Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Balzac combines the forms of personal recollection, letters, and fragmentary speeches in order to portray the man of genius overcome by his own quest for knowledge. The direction of this particular genius is mystical and scientific, as Louis seeks to integrate the thought of Pico della Mirandola, Blaise Pascal, Emanuel Swedenborg, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, Franz Mesmer, and others into a theory that would explain the mysteries of human life, thought, will, and the physical and spiritual universe. That the formulation is, by its nature, impossible does not diminish the importance or attractiveness of this quest.

It should be emphasized that Louis Lambert does not contain a systematic statement of a clearly articulated philosophy. Rather, Balzac presents suggestions, hints, proclamations of theories, ideas, and propositions that he has gleaned from the arcana of the spiritual writing popular in his era. Electricity in the blood and other bodily fluids, phrenology, galvanic activity, mesmerism, angels, and the expansion of the soul all find a place in Louis’ intellectual world. Indeed, the theories about the physical and metaphysical world are so important in this novel that they overshadow both action and character development. This is a philosophical novel in which the ideas count for more than any other thing. That the ideas are not wholly realized or worked out is important; were they fully presented, Balzac would have no need to end with...

(The entire section is 454 words.)