Romantic inheritance or realist repudiation : responses to Rousseauvian education in Eugénie Grandet and Indiana

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Branch, Katy

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In this thesis, I will study two manifestations of the legacy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s educational and political theories between 1832 and 1833: George Sand’s Indiana (1832) and Honoré de Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet (1833). I will argue that both novels treat the difficulties that uneducated or domestically educated young women face when they first encounter the artificial relationships of society, and that both authors attribute their protagonists’ situation to the lack of connection between the ideology of their upbringing and that of society. Furthermore, I will view these texts within the context of Romanticism, which buoyed the influence of Rousseauvian thought in the early nineteenth century by declaring nature preferable to society, a critical tenet of Rousseau’s theories. Social and political changes, however, led to Romanticism’s decline as the nineteenth century progressed, and this waning influence, coupled with the rise of Realism, can be observed in Indiana and Eugénie Grandet. The first chapter of this work will discuss the ideas that Rousseau presents in Emile, ou de l’éducation (1762) and the Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes (1754). Although women are painted as independent in the original state of Nature, Rousseau argues in Emile that they should be domesticated in society, and he outlines the male and female educations that he believes will best prepare men and women for their assigned gender roles in society. The two chapters that follow treat the interpretations of Rousseau’s theories that Sand and Balzac put forward in Indiana and Eugénie Grandet. Sand refutes the nineteenth-century discourse concerning women’s innate “irrationality,” attributing Indiana’s difficulties with love and social norms to the distance between her “natural” education on Ile Bourbon and the artificiality of French relationships, eventually rejecting the possibility that reformed education can purge society of its corruption. Balzac, meanwhile, traces Eugénie’s transition from naïve young woman to true adulthood, when she is versed in the relations of “intérêt” that govern those around her. Eugénie, raised to base her relationships on true affection, is eventually isolated by her education, but Balzac does not envision her possible escape from society.



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