32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2001
This is the extremely sad and powerfully written story of Eugenie Grandet, a true heroine of modern literature (yes, modern). In the town of Saumur, M. Grandet is a wine merchant, a miser in full. This is a despicable man, but like good characters in literature, he has an understandable, if unjustifiable, reason for his behavior. He wants to give his family a perennial financial security. The problem is, that is all he wants for his family. Nothing else matters. So the family leads a monastical life, luxury is forbidden, joy is expensive. Eugenie is a likable but shy young lady, without any knowledge of the world whatsoever. Balzac is just great at creating the environment and mood. You can see the big, old house, the leaves fallen from the trees and rustling in the silent evenings of this town. You can feel the boredom of lifeless life, the long, long afternoons. The avaricious man lecturing everybody for spending like crazy, anguished at every penny spent, regardless of what was bought or consumed.
So, two families are looking forward to having one of their sons married to Eugenie, but Daddy is looking for more wealth, and refuses to share his with these provincial people. Then his brother committs suicide in account of financial trouble, and Grandet's nephew, Charles, comes to town. He and Eugenie fall in love, but there is no chance M. Grandet will accept a marriage with the son of a ruined man. Charles, thus, leaves for the Indies to look for fortune. Someday he'll come back, but things will never be the same. As the years pass, we see Eugenie go on with her dull life, her heart saddened and cold.
Balzac's novel paints an accurate and believable portrait of French society at the time, but it would not have survived if that had been all. As the title of this review states, this work has transcended because it is literature of the higher sort, that which goes directly to the human heart and mind, to situations that do not pass with age, but remain embedded in any society. And because the writer is a master craftsman: Balzac is one of the best. Think of novel and think of Balzac, "competitor with the Civil Records": a rigorous analyst of human, and not only French, society.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 1998
This is without a doubt one of my absolute favorites. I read La Pere Goriot before I read this one thinking it was great. After reading this I was convinced that Balzac was easily one of the best authors ever.
The story focuses around the members of the Grandet family. The Father is a miser the likes of which you have never seen, a cruel man willing to ruin his family in his pursuit of money and gold. He owns a wine field in the small town and within the first fifty pages he is already ripping the town off. Mme. Grandet is the poor wife who has become used to her husband's pettiness but seems unfulfilled. Eugenie, the daughter is a young girl who has lived a sheltered and restrained life in the enormous house, never realising what the outside world has to offer.
The story is really quite simple. Charles, Mr Grandet's nephew comes to visit the family (his father has killed himself but he doesn't know that until Mr. Grandet shows him the suicide letter.) Eugenie falls in love, the Parisienne fop and the two have a quick love affair, Charles goes away a and promises to return one day so that they may marry, and a lot more which I'm not so silly as to ruin for you.
The story is an extremely sad affair. Eugenie is so wonderfully written that you begin to feel sorry for her position and that she has never really seen true happiness. Overall, a touching book, well worth the read. Much better than many of the other classics out there, believe me.
Balzac is so underated.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2002
I'm a Balzac's french fan.
All the "Human Comedy" is to read. Especially "Eugenie Grandet" is the third in my own classement(After "Le Pere Goriot" and "Le Cousin Pons"). So, I want to convince you : Read, at least these 3 Balzac's novels. After, you will be taken by Balzac and you will read the rest of his novels.
If I have to summarize Balzac in one word it's : "passion".
All the Balzac's novels speak about some aspects of passion : passion in love, passion in paternity or maternity, passion of money, passion of power, passion of science, ...
"Eugenie Grandet" describes particularly passion of money (Eugenie's father), and passion for love (Eugenie).
What is marvelous with Balzac it is his ability to make some of his characters sympathetic even if they are bad (for example Eugenie's father is really a bad man but his passion for money has some emotionnal aspects and the reader can't hate him definitively).
