November 19, 2012

Eugénie Grandet by Honoré de Balzac

Eugénie Grandet - Alida Valli, Gualtiero Tumiati

This is a short novel, which introduces us to the life of a provincial miser and his family in the town of Saumur. Felix Grandet has made his fortune all by himself, and is considered the richest man not only in the town, but also in the whole region. His wife and daughter, however, don't know anything about their riches. They sew their own clothes, they can't buy anything without the approval of Grandet, they can't even make fire whenever they want. Needless to say that they don't have a lot of social life apart from entertaining two local families, who both seek to marry their sons to young Eugénie.

But everything changes for them when Eugénie's cousin Charles, a young and bright gentleman, comes from Paris as a consequence of a tragic event. The cousins fall in love with each other, but their feelings are not approved by the old Grandet. Moreover, Charles has to go to India to win his own fortune soon, so their love ends abruptly. But not for Eugénie, for whom this feeling is everything she has in her life. This feeling changes her dramatically in a very short time, but will it overcome her dry and strict upbringing which has trained her to value money more than everything?

If you have read some Balzac before, you would probably guess the answer, but I will not include any spoilers here. This book is very powerful, it describes people for whom money is everything and the measure of everything (still topical, isn't it?), it speaks about society and it's mercenariness and indifference towards individuals, but, most important, it puts a question: can we determine our life and who we are ourselves, or are we bound to follow our parents' path?

The book is beautifully written, and even when nothing really happens is it completely impossible to put it down. I especially liked the setting of the tragedy: every single thing in the old house is described in detail, and you can easily visualise how dim and dull their rooms and their lives are.

I also liked how Eugénie's character develops when she discovers love. I admire how she finds strength to openly oppose her father and to stand to her guns even when treated very badly. She is still very submissive, but then she is very religious too, so this can be explained. She also sees money only as means, not as an object, which should be respected, especially considering her father's attitudes.

All in all, the book is a perfect representative of "La Comédie humaine" and so far this is my favourite novel by Balzac.

Eugénie Grandet is a book from my Classics Club list


  1. Interestingly, I've never heard of this book! It has themes that still resonate today, like you said. Great review. :)

    1. Thanks! You should try Balzac, his writing is great, and his characters are very real and well-developed!

  2. I have loved all the Balzac novels I read as a French student. I need to go back to him actually. by the way, do you know I have a weekly meme on France? so if you wish you could link your post, using this post this week:

    1. Thanks for your reminder! It's a nice idea! I've linked it for this week, and I'll remember to do this every time I read something French in the future (which I plan to do a lot next year) =)

  3. Though I prefer "Gobseck", "Eugénie Grandet" is also a nice work by Honore de Balzac. So does your article! Great post!

  4. I have this one my CC list but was unsure about it. Your review has just made me keener to give it a go - thanks :-)


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