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Balzac, Honoré de

goriot cousin father bette

(French, 1799–1850)

Balzac's great achievement was La Comédie humaine, the collective title of ninety-one novels intended to present a complete social history of the France he knew. Probably the most famous are Eugénie Grandet (1833), Old Goriot (1834), and Cousin Bette (1846). Start with Old Goriot, which studies the intersecting lives of characters in a Paris boarding-house. Goriot, doting father of two ungrateful daughters, reduces himself to poverty for their sake, finally ‘dying like a dog’ while they dance the night away at a grand ball. The corrupting effect of money is a major theme for Balzac. Eugénie Grandet's life is dominated by her father's obsession with gold, while Cousin Bette is the poor relation whose bitterness leads to the downfall of a family. Balzac shows tremendous compassion for his larger-than-life characters, mixing realism with romance and melodrama.

Gustave Flaubert, Stendhal  CB

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