Conjugal Secrets in Balzac’s La Muse du département

This article explores Balzac’s exposure, in La Muse du département, of the social function of indiscretion relative to the fathering of Dinah de La Baudraye’s children.Lousteau’s infamous dispatch of a faire-part broadcasting his paternity, and his earlier defamatory crumpling of Dinah’s organdie dress, fuel the public scandal that allows adulterine reproduction to lay claim to the status of an aberration. Gossip about Dinah’s marriage therefore follows the hypocritical logic of the open secret: public knowledge of La Baudraye’s impotence continues to masquerade as a secret, while his calculated complaisance is underpinned by the Civil Code’s assertion that the father of a child conceived within marriage is the husband. Balzac’s intercalated gothic narrative of a clandestine birth (Histoire d’un bras), in which the surgeon’s indiscretion has dire consequences, serves as an ironic foil for the cynical complicity of husband, lover and doctor (Bianchon) in the main plot of the novel.

Knight, Diana
Volume 2011-12 Spring-Summer; 40.(3-4): 273-286