Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

France after the Revolution
Inspired in part by the American Revolution the French Revolution in 1789 overthrew the oppressive class and economic structures of the old order. Absolute monarchy, unchallenged power, and privilege of the ruling class, or aristocracy were swept away by the revolution. Though they enlisted the help of the rural peasantry and the urban artisans in the challenge to the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie rather than the poor were the beneficiaries of the revolution. Contemporary historians like Roger Magraw point out, however, that the ‘‘triumph of the bourgeoisie was both incomplete and precarious.’’ Much of the land and power that the aristocracy and the church conceded, was regained in subsequent years of governmental change and instability. In Magraw’s words: ‘‘Yet if the nobles were, along with the clergy, the clear losers from the revolution, French history in the nineteenth century is incomprehensible if one fails to appreciate the strength which they retained.’’

Though the Revolution accomplished the goal of social change and increased economic opportunity (at least for some), political stability remained elusive. Since the goal of the revolution was to destabilize and decentralize power, revolutionary leaders found it difficult to decide on and install alternative systems of government. Though they had in mind the British model of a constitutional government controlled by a parliament,...

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Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Narration: The Frame Tale
‘‘La Grande Bretèche’’ is a frame tale, a story in which one narrative frames at least one additional narrative. Further complicating matters for the reader is Balzac’s penchant for interlocking stories and recurrent characters in the many volumes of work that came to be known as La Comedia Humaine. The outer frame of ‘‘La Grande Bretèche,’’ part of the structure of the group of stories in Another View of Woman, is the scene of a dinner party in which a series of narrators are asked to entertain the group. Dr. Bianchon, who is known to the group as an exceptional storyteller, presents his tale of the secrets of la Grande Bretèche.

Bianchon, though a character in his tale, has no direct access to the story itself. He must rely on three more narrators to reveal the secrets that he pursued during his stay in Vendome. In order for this device to be successful, Bianchon must establish his prowess not just as a teller of tales, but also as a listener or reader of them. In this way he serves as a model of the ideal listener for the members of his audience at the dinner table and as a model reader as well. Two somewhat contradictory features characterize Dr. Bianchon’s listening style. On the one hand, as a scientist, he privileges a relentless inquisitiveness that never doubts the knowability of the truth. On the other hand, he reveals a susceptibility to romanticism as...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Kanes, Martin, ed., Critical Essays on Honore de Balzac, Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1990.

Lock, Peter, ‘‘Text Crypt,’’ in MLN, Vol 97, No. 4, May, 1982, pp.872–889.

McCarthy, Mary Susan, Balzac and his Reader, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982, pp.1–145.

Raitt, A.W., ed., Balzac: Short Stories, London: Oxford University Press, 1964, pp. 10, 16.

Further Reading
Bertault, Philippe, Balzac and the The Human Comedy, New York: New York University Press, 1963. An approachable but somewhat dated overview of Balzac’s major work. Contains a useful biographical sketch as well as a chronology of the major works that comprise The Human Comedy

Festa-McCormick, Diana, Honore De Balzac, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. As usual, the Twayne series provides a comprehensive introduction to the author’s life and career. The chapters are organized chronologically and focus on individual works.

Lukacher, Maryline, Maternal Fictions: Stendahl, Sand, Rachilde, and Bataille, Durham: Duke University Press, 1994. Though Balzac is not one of the principle authors that she focuses on, her introduction contains an interesting discussion of how Balzac’s relationship with his mother is reflected in his writing.

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Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

What is the significance of Monsieur Regnault’s diamond pin? Why does he mention it to Dr. Bianchon?

What other stories have you read that remind you of the opening of La Grande Bretèche with its description of the ruined house and garden? Why do you think the place has such an effect on Bianchon?

What is your judgement of Madame de Merret’s choice to let her lover die in the closet rather than go back on her oath to her husband? What other options did she have? Who is ultimately responsible for Feredia de Bagos’s death?

Why do you think the ladies shivered at the end to Bianchon’s tale?

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