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Cousin Bette (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – November 19, 1998

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Editorial Reviews


'Appended to the text is a summary of its financial plots, the complications of which appear even more marvellous when extrapolated in this way. This is an introduction which is consistently enthusiastic about the complexity of a novel which, 'in its rich ambiguity, allows every reader to explore his or how own imagination of what life is really like'.' Robert Lethbridge, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, French Studies, Vol. 47, Part 3

'Three Classic tales of sexual passion, perversion, and corruption have been added to the rapidly increasing World's Classics collection, whose repertoire of nineteenth-century French novels is now impressive. The price and format of these volumes make them an obvious choice for the reader approaching them in translation, the more so since each is accompanied by a helpful general introduction ... the reader is likely to get better vaqlue here than from other translation currently in print.' Timothy Unwin, University of Western Australia, MLR, 89./2, 1994

'... translated here into lucid, straightforward, easily readable contemporary English.' Forum for Modern Language Studies Vol. XXX

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (November 19, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192836684
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192836687
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 1.1 x 5.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,021,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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59 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on January 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
When I described my fascination with Balzac to a pal of mine, I said, "yeah, it is all about disillusioned and cynical people" and he replied: "I am already disillusioned and cynical, so why should I read it?"
Why indeed. This is indispuably one of the best of Balzac's novels, with clearly drawn characters and grim lives in an inexorable descent to self-destruction, which are the classic Balzac themes. It explores the life of a libertine as he ruins himself and his family for the sake of pursuing pretty girls. Unbekonst to him, he gets help from Bette, a cousin full of secret hatreds and bent on vengence. It is very sad to read. One minor character even commits suicide by repeatedly smashing his head into a nail, his only means to finish himself off he could find in his jail cell.
So why read it? Well, again, it is for the wider social portraits that you can find, which are offered almost as an aside. Balzac in one section explains the politics behind the statues you see all over Paris, which is fascinating. You also learn of the career of courtisans, as they use their sex to advance themselves. The book is simply full of these thngs, in addition to the psychology of the many interesting main characters.
Also unusual for Balzac is the coherency of the story, which does not degenerate into ramblings like many of his other novels as they weave the tapestry of his Comedie Humaine like so many threads, that is, as vehicles in his vast project to fully portray an entire society with characters re-appearing in different situations and venues throughout his interrelated novels. The characters stand on their own here and are more clearly drawn. Hence, it is a great intro to Balzac and may get you hooked for more, that is, if you are masochistic enough to subject yourself to it!
Warmly recommended.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A.J. on September 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
If I had a time machine, I'd want to go back to 1840's Paris. Not the richly cultured Paris of Chopin, Berlioz, and Delacroix, but Balzac's Paris, a circus world where envy, avarice, and revenge drive passionate people to ridiculous extremes. One sin breeds another, and so an envious person can play off another's avarice in order to avenge a perceived slight. I sense that Balzac was essentially a moralist who felt that sins do greater service in comedy, but the sobering effect of tragedy is important for keeping balance.
In "Cousin Bette," the title character, Lisbeth "Bette" Fischer, is a plain, middle-aged spinster who has lived her whole life in the shadow of her pretty cousin Adeline. Adeline has married the Baron Hector Hulot D'Ervy, a high-ranking military and government official who nevertheless does not have much money and is an incurable womanizer, overtly keeping mistresses in spite of his wife's inexorable devotion to him. Their daughter, Hortense, becomes enamored with Bette's "boyfriend," a young Polish sculptor named Wenceslas Steinbock, and marries him, believing that his (rather unremarkable) art will bring in a fortune. At this point, Bette feels she has been upstaged one too many times by the Hulot family and resolves to take revenge.
One night Baron Hulot spots a beautiful young woman in Bette's apartment building and immediately plots to make her his latest mistress. This is Bette's close friend Valerie Marneffe, whose husband happens to be menially employed in Hulot's department. Bette gets the idea to use Valerie as a siren to entrap the men who have deceived her and enrage their wives.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Ian Vance on May 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
*Cousin Bette*, or Part One of 'Poor Relations,' is considered to be Honore de Balzac's last great novel, the capstone on an oeuvre that spanned nearly a hundred novels. The author had already begun to ail from overwork by the time of its composition (1846-1847), his methods of genius - sixteen-hour writing days, coupled with crushing "motivational" debt and a penchant for gallons of black coffee - exacting a toll of stress that would claim his life three years later. But if the physical shell was failing, the instrument of the mind retained its strength and perception, as *Cousin Bette*, equal and in some ways superior to Balzac's other masterworks (*Lost Illusions*, *Pere Goirot*), gives ample testament. Of the ten or so works I've read of this French master, this novel was the easiest to dive into and, overall, the most spellbinding and page-turning, no doubt influenced by the manner of its creation.

For although Balzac had published a sixteen-volume set of The Human Comedy by the mid 1840's, he had not found the accolades his oeuvre so justly deserved; in fact, he stood in the shadow of Eugene Sue, at the time an enormously popular author who serialized his work in easy tidbits. The serialization of novels had only come about recently, with Dickin's *Pickwick Papers* and Balzac's *The Old Maid* appearing first in 1836. The catch, however, was that Balzac was not an author to chop up and present in segments: his novels work best as a slow, steady read, the tension and enjoyment arising through hundreds of devoured pages until climax and, usually, a pessimistic but realistic denouement. Thus: Sue wrote for the serial; Balzac wrote for himself, and suffered accordingly.
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