The two sides of the world (La Cousine Bette – Honoré de Balzac)

Everything is double, even virtue,” warned Honoré de Balzac in the preface of La Cousine Bette, a novel from La Comédie Humaine.

He was not the first to arrive at this challenge, as he himself explains in the introduction to his novel.

The two sketches that I dedicate to you constitute the two eternal faces of the same fact. Homo duplex, said our great Buffon, why not add: Res duplex? Everything is double, even virtue. Also Molière always presents the two sides of any human problem; in his imitation, Diderot wrote one day: This is not a tale, perhaps Diderot’s masterpiece, where he offers the sublime figure of Mademoiselle de Lachaux immolated by Gardanne, opposite that of a perfect lover killed by his mistress. My two short stories are thus set against each other, like two twins of different sexes. It is a literary fantasy which one can sacrifice once, especially in a work where one tries to represent all the forms which serve as clothing to the thought. Most human disputes arise from the fact that there are both the learned and the ignorant, who are so constituted as to see only one side of facts or ideas, and each one claims that the side he has seen is the only true, the only good one. That is why the Holy Book has thrown out this prophetic word: God gave the world over to discussion. I confess that this single passage of Scripture should engage the Holy See to give you the government of the two Chambers to obey this sentence commented on, in 1814, by the ordinance of Louis XVIII.

Extract from the preface

If Honoré de Balzac in this excerpt indicates “My two short stories are thus set off against each other, like two twins of different sexes,” it is because La Cousine Bette is only the first part, of a whole, which is part of the section Les Parents pauvres of La Comédie humaine.

Le Cousin Pons is the name of the second part.

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→ La Cousine Bette was on the syllabus for the 2015–2016 prescience courses