IN BALZAC'S Adieu (1830), a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars attempts to cure his lover of the madness she suffered while accompanying his regiment on the Russian campaign by reconstructing, on his estate in France, an exact replica of the battlefield on which she lost her sanity. A river is dug, peasants are costumed as soldiers, bridges are built and burned. The ex-soldier's heroic effort at historical representation succeeds, but at a price: restored to ''reality'' when confronted with the scene, the woman drops dead a moment later. Itself something of a battlefield for critics, this text has provoked numerous reflections on the nature and politics of literary ''Realism,'' most of which ignore the ways in which the text intersects with its historical context. This article shows how Balzac's novella offers a critique of the way the past was being turned into a spectacle by the new Romantic literary and visual techniques of historical representation invented in the period following the French Revolution. In such contemporary forms of historical entertainment as the panorama and the historical melodrama, realistic representations of the past were offered up as the ground on which postrevolutionary subjectivities could be formed. Balzac's Adieu exposes the threats - to subjectivity, to the notion of political progress - of just such a spectacularly authentic representation of the past. In this founding work of ''Realism,'' the era's obsession with history is shown to have dangerous - and even deadly - consequences. Balzac's text thus foreshadows the analyses made by Marx and Tocqueville of the Revolution of 1848, which describe how the revolutionaries failed because they were fixated on the spectacle of prior revolutions. Unlike Lukáács, who argued that Realism can be understood as the application of the techniques of the Romantic historical novel to the events of the present, this article argues that many of the works we think of as ''Realist'' involve a rejection of Romantic modes of looking at the past. By depicting protagonists who are themselves Romantic historians and who inevitably come to bad ends as a result of their historical obsessions, Adieu and later Realist texts at once incorporate and mark their difference from the kinds of historical narratives produced by Romanticism and its spectacular incarnations.
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