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Cousin Bette: Part 1 of Poor Relations (Penguin Classics) Paperback – August 30, 1965
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Original Language: French --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
COUSIN BETTE is about "love in all the wrong places," to quote a popular country & western song. Baron Hulot d'Ervy is a former Napoleonic officer who now serves as an official in the Ministry of War. But mostly, he serves Cupid. At the start of the novel, his faithful wife Adeline is besieged by a rival philanderer who tries to make a play for her, even as the Baron is getting dumped by his current mistress Josepha -- who was taken away from him by none other than the Célestin Crevel who is currently besieging his wife.
Two very important things occur that set in motion a diabolical scheme for revenge on the part of a poor old-maid cousin living with the Hulots, one Lisbeth Fischer. She has a protegé in a young Polish count named Wenceslas Steinbock who has shown some talent as a sculptor. Lisbeth has him practically caged up in his studio because she believes that (1) he has talent and (2) he might one day come to like her, though she is by far the older of the two. When Hortense, Baron Hulot's daughter, learns of Steinbock's existence, she becomes intrigued and takes some trouble to locate him, throwing a wrench into Lisbeth's plans when they fall in love with each other.
Enter Valerie Marneffe, Balzac's most accomplished villain. A young housewife married to a complaisant older husband, she makes a play for Hulot, who sets her up as his mistress.Read more ›
What delighted me about this book is not the manipulative Cousin Bette destroying things, but the ways that she is so inept and petty in her manipulation. Her plan comes down to getting her friend Madame Marneff to seduce the baron and humiliate him even as he spends all of his money on her - a plan that seems perfect in the fact that the baron is pretty much set on getting mistresses and giving them all of his money without his wife's cousin egging him on. In another book, Bette would be the Iago or the Valmont who destroys life with a series of cunning plans. In Balzac's Paris, she's just one manipulative creep among a society of manipulative creeps. She might form great alliances, but ultimately the social order favors the wealthy and the foolish.
One of my favorite lines in this book is "finally vice won out over virtue" and it might as well be the title of Balzac's biography. Balzac writes cruel and hilarious books and this book is a merciless depiction of a society obsessed with money where virtue is hypocritical and self-serving and an honest despot will win out over a dishonest saint.
Balzac focuses principally on one middle class mistress. Madame Marnoff, who is such an enchantress that she keeps five men while the five men think they keep her.
Cousin Bette, is the Ugly Betty character of the story who is trying to exact revenge against her cousin, Madame Hulot, for being beautiful. When she was a child, she tried to break her pretty nose. But as she matured, she learned to become more civilized, patient, and cunning with her plot to avenge herself. Because Bette was ugly and eccentric, she was made to work for a living in an upper class family in which the women did not usually work. There is a lot of talk of revenge in the novel and nearly everyone is trying to take advantage of one another in a cordial way as they pursue their self-interest. The help given often has ulterior motives. It is a little depressing not see much sincerity or true love in the book.
People are constantly talking about their financial transactions and how they are scheming to afford a better house or how to afford the extravagant expense of having a mistress.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Thus spake Honore. This one's thick with characters, plots, both high and low, as well as patches of bad prose worse than Dostoevsky and Melville. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Chadwick Henley Essex
There are two points to be made about this book. First, the book itself ...
It's often said that this is Balzac's best novel, and there's certainly sufficient reason to... Read more
A classic that holds up!
The ending was rather quickly finished but the story was quite a visual soap opera.
One of the things i enjoyed most about this book was the peek into post-revolutionary France. And of course, Balzac's wry observations into human nature are a rare treat.Published 23 months ago by Publius
The Human Comedy; can't wait to begin this; i'm still reading Operation Shylock by Roth. Balzac is a master! Indeed!Published on March 30, 2013 by Robert O'Brian
Having read and enjoyed Eugenie Grandet and Old Goriot, I was anxious to read Cousin Bette. Overall, I did enjoy it but there were aspects that I did not find believable such as... Read morePublished on September 4, 2012 by anonymous2
One of the best prose writers I've had the pleasure of reading. Some literary giant said that he had learned more from Balzac's works than all the Philosophers, poets,... Read morePublished on February 8, 2011 by Joszef Ruiz