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Eugénie Grandet / Honoré de Balzac ; translated by Marion Ayton Crawford.

By: Balzac, Honoré de, 1799-1850.
Contributor(s): Crawford, Marion Ayton.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookSeries: Pocket Penguin ; 33 ; Penguin classics. Copyright date: ©1955Publisher: [London] : Penguin Books, 2016Description: 227 pages ; 19 cm.Content type: text Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 9780241260050 (paperback).Subject(s): Fathers and daughters -- France -- Paris -- Fiction | Older men -- France -- Paris -- Fiction | Paris (France) -- Social life and customs -- 19th century -- FictionDDC classification: 843.7 Summary: A daughter inherits her father's miserliness, which stifles her relationship with her cousin, making love an unsatisfying experience. As with Balzac's other work, his characters in Eugénie Grandet are fully and realistically portrayed.
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First published: 1955.

A daughter inherits her father's miserliness, which stifles her relationship with her cousin, making love an unsatisfying experience. As with Balzac's other work, his characters in Eugénie Grandet are fully and realistically portrayed.

Translated from the French.

Excerpt provided by Syndetics

Introduction   by Milton Crane   The natural history of man has long been the favorite subject of French writers--novelists, essayists, and dramatists. Almost since the beginning of time, one feels, they have been observing, defining, describing, and classifying the human species in all its bewildering manifestations, isolating and incarnating the peculiar characteristics of the snob, the provincial, the prude, the miser, the lecher, and a hundred other types and sub-types.   The list of eminent social taxonomists that France has given to the world's literature includes such figures as Montaigne, Molière, La Bruyère, Zola, Romains, and Proust. Perhaps the most consciously systematic and comprehensive of these literary sociologists is Honoré de Balzac. His immense cycle of novels, stories, and studies, to which he gave the all-inclusive title of La Comédie humaine (The Human Comedy), was designed to do for human society what the great French naturalist Buffon had done almost a century earlier for the animal kingdom in his Histoire naturelle (Natural History). Balzac himself drew this parallel in his ambitious General Preface to the Comédie humaine:   There have ... existed and there always will exist Social Species as there are Zoölogical Species. If Buffon produced a magnificent work in undertaking to present in a book all of zoölogy, is there not a work of this kind to be done on Society? But Nature set, for animal varieties, limits within which Society was not to be contained. When Buffon painted the lion he did the lioness in a few sentences, while in Society woman is not always the female of the male.... The Social State has accidents not allowed in Nature, for it is Nature plus Society. The description of Social Species is then at least double that of Animal Species if we consider only the two sexes. And then with animals there is little drama, and confusion is rare; they attack each other and that is all. Men attack each other too, but the differences in degree of intelligence make the struggle much more complicated. If some scientists do not yet admit that Animality overflows into Humanity in a prodigious life current, the grocer certainly may become a peer of France, and the nobleman sometimes descends to the lowest social rank. Also, Buffon found life very simple among animals. The animal has ... no arts or sciences; while man, according to a law that needs to be investigated, is inclined to represent his mores, his thought, and his life in everything he appropriates for his needs....   So the work to be done must be triple: men, women, and things, i.e., persons and the material representation they give to their thought; in short, man and life, for life is our raiment.   Whether or not one accepts the scientific soundness of Balzac's theory, there is no question that he has left us an incomparable portrait of French life in the first half of the nineteenth century. Like Trollope in Victorian England, like Jules Romains in the Third Republic, Balzac provides more and better information about the personality of middle-class France than many a professional historian or sociologist. This hardly explains, however, his continuing appeal to the common reader throughout the world. One might go so far as to say that Balzac has managed to triumph over his own sociology.   It is easier to affirm Balzac's greatness than to explain it. His genius labored under enormous handicaps. Virtually every critic of Balzac, for example, has complained about Balzac's insensitivity to language. (Emile Faguet, a distinguished critic, scholar, and member of the Académie Française, said of him, early in the present century: "Everyone agrees that Balzac wrote badly. There is no need to correct popular opinion on this point. He did indeed write badly.") A passionate collector of every kind of curious information, he cannot restrain himself from putting it all down, often beyond the requirements of the work. He constantly offends against modern taste by hovering at the reader's elbow, telling him how to react to the events of the story, pointing a moral, drawing a conclusion. And yet Balzac, by the sheer force of his own belief in what he is writing, transcends these gross and palpable faults, which would shipwreck a lesser artist. His genius makes up for what he lacks in talent.   