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2003
Balzac's style and economy of words indeed does seem "modern" as so many literary critics have pointed out, despite the fact that many of his short pieces were small studies in 19th Century French life. This short tale is of a family totally controlled and dominated by a father's greed. The father actually weighs out eggs, butter, flour, and sugar for the family servant to use every day. His wife, daughter, and family servant all have adjusted their views of reality to accomodate his greed. The equilibrium is upset when Cousin Charles Grandet comes to visit. The women in the household cater to the needs of this handsome young man but the father is unsympathetic upon hearing that his brother has become bankrupt and a suicide and the young man is penniless. By the time the young man leaves, the daughter of the house is totally in love with him. She writes to Charles but after a few letters he fails to respond further to her letters. As the miserly father withers and dies, so too does the expectations and soul of his daughter, Eugenie. Balzac did a really fine job of showing how self defeating the miser's greed was to his family and his relationship with his wife and child. After the death of the father, Eugenie inherits a fortune. Cousin Charles meanwhile has become rich through the slave trade between African and the Caribbean. His soul has shrunk and he is about to marry a 19 year old socialite for her family connections. He writes a letter telling Eugenie that he has never stopped loving her but that he must look out for his interests with this advantageous marriage. He receives a letter back that is polite yet biting, gracious yet revengeful, compassionate and understanding yet reminding of the lost opportunity. Charles then finds out that his cousin, whom he loves, is extremely wealthy and he has made a decision that he thought was advantageous which turned out to be less than optimal. Balzac has the faithful maid as the only winner in the story. Eugenie rewards her for her years of hard work and service. The story resonates with Henry James' Washington Square. They both involve a triangle between a rich father, an innocent daughter, and a suitor. The difference is that James' father is cruel to his daughter thinking that since she is plain and shy that men will court her only for money. Eugenie's father's obsession was wealth, the effects on his family were a consequence of his greed, not due to his conscious demeaning sarcasm. Both heroines seek revenge on the suitor, James' with a trick and Balzac's with a superbly written letter that left the revenge to his own immagination and judgement. James' suitor was indeed a crook, whereas Charles Grandet was lead into opportunism and missed chances. Finally, the Aunt in Washington Square was a silly gossip who was not supportive of the daughter/niece whereas the mother and servant in Eugenie Grandet were supportive of Eugenie. I would strongly recommend reading Eugenie Grandet, a concise,short, book. Balzac was just to his characters and this realistic justice made for a fine short novel.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2005
Marcel Proust famously said of Balzac: "He hides nothing; he says everything." A more fitting quote has never been attributed to this visionary of the mid-19th century, this paragon and paradox, who at the age of thirty declared that he would devote his life to a chronicle of his contemporary era, classifying the social strata of France through narrative. Balzac went on to write more than ninety novels of his self-styled 'Human Comedy', the deliberate rival and successor to Dante's vast metaphorical triumph, a handful of which are rightly considered to be among the utmost achievement of classical literature. Balzac's ego was as vast as his ambition and his talent, and he considered 'pretended portrayal' - shallow platitudes to disguise interior deficiencies - as vain and unworthy. In his art Balzac sought to consolidate and epitomize whatever themes he worked on at the time, drawing inspiration from his own experiences and multifold resources...if Henry James is correct in his claim that Balzac's great glory stemmed from the fact that he pretended ~hardest~, through the combination of overwork and intuition, then his unique status is assured on that effort alone: but we have his works to draw on, all ninety-three of them, to reassure that Balzac's spirit and intent were pure: in other words, the art of complete representation. Few can match the French genius in this regard.
Each of Balzac's novels tackle a different theme of the human condition, and in *Eugenie Grandet*, written in 1833, the subject of avarice is contemplated, and devastatingly revealed, through the author's usual concoction of dry wit, scathing portrayal, minutiae-obsession and omniscient understanding: Balzac's perspective is that of the all-seeing, all-knowing Godhead third eye, simultaneously deconstructing and putting into perspective the actions and consequences of the miser, in all his sordid, gold-grasping compulsion. It's difficult to second-guess or place doubt upon the fiery condemnations explicit in this text: just brace yourself for the ride, and expect the grunts of agreement, the surprised whistles and the startled outbursts of laughter that inevitable result from a tour through this man's prodigious mind. Entering Balzac is to confront oneself with genius, to learn and be humbled...and be entertained, lest I forget, in ways rarely qualified by his contemporaries. It is this humorous quality, implicit in his contemplation of human nature, that endear Balzac so close to my heart; even when you know events are going to turn badly, as they so often do, the rare psychological and sociological insight of the author, so keen, pessimistic yet never despairing, buoy one across the tides of tragedy.
I loathe to speak too much of the interior text of any Balzac novel, which in turn always somewhat hinders my attempt at review, for it is my belief that the shape and scope of each particular episode of The Human Comedy should be discovered by the diligent reader with as little knowledge about the text as possible, therein to reduce spoiling the impact of the narrative; a foolish desire, I know: and a standard overview of the surface is necessary. Thus: *Eugenie Grandet* tells the tale of the quintessential miser, Monsieur Grandet, a man who, as another reviewer accurately depicted, is a caricature of money-grubbers everywhere - but what a caricature! One cannot help feel as much amused as disgusted by Grandet's penny-pinching and wily business shenanigans, which include the affectation of a stammer to throw off opponents, shady negotiations to curtail any forced obligations, and casual back-stabbing of his compatriots when there is coin to be made; the portrait is made complete with massive amounts of gloating and caressing of his gold behind closed doors. Grandet lives to make money, and to have as little of it leave his possession as possible, thus reducing his immediate family to a state of penury entailing shaved lumps of sugar, a ban on fires for most of the year, an utter lack of decorative excess and a strict rationing of bread and water as the main constituent - jam being an outrageous luxury! Madame Grandet and her daughter, Eugenie, suffer like saints in this condition, ignorant of any other sort of lifestyle, at least until cousin Charles Grandet of Paris appears at the door one day, a dandy whose finery and extravagance shocks the elder Grandet and bewitches the deprived Eugenie. From here I will reveal no more, except to say that Grandet's miserly affliction condemns his offspring, even from beyond the grave; avarice becomes a hereditary endowment, unconsciously applied, though the daughter - shy and virginal - continually exerts her generous nature despite the installed programming, giving a faint ray of charitable bliss to the grim consequence of the denouement.
