Balzac and the notion of the vol décent : a sanction of deceit in La Comédie humaine

Shields, Martin and Grass, Delphine and Fulop, Erika (2018) Balzac and the notion of the vol décent : a sanction of deceit in La Comédie humaine. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

[thumbnail of 2018shieldsphd]
Text (2018shieldsphd)
2018shieldsphd.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs.

Download (1MB)


The Balzacian notion of the vol décent facilitates a legally legitimate but morally suspect form of theft. The process involves a deception that leaves the victim suffering loss, with a consequential benefit accruing to the perpetrator. It pushes at the limits of legality and social acceptability whilst retaining the appearance of probity; a process that successfully works to sanction deceit and avoid retribution, legal or social. It is thereby free to contribute to a culture of creative opportunism and social cynicism. The vol décent offers a fresh perspective on La Comédie humaine, not simply as notion, process or phenomenon grounded etymologically and socioeconomically, but as heuristic capable of revealing fresh insights into Balzac’s position as narrator, observer and commentator on a Restoration society undergoing multiple transitions. Further, this thesis recognises the vol décent as a central feature of Balzac’s individual contribution to La Comédie humaine and theatre, informing both his vision and philosophy. As core heuristic, it contributes an innovative prospect that becomes a powerful tool probing the influential milieux of commercial speculation, business, theatre, private life and government institution. Within those spheres the vol décent reveals, using the operative lenses of theatricality, caricature, bureaucracy, architecture, deception and the law as facilitator of theft, a close and fresh view of socially sanctioned corruption. In the illumination of the notion of the vol décent and its capacity to inform of Balzac’s individual vision and philosophy, this research contributes an innovative insight into the complex, fundamental relationship between narrative representation, human nature, historical and environmental determinism. The open-endedness of the oxymoron, on which the phrase vol décent is based, accommodates transition, paradox and self-interest operating under a mask of legality. It questions whether the notion of the vol décent is in fact a systemic phenomenon or a basic trait of human nature.

Item Type:
Thesis (PhD)
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
19 Jul 2019 08:50
Last Modified:
09 Jul 2024 00:50