of Thérèse Raquin end tragically. One might argue that Emma Bovary is their heir.

See also




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