Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Marville’s house

Marville’s house (marh-VEEL). Home on Paris’s rue de Honoré of Monsieur Camusot de Marville, Sylvain Pons’s cousin-in-law and a presiding judge of the Royal Court of Justice. This house is described in scant detail. Although it faces north and presents a gloomy aspect to the street, it has a south-facing inner courtyard and an attractive garden. The novel emphasizes the house’s tranquillity and respectability, as befits the home of an important magistrate, and this is reflected in its furnishings—imposing green draperies, tapestries, thick carpets, and sober furniture. It is, however, an uncomfortable house to Pons, an elderly musician and amateur art collector, because it lacks works of art.

An upper floor of the house is rented to an old woman, but later Marville and his wife move there, leaving the lower floor to their daughter now married at last, with the mansion as part of her wedding dowry.

Pillerault’s house

Pillerault’s house. Home of Monsieur Pillerault on rue de Normandie in the Marais district of Paris. The building is a former town house, described as a lodge, an upper floor of which is rented to Pons and his friend and fellow musician Pons Schmucke. The building, in two parts, consists of three double-depth flats, plus three smaller flats, one of which Pons and Schmucke occupy. The house also contains a shop belonging to the ironmonger-turned-bric-a-brac dealer Remonencq.

The lodge is run by Madame Cibot and her husband, who are systematically defrauding its residents in numerous small ways in order to supplement their incomes. As the lodge keeper, Madame Cibot controls other people’s access to Pons when he becomes ill; she is also well placed to allow people to enter his rooms without his knowledge.

Remonencq’s shop

Remonencq’s shop (reh-moh-NANK). Curio shop of the rascally Remonencq, who is Madame Cibot’s accomplice. Originally a coffeehouse, the shop has not been altered since Remonencq took it over as a bare shell, with a kitchen, back premises, and a small bedroom, the attached flat being rented separately. After starting out as an ironmonger, Remonencq gradually changes trades. After initially filling his shop with cheap goods, he gradually stocks it with better quality antiques as he moves up in the world.

The shop’s location enables Remonencq to overhear information about the quality and...

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Cousin Pons Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bertault, Philippe. Balzac and “The Human Comedy.” Translated by Richard Monges. New York: New York University Press, 1963. A general survey of Balzac’s novels that offers little in-depth analysis of individual works but usefully locates them in relation to Balzac’s major themes and interests. Includes a brief biographical sketch.

Hemmings, F. W. J. Balzac: An Interpretation of “La Comédie Humaine.” New York: Random House, 1967. Hemmings’ chapter 8, “The Dialectic,” presents an analysis of Cousin Pons, finding the late novel to be one of Balzac’s most pessimistic but also one of his most profound works.

Levin, Harry. The Gates of Horn: A Study of Five French Realists. New York: Oxford University Press, 1963. A study of literary realism in France. Levin’s chapter 4, an influential overview of Balzac’s work, includes several specific references to Cousin Pons.

Maurois, André. Prometheus: The Life of Balzac. Translated by Norman Denny. Harmonds-worth, England: Penguin, 1971. The definitive biography by France’s premier literary biographer. A thorough, generally objective, and highly readable account of Balzac’s life. Provides detailed context for and some commentary on all of the major works, including Cousin Pons.

Wilkinson, Lynn R. “Le Cousin Pons and the Invention of Ideology.” PMLA 107, no. 2 (March, 1992): 274-289. Analyzes the complex relationships between ideology and representation in Balzac’s novel from a Marxist perspective. Includes a discussion of the influence of mechanical technology, especially the then-new science of photography, on literature.