The Misfit of the Family: Balzac and the Social Forms of Sexuality

Duke University Press
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In more than ninety novels and novellas, Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) created a universe teeming with over two thousand characters. The Misfit of the Family reveals how Balzac, in imagining the dense, vividly rendered social world of his novels, used his writing as a powerful means to understand and analyze—as well as represent—a range of forms of sexuality. Moving away from the many psychoanalytic approaches to the novelist's work, Michael Lucey contends that in order to grasp the full complexity with which sexuality was understood by Balzac, it is necessary to appreciate how he conceived of its relation to family, history, economics, law, and all the many structures within which sexualities take form.

The Misfit of the Family is a compelling argument that Balzac must be taken seriously as a major inventor and purveyor of new tools for analyzing connections between the sexual and the social. Lucey’s account of the novelist’s deployment of "sexual misfits" to impel a wide range of his most canonical works—Cousin Pons, Cousin Bette, Eugenie Grandet, Lost Illusions, The Girl with the Golden Eyes—demonstrates how even the flexible umbrella term "queer" barely covers the enormous diversity of erotic and social behaviors of his characters. Lucey draws on the thinking of Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu and engages the work of critics of nineteenth-century French fiction, including Naomi Schor, D. A. Miller, Franco Moretti, and others. His reflections on Proust as Balzac’s most cannily attentive reader suggest how the lines of social and erotic force he locates in Balzac’s work continued to manifest themselves in twentieth-century writing and society.

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About the author

Michael Lucey is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Gide’s Bent: Sexuality, Politics, Writing.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Aug 4, 2003
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Pages
340
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ISBN
9780822385165
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / European / French
Psychology / Human Sexuality
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Never Say I reveals the centrality of representations of sexuality, and particularly same-sex sexual relations, to the evolution of literary prose forms in twentieth-century France. Rethinking the social and literary innovation of works by Marcel Proust, André Gide, and Colette, Michael Lucey considers these writers’ production of a first-person voice in which matters related to same-sex sexuality could be spoken of. He shows how their writings and careers took on political and social import in part through the contribution they made to the representation of social groups that were only slowly coming to be publicly recognized. Proust, Gide, and Colette helped create persons and characters, points of view, and narrative practices from which to speak and write about, for, or as people attracted to those of the same sex.

Considering novels along with journalism, theatrical performances, correspondences, and face-to-face encounters, Lucey focuses on the interlocking social and formal dimensions of using the first person. He argues for understanding the first person not just as a grammatical category but also as a collectively produced social artifact, demonstrating that Proust’s, Gide’s, and Colette’s use of the first person involved a social process of assuming the authority to speak about certain issues, or on behalf of certain people. Lucey reveals these three writers as both practitioners and theorists of the first person; he traces how, when they figured themselves or other first persons in certain statements regarding same-sex identity, they self-consciously called attention to the creative effort involved in doing so.

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