Critical Evaluation

(Essentials of European Literature)

Sir Walter Scott’s influence is evident in THE CHOUANS. Honore de Balzac has selected a relatively minor episode in the history of the Republic and concentrated on figures of everyday life who become involved in the process of history. Their motives, military strategies, and love affairs help determine historical reality while, at the same time, take additional significance from it. Balzac is unexcelled in his grasp of those details of life which reveal social relations to their fullest; THE CHOUANS shows this talent in a way none of Balzac’s earlier work does and in a way that Scott never approached. Balzac is able to describe clothing, room, hairstyles, furnishings, facial expressions, attitudes, and food in such a way that the reader gains a complete vision of French life of the time. It is in this distillation of a total cultural experience that Balzac shows his true talent.

The novel, nevertheless, suffers from weaknesses; although Balzac attempts to mix the elements of love and politics, he is not quite successful in analyzing and representing the passions which bring his characters to commit extreme and dramatic acts. Balzac has a sense for the malignant in THE CHOUANS, which he inherited from his earlier novels, but not for the pathological, which he developed in his later work. Although instinctively a realist, Balzac had not yet overcome his romantic tendencies. Some direct personal knowledge or experience of the...

(The entire section is 439 words.)