The Underworld

Honore de Balzac and the Comedie Humaine


The System

Famous Crime





"'Have you watched them have you had the patience to question them, to burrow behind their lowering brows to get at the truth?'"

--Chevalier, Laboring Classes and Dangerous Classes (p. 72)

    Image of Balzac from Edgar Evertson Saltus's Balzac.

    • Balzac's view on the lower classes was that the criminal world was one and apart of all the others. Part of this is due to the fact his themes rely on an older time of crime, that of the Ancien Regime. The criminals of the Ancien Regime were definitely viewed as being a closed society. (Chevalier 73). Because the dangerous classes keep to themselves in the novel, they do not spark the same dramatic fear as Hugo's underclasses who daily interact with all other classes. Because he has separated the classes, he is able to have a lighter hearted view on the lower classes. Also contrasting Hugo, his works are devoid of all Romantcisim.
    • Perhaps the best known of Balzac's characters, "Vautrin is Vidocq." He is a well known criminal who is well known for his "fantastic side" (Chevalier 75). His character is wrought with residue from the conditions of the early years of the restoration. Throughout the Comedie Humaine, becomes an "'embodiment of the people in revolt against the laws'" (Chevalier 77)
    • "The popular crime was expressed in the characters themselves, who are exceptional and do not belong to the people at all, though it is not possible to distinguish the element in them that is personal adventure from the element of collective destiny" (Chevalier 77).


This page was created by M. Childs