In all of his novels, Balzac peppers the narrative with observational asides and digressions, enhancing the story with the reflections of earned experience:
"The beginning of love and the beginning of life have a pleasing likeness to one another. Is it not everyone's concern to lull a child with soothing songs and kind looks, to tell him stories of wonders that paint the future with gold for him? Are not hope's dazzling wings always spread for his delight? Does he not shed tears of joy as well as grief, and grow impatient about nothing, about the stones with which he tries to build an unsteady palace, about the flowers forgotten as soon as picked? Is he not eager to grasp time and put it behind him, to get on with his business of life? Love is the soul's second metamorphosis." (pgs 168-169)
It is these moments of internalized perception, brought forth from quill to parchment, that bring the events surrounding into perspective; that make Balzac an author to be poured over, analyzed with delight, to be read again and again. *Eugenie Grandet* deserves its place next to *Lost Illusions*, *The Black Sheep*, *Pere Goirot* and *Cousin Bette* at the forefront of The Human Comedy, and literature in general.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2008
"The spirit, like the body, must breathe to live: it needs to take in love, from another soul, like oxygen, make it part of itself, and give it back enriched. Without that beautiful process the heart dies: it suffers from lack of air and ceases to beat."
Honore Balzac "Eugenie Grandet"
If you haven't had the opportunity to read Balzac yet, and you are a lover of classic fiction, please do yourself a favor and order this one today. It is the fourth classic of his that I have read ("Lost Illusions", "Old Goriot" & "Cousin Bette" are also amazing and definitely recommended). "Eugenie Grandet" is a relatively short, simple story, especially in comparison to his above referenced classics, but still just as majestic. This brilliant writer who influenced countless other greats - Zola, Dickens, Flaubert, Proust, Henry James, et al... - was one of the founding fathers of realism, and it's easy to see where Zola and Flaubert in particular drew most of their inspiration from.
The story takes place in early 19th century France (post Revolution) in the provincial town of Saumur where Eugenie Grandet and her parents reside. Her father, Monsieur Grandet, is a miser who is completely obsessed with gold. This stingy, little tyrant, despite his wealth, makes his poor wife and only child (Eugenie) live as if they were paupers. Grandet's avarice and selfishness makes Dicken's Scrooge look like Paul Newman in comparison. On top of that, Grandet covets his only child equally as close as his many piles of gold that he secretly hordes.
Ergo, life for our heroine and her mother is a rather bleak one. However, all things begin to look up when her handsome, young cousin Charles suddenly arrives into town after the death of his parents. Of course sparks begin to fly and Eugenie's dormant passions are suddenly awakened for the first time. The only main obstacle in the two lover's way is of course daddy - the gluttonous, gloomy Monsieur Grandet.
I just can't say enough about Balzac's prose. If you love writers who really dig deep into their characters, then look no further than Honore. I can't think of one writer who develops his/her characters with more zeal. Like other greats (i.e. Tolstoy and Steinbeck first come to mind), Balzac is not afraid to display both the positive and negative attributes of each of his creations while at the same time not passing judgment on them. There is so much depth to all of his characters no matter how minor they are. For me personally, this is one of the most important qualities, one of the most essential ingredients to great story telling.
