Characters Discussed

Louis Lambert

Louis Lambert (lwee lahm-BEHR), called Pythagoras by his schoolmates, a sensitive young philosophy student at a private secondary school. He is an intellectual prodigy subject to flights of mysticism, resembling a youthful Balzac. As he enters boarding school at the age of fourteen, he is slight but powerful and dark-haired, with a pronounced forehead and striking eyes. He is tanned and healthy, but after only a few months of a rigid school regime, he becomes pale, sickly, and depressed. Having been accustomed to guiding his own education, he cannot adapt to being told what to study and when and misses the outdoors and his freedom. Reserved and retiring, Lambert is reluctant to participate in classes and recreational activities and consequently is treated as lazy, recalcitrant, and antisocial by faculty and fellow students. Derisively nicknamed Pythagoras, he succeeds in acquiring only one friend, the narrator. After leaving school, he spends three years in Paris, engaging in scientific studies, but he is alone and destitute. Lambert’s attempts to formulate a unifying theory of the universe, one that would account for spiritual phenomena as well as for matter and motion, lead him to further social isolation, intellectual isolation, and finally a cataleptic state, interpreted by most as insanity. His love for Pauline de Villenoix, rather than drawing him out of himself, seems to hasten his degeneration...

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The Characters

Louis occupies center stage for most of the narrative, with the other characters taking up a necessarily small place in the novel. The narrator, for example, is intent upon filling in only enough background about Louis’ family, uncle, and fiancee to add continuity to his tale, which showcases the mental life of his friend. Each of the characters is sharply drawn and carefully described with the characteristic realism that Balzac developed in his fiction. None, however, including the narrator, distracts the reader from focusing on Louis, and all exist in the narrative only in relation to him.

Balzac has noted that this novel was among his most difficult to write, because it contains so much of himself and embodies the research he had done on mysticism, both ancient and modern. Louis, indeed, replicates that research, converses about it with the narrator, writes of it in letters to his uncle, and infuses it into the letters he writes to his “angel,” Pauline, who later records twenty-two fragments of his lucidly mad thoughts. These fragments, complemented by fifteen more that the narrator recalls, sketch out Louis’ notions of the divine, of flesh becoming word, of the animate existence of thought and will, and of the relation of motion to number and of all to unity.

Louis Lambert, then, exists primarily as the spokesman for Balzac’s reflections on spiritual matters and their intersection with the physical world. Yet Balzac undercuts his...

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Besser, Gretchen. Balzac’s Concept of Genius, 1969.

Curtius, Ernst R. Balzac, 1933.

Evans, Henri. Louis Lambert et la philosophie de Balzac, 1951.

Le Yaouanc, Moise. Nosgraphie de l’Humanite balzacienne, 1959.

McCormick, Diana Festa. Honore de Balzac, 1979.