Hippolyte Adolphe Taine (essay date 1865)
SOURCE: "The Great Characters," in Balzac: A Critical Study, translated by Lorenzo O'Rourke, 1906. Reprint by Haskell House Publishers Ltd., 1973, pp. 189-216.
[In the excerpt below, from a translation of an essay originally published in 1865, Taine examines the character Grandet, noting Balzac's skill in depicting depraved characters as fascinating studies. The critic also compares Balzac's skill with that of Shakespeare.]
If you believe that reason is the essential thing in human nature, you will take reason for your hero, and you will paint generosity and virtue. If your eyes are directed to the external machine, and are fixed merely upon the body, you will choose...
(The entire section is 1854 words.)