It just doesn't get better than Balzac folks. Passionate, descriptive, satirical at times, informative, historical, insightful, etc... etc... And perhaps most importantly - an exceptional story teller to boot! I relished every single page of this splendid short story.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 1999
This book is a short and tragic read. Balzac's world of French culture, community and economy is so far removed from our modern experience of North American convenience, splurge spending and impulse that readers trying to make a jump from more contemporary "entertainment" novels to the classics may find an account of emotional hubris in a techno-free world like Eugenie's the equivalent to being stranded in their apartment with their cable on the fritz and stop before the story even begins. If the reader presses on they will discover a world where the focus of life is the opposite of the one we are all familiar with today. Eugenie's father is a man who sacrifices his family's more temporal needs of expression, education, and society in favor of tending to a growing fortune intended to be left to Eugenie, who's paternally imposed life of nearly puritan existence will certainly leave her unable to enjoy the fruits of her family's hard work and planning on any other level than the one her father has dictated for himself. No matter what state of convenience or inconvenience you may happen to live in today, it is impossible to read the sad story of this lonely, unknowingly wealthy girl, and not consider yourself pampered and intellectually lazy. Comparing Eugenie's state of spartan existence to my own access to the over-abundance of goods around me (in my surrounding neighborhood alone), I found a new awareness of my need to consume and the desire to strip my own need to succeed down to a need to enjoy.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: Mass Market Paperback
If "Père Goriot" is about different kinds of love or passion, EUGENIE GRANDET is definitely about money, greed and miserliness. In the former novel, we see the title character through the eyes of a newcomer to Paris, Eugene de Rastignac. In EUGENIE GRANDET, the dominant personality, bigger than life, still extremely vivid after 175 years, is old Monsieur Grandet, former cooper turned landowner and financial speculator. Eugenie is his daughter whose fate is sealed by her miserly, grasping, scheming father and his overpowering lust for gold. A handsome young cousin from Paris appears---a dandy, the spoiled child of a rich father. We learn at once that his father's affairs have gone bad; he has committed suicide, a bankrupt. The young people fall in love during Charles' stay in the provinces at his uncle's penurious table. But, the young man must soon depart for the Indies to seek a new fortune. Meanwhile, two local families vie for Eugenie's hand--actually, only for the enormous inheritance which she shall surely receive. The old miser plays them off against each other with great skill. Eugenie refuses all their offers and even resists her domineering father, remaining loyal to her long-lost cousin at the other end of the world. When Charles returns to France, having made a new fortune in the slave trade, he promptly hooks up with a noble family from the capital, re-connecting with his old mistress as well. Eugenie is left alone, but she remains true to her pure, simple ideals, using the fortune that she eventually inherits for good works.
I think this novel is one of the most powerful and best-written studies of a single character ever written. I am talking about the miser, shrewd old M. Grandet. Eugenie and her mother are purer, psychologically less complex, marked in everything by Monsieur Grandet's drive to become ever richer. French provincial life at the time in all its dreary repetition and petty rivalries comes alive with Balzac's pen---down to the kind of door knockers they had, the low-stakes card games, the yellow wax tapers. This provincial life, the effect of stinginess on a family, the power of constant love, and above all, a fascination with money and the people who amass it, are themes that mark this most powerful novel. You may think it sounds a rather basic tale, but Balzac's writing, as ever, is powerful and fascinating. One of the great books of world literature ! Don't miss it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2003
After some difficult literary debuts, Balzac (1799-1850) finally obtains his first success in 1829. At the age of 20 years he already published more than a hundred books all describing very human characters, portrayed in a prose with an unseen force. Because the same characters appeared often in more than one book, Balzac created a universe of his own, which he himself called "La Comédie Humaine".
In Eugénie Grandet, a novel dating from 1833, one gets acquainted with father Grandet, an extremely wealthy and greedy aristocrat living together with his wife and daughter in Saumur, France. His daughter Eugénie has grown to maturity and her father has no other goal than to see her getting married. But who is suitable enough for his precious daughter? Surely not her adopted nephew Charles Grandet, not? Eugénie has to fight against the tyrannical power of her father, but gets help from their faithful servent, Nanon.
Through this tragedy Balzac reveals one of the most destructive vices of man: greed. Although the author does not recoil from an ever-growing list of moralizing statements, the story stays authentic enough to pull the reader into the story. The comparison with a masterpiece as Wuthering Heights is easily made and not only because it dates from the same period. But to make from Eugénie Grandet a true classic it certainly misses depth.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2006
The tragedy of Eugenie Grandet is one that never fails to move me, no matter how many times I read it. This is one of those perfect novels about "small" people. Some may find it slow going relative to more contemporary novels, but the scenes are beautifully set, the characters well drawn, and the experience enveloping. Compared to many of its contemporaries, this novel is a study in narrative economy. Other reviews explain the plot, so I won't bother.
This is also an ideal book if one wishes to introduce a young person (especially a girl) to the classics. Any child who is comfortable reading the Harry Potter or Wizard of Oz books should have no trouble with this, except for some archaic vocabulary. All the romance in the novel is either courtly or mercenary, but certainly never inappropriate or too complicated for a young person; neither does it have the high melodrama of, say, Tess of the D'Ubervilles.
This is not to say that the book is too facile for an adult. Rather, it is so well written and constructed it will appeal to nearly everyone.