Balzac: A Fight Against Decadence and Materialism

Literary Representations
Lorettes and society

Lower Class Prostitutes and the Law
Representations in Les Miserables
Realities of Authority in Paris
Brothels and Streetwalkers

The Privileged Class: Courtesans

Defining the courtesan
Visual representations
Courtesans in reality




Before the Mirror,
Edouard Manet, 1876. For more on this image click here.

Balzac was in many ways the balancing force for Hugo, his political and moral dichotomy, as well as his opposite in representations of prostitution. Through his own use of a contrasting archetype to that of Hugo's fallen woman, Balzac argued against the decadence and materialism which he believed bourgeoisie society and courtesans represented.


Balzac's political stance as a conservative legitimist put him at distinct odds with Hugo's democratic republicanism. This antithesis continues into their depictions of prostitution, with Balzac's archetype being that of the decadent and pampered courtesan.

By looking at the work of Balzac and Hugo together, it is possible to gain greater insight into the role of prostitution in society and the interactions between prostitutes and that society.

For information about Balzac's archetype, click here.