The character of Victorine Taillefer

A Victorine – The typical Romantic heroine

  1. The Romantic pathos of her situation
  2. Her appearance is that of the Romantic heroine
  3. The innocence of a Romantic heroine

B Victorine’s Romantic gestures

  1. Victorine’s pleas on her knees to her father
  2. Her pleas to Vautrin to spare Rastignac

C The individual aspects of her character

  1. The sexual attraction that she feels towards Vautrin
  2. In the strong passion that she develops for Rastignac, she casts off the modest restraint of a typical Romantic heroine
    1. She develops a strong passion for Eugène
    2. Her attentions to Rastignac when he collapses 
    3. Her reaction to the Taillefer tragedy

D) Conclusion

The character of Victorine Taillefer

A Victorine – The typical Romantic heroine
1) The Romantic pathos of her situation
A charge made by some critics of Balzac’s portrayal of character is that his young female heroines are just the standard, over sentimentalised, heroines of Romantic literature.  Victorine Taillefer is quoted as an example of this.  At the start of the novel she is in a situation of Romantic pathos.  She had been disinherited by her father who denied his paternity.   Each year she made an attempt to see him but each time he turned her away. She had her brother but he was equally heartless towards her, refusing to give her any help.  In spite of this treatment, the sweet Victorine would not hear one word of criticism directed against them.

As Victorine’s mother was dead, a distant relative, Mme Couture, looked after her as her own child.  We are told that they were two persons in complete contrast with the rest of the Vauquer household.   The two of them lived in more comfortable and more genteel circumstances in the best room of Mme Vauquer’s boarding house on the ground floor. They paid the highest rent and thus got the greatest respect and consideration from their landlady.
2) Her appearance is that of the Romantic heroine
Balzac’s description of Victorine is that of a typical Romantic heroine: frail, always looking sad, she had the melancholic grace of a mediaeval statuette.  If she were happy, in love, fashionably dressed, she would be one of the most beautiful women in Paris. 
3) The innocence of a Romantic heroine
She is devout and she and Mme Couture do not miss attendance at mass on a morning of dense fog.  They do not go to the theatre to conform to the rulings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Vautrin, who had given himself the right to apply divine intervention when god did not oblige, had previously offered to the ladies to deal with this heartless father - whose fortune was worth three million francs.  At that the innocent Victorine suspecting nothing, pleaded for him to make an approach on her behalf, nothing like Vautrin’s intention Page 54 -55       
Oh ! Monsieur, dit Victorine en jetant un regard à la fois humide et brûlant à Vautrin, qui ne s'en émut pas, si vous saviez un moyen d'arriver à mon père, dites-lui bien que son affection et l'honneur de ma mère me sont plus précieux que toutes les richesses du monde.
Vautrin cuts off her sentimental words with a comic song.

B Victorine’s Romantic gestures
1) Victorine’s pleas on her knees to her father
Victorine’s visit to her father is pure Romantic melodrama.  On their return, Mme Couture confides in Mme Vauquer the details; M. Taillefer had agreed to see his daughter, but merely to tell the two women to stop importuning him with their annual visits. She gives a heart rending account of how Victorine pleaded on her knees, while her father merely cut his finger nails.  When Victorine handed him a letter written by his dead wife, he threw it into the fire. Her brother had entered and ignored her.  Finally, both men went out of the room, saying they had pressing business to attend to. (Page 61)
2) Her pleas to Vautrin to spare Rastignac
When Vautrin and Rastignac have a furious quarrel in the garden and Vautrin comes into the house for his duelling pistols, Victorine makes anther gesture of the Romantic heroine as she stops Vautrin and pleads with him to spare Rastignac.

C The individual aspects of her character
However Victorine does have some strength and individuality of character. 
1) The sexual attraction that she feels towards Vautrin
That the handsome young man, Rastignac, attracted her is no surprise, but that Vautrin, in his forties with his loud and overpowering character also attracted her suggests a girl with more self confidence than she allowed to appear Page 24 
Attirée, peut-être à son insu, par la force de l'un ou par la beauté de l'autre, mademoiselle Taillefer partageait ses regards furtifs, ses pensées secrètes, entre ce quadragénaire et le jeune étudiant.
Inevitably, it was Rastignac who became the focus of her attentions and he was the first love of her life.  She is particularly attracted to Eugene in his fashionable new clothes- Page 153:
Par hasard, leurs yeux se rencontrèrent. La pauvre fille ne manqua pas de trouver Eugène charmante dans sa nouvelle tenue. Le coup d'œil qu'ils échangèrent fut assez significatif pour que Rastignac ne doutât pas d'être pour elle l'objet de ces confus désirs qui atteignent toutes les jeunes filles et qu'elles rattachent au premier être séduisant

2) In the strong passion that she develops for Rastignac, she casts off the modest restraint of a typical Romantic heroine
a) She develops a strong passion for Eugène..
Rastignac turned to her temporarily, when he was frustrated by Delphine-(Page 175)
In the intimate conversation that they then shared, Victorine opened her heart, much more than we would expect from a demure Romantic heroine.  She told him that should she become rich and happy she could still love for ever the unfortunate man she had loved in her days of misfortune.  When Vautrin interrupts them, Victorine runs away, filled of happiness. She had given more of herself even than later in her life when happy and rich she consummated her marriage. -Page 194:
En cette heure, elle avait prodigué plus de trésors d'âme que plus tard, riche et heureuse, elle n'en aurait donné en se livrant tout entière
b) When Rastignac collapses,  drugged secretly by Vautrin to allow the fatal duel of her brother to take place, Victorine is thrilled to remain at his side as his nurse.  When Vautrin comes into the room and sees her happiness, he speaks of them as the great Romantic lovers of literature- Paul and Virginie. After she has helped carry him into his bedroom, Victorine secretly plants a kiss on Eugène’s brow.

c) Her reaction to the Taillefer tragedy
We noted above how her reaction had been totally naïve, when Vautrin first offered to intervene with her father.  When Vautrin became more implicit saying that he can foretell that she is soon to be one of the richest heiresses in Paris, she understood the implication and said she would rather stay poor than to gain a fortune from the death of her brother.  We would be wrong to class this as purely Romantic sentiment. It is exactly the same rational morality, voiced earlier by Bianchon, that wealth is unacceptable if its achievement requires the death of another person.  Nevertheless, her reaction on the news of the fatal injury of her brother strays somewhat this objective detachment.  Her personal feelings intervene to tell her that is no longer any obstacle to her love for Rastignac. She feels sadness for her worthless brother but we are told also that Victorine looks at Eugene with regret that their happiness had to come about thus.  At this moment she has the complex emotions of a real woman and is far away from the one dimensional stereotype of a romantic heroine.
D) Conclusion
However, their love is not to be. After the death of her brother, Victorine is taken with Mme Couture to go and live with her father and she is never to be with Rastignac again.  In the moments when she had hopes for the successful outcome of her love, we had seen Victorine as a passionate living human being.  The novel tells us briefly of her later life. She had the strength of character to build a happy and successful life for herself, while treasuring the sweet memories of the first man she loved.

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