Criticism of ‘‘La Grande Bretèche’’ is usually incorporated in the extensive body of work about La Comedie Humaine in general. As editor and critic Martin Kanes observes, initial scholarship focused on the details of Balzac himself, on his ‘‘headlong, heedless plunging through life.’’ Soon, however, biographical criticism ran its course and more substantive questions about his work began to emerge. This is not to say that critics agreed with each other. Rather, from the moment of Balzac’s death in 1850 until the present, critics and readers have argued about the same questions. Kanes suggested that the essential questions about Balzac are these: ‘‘Was the master storyteller a brilliant social analyst? A philosophical thinker? A political commentator? A historian? A cultural anthropologist of sorts? Was he a realist? A Romantic? A visionary? A pre- Marxist Marxist? A pre-Freudian Freudian?’’ Though Kanes concedes that ‘‘In the end, Balzac criticism is paradoxical and suggestive because it is a response to a body of work that is itself paradoxical and suggestive,’’ he still identifies several major periods of Balzac criticism.
The first period of criticism on Balzac’s work began as soon as he began publishing under his own name and continued until his death. The chief concern of critics and readers of this period was, besides biographical details, whether Balzac was primarily a realist, a chronicler of his...
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