La «belle Juive» dans La Comédie humaine d’Honoré de Balzac. Ambivalences d’une représentation
The «beautiful Jewess» in La Comédie humaine by Honoré de Balzac. Ambivalences of a representation
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There are many Jewish female figures in French literature. In the 19th century, this fictional, polymorphic character flourished as the ‘beautiful Jewess’, who had a number of permanent traits that reveal her outsider’s relationship with French society, whether as a woman, a Jewess, or an Oriental figure. Within this literary construction, there is a moment when Balzac takes this character to its extreme. The Jewess, possessing great physical beauty and always depicted in contrast with Jewish men’s appearance, becomes a courtesan and, as such, experiences tremendous joy and suffering. Seeking to escape her twin fate as a Jewess and a prostitute, she remains a victim and never finds happiness. Even though Balzac gives her a richly human character capable of becoming integrated in society, his ‘beautiful Jewess’ stays a prisoner of the limitations of her Jewishness and the established order. She not only reflects the fantasy of the ‘other’ as a symbol of desire and the forbidden, but also reveals the degree of interdependence and interaction between non-Jewish and Jewish societies. One can therefore legitimately question the meaning of these representations and their subsequent functioning. Rather than anti-Jewish or pro-Semitic, they are primarily ambivalent and do not prejudge their social or even political use. In fact, Balzac’s work, while expressing its author’s unconscious view of Jews in general, is first of all inspired by and borrows from the collective consciousness of his contemporaries.
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