Master of Arts (MA)


French Studies

Document Type



Scholarship has failed to explore adequately how Honoré de Balzac evokes the human condition’s universal elements through his most infamous criminal mastermind: Jacques Collin, alias Vautrin. Unlike analyses of Collin that I have encountered, this thesis takes all three novels and the obscure play in which Collin appears into account, challenges the transparency of his statements and the narration’s descriptions of him, explores the conservative position framing Balzac’s critique of early nineteenth-century Paris, and actively focuses on evidence of Collin’s typical subjectivity (i.e. his insatiable desire and fallibility). Consequently, this reading does not evaluate Collin’s significance solely through his apparent exceptionality and dominance and/or the particular environment that produced him; it shows how Balzac’s nuanced way of attracting readers to Collin, associating Collin with paradoxical symbolism, and revealing patterns structuring Collin’s experience allows the author to reveal the connection between his controversial political thought, his opaque and inconsistent style, and the underlying themes and moral purpose uniting his works—that is, a profound understanding of the human mind anticipating that of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Exploring contradictions between standing approaches to Collin and Balzac and Lacan’s shared ideas about the inescapable limitations characterizing the human condition, the introduction proposes that Balzac establishes Collin as a figure of mastery and then subtly subverts that façade as a means of indirectly exposing Collin’s and readers’ inability to transcend blindness and suffering completely. Examining how the novels construct Collin’s appearance of mastery, the second chapter explores how Balzac’s presentation of Collin motivates readers to deny or ignore evidence of Collin’s subjectivity. The third chapter emphasizes how Balzac undermines Collin’s powerful appeal by presenting how the play clarifies the connection between Collin’s repetitive behavior and his initial, traumatic arrest as well as how Collin’s story therefore illustrates Lacan’s theories on the mind’s development and functioning. Finally, by comparing Collin and Balzac’s use of their respective influence as mentor and author, the conclusion juxtaposes Balzac’s textual strategy with Lacan’s psychoanalytic ethics as similar means of promoting readers’ or patients’ self-awareness and briefly considers these methods’ relevance to the modern morality crisis that their works illuminate.



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Committee Chair

Stone, Gregory.