The life of Balzac has been written many times; of the modern biographies, those of Stefan Zweig (1942) and of André Billy (1944) are notable. Balzac was born in 1799 in Tours, the son of a civil servant who changed his name from Balssa to the more impressive Balzac (which his son was presently to ennoble as de Balzac). His childhood was saddened by his mother's neglect, of which he complained bitterly in later years. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he became strongly dependent, while still a young man, on the considerably older Mme. Laure de Berny. She remained his mistress, counsellor, and critic until the end of her life. Balzac's literary success began, after some dozen years of preparation for his art, with the publication of Les Chouans in 1829. Thereafter, he made a great deal of money, but spent much more, and was constantly harassed by creditors."   Neither Mme. de Berny, Mme. Hanska (a Polish noblewoman who married him after a liaison that extended over many years), nor any of his other numerous loves could discipline Balzac's extravagant tastes and habits. While at work he would maintain the most Spartan of regimes, writing twelve and thirteen hours a day and living on black coffee and boiled eggs. But when he had completed the work in hand he would indulge in Lucullan debauches: one of his publishers reports that Balzac once ate at a single meal one hundred oysters, a dozen chops, a duck, a brace of partridges, and a sole, in addition to hors d'oeuvres, desserts, fruit, and wine. His other tastes and his expenses were as extravagant as his diet. He might well have said, with Jean Cocteau, "A little too much is just enough for me."   The personality of Balzac, to judge from the accounts of his contemporaries, was extraordinarily engaging. Even persons who had reason to deplore his habits--such as the publishers who watched him spend their advances without delivering the promised novels--were unable to resist his charm. He was the intimate of many of the great writers of his time. Among his closest friends was Victor Hugo, who gave Balzac one of the only two votes he received on the two occasions when he presented himself for election to the Académie Française.   His single-minded concentration on his art and his sense of a priest-like vocation ally Balzac to the great romantics. On the other hand, his work does not deal with the characteristic themes of romantic art, such as the exaltation of love and nature. His themes are those of classical satire and comedy: avarice, ambition, lust, vanity, and hypocrisy. For Balzac it was not love but money that made the world go round. Wordsworth would have found it difficult to recognize Balzac as a fellow-romantic; but Molière would cheerfully have accepted him as a colleague. In still another important respect did Balzac differ from such great romantics as Shelley, Lamartine, and Heine: he was fiercely conservative in politics and religion, maintaining that only the firmest authoritarianism of church and state could control the dangerously anarchic tendencies of bourgeois society. Let a Byron or a Coleridge hymn the French Revolution: the monarchist and Catholic Balzac knew that no price was too high if lawlessness and terror were to be kept from again sweeping Europe.   In 1842 Balzac, the author of fifty novels, conceived the device that, he hoped, would give form and meaning to his entire literary achievement. This was the Comédie humaine, a structure designed to describe and analyze all French society in his time. Both his published and his yet unwritten books were to be comprehended under seven headings: Scenes of Private Life, Scenes of Provincial Life, Scenes of Military Life, Scenes of Rural Life, Scenes of Political Life, Philosophical Studies, and Analytical Studies. During the remaining eight years of his life, he constantly reworked these categories and moved books from one group to another.   There is something unavoidably synthetic about Balzac's scheme, which he endeavored to superimpose on books that had obviously been written without thought of a Comédie humaine. He may, of course, have been feeling his way instinctively toward this plan throughout his career, but his juggling with the elements of his work argues against the idea. Moreover, his rubrics and even his chapter titles promise a comprehensiveness and objectivity more "scientific" and less artistic than his books in fact are. Like many an artist before him, he was a better writer than a thinker, and it was probably fortunate that he conceived the Comédie humaine toward the end of his career, when the artificiality of an outline could no longer mar the spontaneity and originality of his earlier work.   This is strikingly true of Eugénie Grandet, which Balzac published in 1834, eight years before he gave it a place among the Scenes of Provincial Life in the Comédie humaine. The little provincial idyll of a young girl's first and only love, given too soon to a man incapable of recognizing its worth, is singularly free of the characteristic defects of Balzac's later work. To be sure, it makes a bow to sociology: three of its six chapters, for example, bear titles that are plainly intended to carry a larger social meaning: "Bourgeois Faces," "Love in the Provinces," and "So Goes the World." And the book provides a memorable illustration of Balzac's basic charge against modern bourgeois society, that it is ruled by money.   Excerpted from Eugenie Grandet by Honoré de Balzac All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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