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Cousin Bette: Part 1 of Poor Relations (Penguin Classics) Paperback – August 30, 1965

ISBN-13: 978-0140441604 ISBN-10: 0140441603 Edition: 1st

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Frequently Bought Together

Cousin Bette: Part 1 of  Poor Relations (Penguin Classics) + Cousin Pons (Poor Relations, Part 2) (Penguin Classics) + Lost Illusions (Penguin Classics)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; 1st edition (August 30, 1965)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140441603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140441604
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #273,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Raine’s translations restore Balzac to his passionate and efficient outrage upon the expectations of fiction. This best of his novels is worthy to be ‘ours’—and now it is.” —Richard Howard --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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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Customer Reviews

One of the best prose writers I've had the pleasure of reading.
Joszef Ruiz
The book is true to life in the sense that life often is more about competition, betrayal, lust, hatred, and revenge than about love or sentimentality.
This is a wonderfully convoluted plot with the insight and delightful prose you would expect of Balzac.
Brenton A. Bleier

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Christopher D. Guerin on June 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Making a movie of it doesn't erase the world's crime of ignoring this great book. The equal of Dickens and James, Balzac has more energy and spirit, and a brighter palette. Cousin Bette has more plot than David Copperfield and sexier women than Valley of the Dolls. Madame Marneffe may be the most attractive monster (rhymes with itch) in literature, and Cousin Bette herself is all the Furies wrapped in an ugly old maid. One of the top fifty novels of all time.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By James Paris on May 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This was Honoré de Balzac's last great novel. Within a few more years, he would be dead of overwork. His last great scheme -- the marriage with the Polish Countess of his dreams -- finally came off, but poor Eveline Hanska had nothing on her hands but a ruined hulk of a man who had given everything for his art and had little left to give her.

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.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Tim Lieder on April 13, 2013
Format: Paperback
I read a version of the book that tied into the movie and stole the back cover blurb from the movie, which creates some serious confusion considering that the movie decided to kill off Baroness Hulot early on and cast Hugh Laurie as the 70 year old baron. I spent most of the book waiting for the death bed scene with Baroness Hulot asking Cousin Bette take care of her children and for better or worse, the virtuously deluded baroness lives even as the baron ruins everything.

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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By southpaw68 VINE VOICE on May 13, 2011
Balzac created a wickedly funny book about rich men and their mistresses. Here is yet another French novel about what the French are obsessed with--adultery and sex. Although French society mildly disapproves of adultery and mistresses, chasing after a new mistress is really the only thing that makes life worth living. Balzac doesn't get too serious though--you can almost hear him laugh through every scene as Baron Hulot keeps running through mistresses. As time goes on and he turns into an old man, he chooses ever younger and lower class ones. He is eighty and still playing the game!

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.
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