Un enlèvement peut en cacher un autre: Kidnapping the Past in La Duchesse de Langeais

In La Duchesse de Langeais (1834), Balzac indicts the Restoration aristocracy for its egotistical disregard for the recent past. However, his criticism of the desire to repress history's lessons extends far beyond one political moment. This article explores how personal and political evolution remain indissociable, for Balzac, in reappraising the significance of past acts and present values. When Armand de Montriveau kidnaps the aristocratic Duchess, the intended result of his violent act is to make her conscious of her narcissism; yet Montriveau himself remains unconsciously amnesiac concerning his own complex past. Finally, it is the coquettish Duchess who understands the symbolism of his gesture and of her position; but without reciprocal insight, history is destined to remain a dead letter.

Elisabeth Gerwin
Volume 2012 (41.1-2)