DS0805 - Cultures, patrimoines, création

Hypertextual Project of Balzac’s works based on the use of similarities – PHŒBUS

Submission summary

This project will place Honoré de Balzac’s entire oeuvre (The Human Comedy, earlier novels, comic tales, theater, and other diverse texts) in conversation with a vast corpus of contemporary writings that may have inspired the former. This body of contemporary texts varies in terms of both cultural orientation and genre and includes: fictional novels from other authors of the period; collaborative collections of panoramic literature (to which Balzac contributed); scientific studies inclined to have influenced Balzac’s writing, notably those from the fields of medicine, physiology, and natural sciences. The objective is to enable more advanced research and intertextual comparisons within Balzac’s corpus and among the broader literary and scientific pieces dating from 1800-1850 in order to detect correspondences, borrowings, quotations, repetitions, and possibly plagiarism. To this end, this endeavor also includes the creation of a digital cartography of the Balzacian universe based on the traces other authors left on his work.
This project, which falls under the realm of “Digital Humanities”, aims to provide literary and social science scholars with new tools for examining large corpora of texts. These new technical instruments have the potential to deepen our knowledge of genetic, stylistic, and poetic phenomena as well as their ideological implications. Moreover, this literary methodology directly engages the genesis of printed documents, an area in which the Balzacian oeuvre proves to be particularly fertile ground for investigation: Balzac is well known for his use of multiple media (books, collective volumes, serials, journal articles) by recycling formerly published material. Likewise, his body of work, which through its extensive scope details the contemporary socio-historic landscape, draws heavily on the contributions of other texts (especially those of panoramic literature) and incorporates different orders of knowledge beyond the literary field. After completing this research, we will be able to map out the sources Balzac used as he wrote the range of novels that constitute The Human Comedy.
As part of an examination of techniques for mobilizing vast corpora of texts, a necessity in our day, our project seeks to build on current technological methods for systematically exploring systems of textual repetition and reuse. The study focuses thus on the automatic illustration of networks of passages of text present in an author’s oeuvre that arise from both the ensemble of this author’s work as well as a larger, contemporary corpus. We intend to use such techniques to create a digital prototype for tracking literary reemployment for intertextual analysis, which will offer scholars an innovative method for investigating massive bodies of literature.
Therefore, the ultimate objective of this project is to carry out an original scientific task with regards to both the method and the body of work: a hypertextual edition of Balzac, including a virtual library comprised of works belonging to his intellectual universe—an unprecedented undertaking yet to be accomplished. This edition will be accessible on a website dedicated to the enterprise, which will propose three forms of use: a general visualization by means of a cartography that provides statistical and quantitative information; a linear roll-out facilitating the comparison of source texts and target texts by means of a double-window interface; the integral reading of Balzac’s texts in which passages presenting homologies with other texts are indicated.
It goes without saying that, once this approach has been tested on Balzac, scholars will be able to adapt it to other authors of heritage.

Project coordination

Andrea Del Lungo (Analyses Littéraires et Histoire de la Langue)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


ALITHILA Analyses Littéraires et Histoire de la Langue
CELLF Centre d'étude de la langue et des littératures françaises
LIP6 Laboratoire d'Informatique de Paris 6

Help of the ANR 350,352 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2015 - 36 Months

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