Jungian Analysis of Balzac’s La Peau De Chagrin Alchemy and the Novel

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This study focuses on the relationship of Balzac to alchemy as it applies to the analysis of La Peau de chagrin. His interest stems from family influences, extensive reading in his early student days and research he did to document his fictional works. In La Peau de chagrin the protagonist cast as a youthful hero formulates a plan to achieve his goals according to the alchemical process of transformation, and the organization of the novel parallels its principal stages. Alchemy thus serves as a paradigm that highlights the hero’s missteps and suggests the moral reflection missed by contemporaneous critics according to Balzac.


“Balzac expressed dismay that early critics missed the mythic dimension and the moral reflection deeply inscribed in this novel, his first best seller. This comprehensive reinterpretation aims to respond to those omissions.”
-Dr. Isabelle Naginski,
Tufts University

“Professor Soos’ style of writing is luminous, articulate and elegant…This publication will contribute greatly to Balzac’s studies…Soos knows very well all scholarly studies on alchemy and she draws illuminating parallels between the protagonist’s existential quest and the pursuit of the philosopher’s gold. ..the book is a pleasure to read.”
-Dr. Gerard Gasarian,
Tufts University

Table of Contents

Introduction: Assembling the Materials
Genesis and Thesis
The Vocabulary and Structure of Alchemy
1. The Archetypal Hero and the Quest
Individualized types: Raphaël and His Father
The Hero’s Call to Adventure
2. Help from Unexpected Sources
Feminine Soul Figures
Enter Rastignac, the Trickster
3. The Anima as Femme Fatale
Fedora: A Dream Image Come to Life
Let’s Drink to Death
4. Approaching Death and Apparent Rebirth
Dissolution by Drowning
Another Gamble, the Talisman
5. Wish Fulfillment and an Uncertain Rebirth
A Sense of Rebirth Amid Ill Omens
Revelation of the Talisman’s Power
6. Cycles of Rebirth and Regression
A Strategy for Living
The Hope of Salvation Through Love
Seeking the Help of Scientists and Physicians
7. The Parting of the Ways
In the valley of the Moon
On Heights of Gold Mountain
The End of the Journey
8. Alchemy and Morality in La Peau de chagrin
Appendix A:
Alchemy and Alchemists in Balzac’s Oeuvre
Metaphorical Use of Alchemical Imagery
Fictional Alchemists
La Dernière Fée
Alchemists in Balzac’s Short Stories
La Recherche de l’Absolu
La Confidence des Ruggieri

Alchemists in History Cited by Balzac
Appendix B:
Balzac’s Sources of Knowledge of Alchemy
Early Schooling
Balzac’s Father and Freemasonry
Balzac’s Mother and Illuminism
The Course of Victor Cousin at the Sorbonne
The Cultural Milieu
Appendix C: Elective Affinities
E.T.A. Hoffman
Voltaire and Rabelais
Goethe and the Faust Legend

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