The actual events of Louis Lambert are secondary to extended discussions of philosophy (especially metaphysics) and human emotion. Because the novel does not employ the same sort of realism for which Balzac became famous, it has been called one of "the most diffuse and least valuable of his works". Whereas many Balzac stories focus on the external world, Louis Lambert examines many aspects of the thought process and the life of the mind. Many critics, however, condemn the author's disorganized style and his placement of his own mature philosophies into the mind of a teenage boy.
Still, shades of Balzac's realism are found in the book, particularly in the first-hand descriptions of the Collège de Vendôme. The first part of the novel is replete with details about the school, describing how quarters were inspected and the complex social rules for exchanging dishes at dinnertime. Punishments are also described at length, including the assignment of tedious writing tasks and the painful application of the strap:
Of all the physical torments to which we were exposed, certainly the most acute was that inflicted by this leathern instrument, about two fingers wide, applied to our poor little hands with all the strength and all the fury of the administrator. To endure this classical form of correction, the victim knelt in the middle of the room. He had to leave his form and go to kneel down near the master's desk under the curious and generally merciless eyes of his fellows.... Some boys cried out and shed bitter tears before or after the application of the strap; others accepted the infliction with stoic calm ... but few could control an expression of anguish in anticipation.
Further signs of Balzac's realism appear when Lambert describes his ability to vicariously experience events through thought alone. In one extended passage, he describes reading about the Battle of Austerlitz and seeing "every incident". In another he imagines the physical pain of a knife cutting his skin. As Balzac's biographer André Maurois notes, these reflections provide insight into the author's perspective toward the world and its written representations.
Read more about this topic: Louis Lambert (novel)
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