‘Le Charbon ardent’ in Balzac’s La Recherche de l’Absolu and ‘Des artistes’

Honoré de Balzac’s manipulation of the biblical term charbon ardent in his 1830 article entitled "Des artistes" and in his 1834 novel La Recherche de l’Absolu exposes his efforts to redefine the artist. The "live coal" marks the moment of poetic inspiration in "Des artistes" and, in La Recherche de l’Absolu, is applied to the transfer of knowledge from one alchemist to another. The biblical image of the coal, functioning both metaphorically and literally, thus applied to the artist and to the alchemist, echoes the academic definition of the artist. The Dictionnaire de l’Académie française included the alchemist in its definition of the term up through the fifth edition (1798), although this reference is effaced by the sixth edition (1835). Textual analysis of the application of the biblical image in these two texts demonstrates how Balzac intends to redefine the artist via the process of creation through decomposition. (RFU)

Uhden, Raina F.
Volume 2008 Spring-Summer; 36(3-4): 241-54.