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Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism | Grandet, Eugénie Honoré de Balzac Introduction
Eugénie Grandet Honoré de Balzac
The following entry presents criticism of Balzac's novel Eugénie Grandet (1833). See also, Honoré de Balzac Criticism.
Through its use of realistic detail and insights into the lives of intriguing characters, Eugénie Grandet is considered one of Balzac's most accomplished novels, a highlight within the larger series of novels called by their author La Comédie humaine. The novel sketches the lives of a handful of individuals who enter the warped life of a village miser, whose meanness blights their lives, to some extent irrevocably. Balzac tells their story with economy and judicious attention to detail. The title character, herself the miser's daughter, is in the end destined for a lonely, spiritually barren existence because of her father's near-pathological obsession with gain above all; the novel's sense of tragedy and the high level of interest it inspires lie in Eugénie's partially successful struggle to wrench free from her heritage of avarice.
a married woman who bore a daughter as the result of their union. works written between 1830 and 1850. who visits me in private." one who would describe and interpret his era. but simply says. and his work. a most innocent creature who has fallen like a flower from the sky. 'Love me for a year and I will love you all my life!'" She was Marie Du Fresnay. Eugénie Grandet was written to form a part of a section within the larger Comédie humaine called Scènes de la vie privée. there was a lull in the famous romantic relationship between Balzac and Madame Evalina Hanska. the Polish countess he would eventually marry. He considered it possible to classify social species in the same manner that naturalists classify zoological species and their milieu. Balzac's strategy in writing La Comédie humaine was to reflect his self-styled role as "secretary to French society. in Eugénie Grandet and all the other novels and story collections. Balzac in fact wrote Eugénie Grandet while in the midst of a passionate affair with a woman he described as "a sweet person.Eugénie Grandet is one of the earlier novels written to form La Comédie humaine. or scenes from private life. For . At the time of the novel's writing. asks for no letters. reveals his belief that environment determines an individual's development. no attentions.
" whose identity was finally discovered early in the twentieth century. Plot and Major Characters The novel is set in the early nineteenth century in the small French town of Saumur.years." but suffused with classical beauty. Félix Grandet has acquired much property in Saumur. with none of the prettiness that pleases common people. a . scholars were puzzled by Balzac's dedication of the novel to a mysterious "Maria. and nobility of spirit. becoming known and respected by the townspeople for his miserliness. Nanon. charity. It is claimed that she served as Balzac's model for Eugénie Grandet—"tall and strong. a woman reduced to a beaten-down existence of near-serfdom by old Grandet. Through fortuitous inheritance and shrewd business sense. He is mayor and chief landowner in Saumur. and his word is law in the town. where lives the Grandet family. His spartan household comprises his wife.
A high point in the novel occurs on the next New Year's Day. having fallen in love with her cousin. Charles departs Saumur. the local banker's son. He vows never to have anything to do with either of them again. both for reassurance that she has not lost them and to glory over their brightness. pledging his love to Eugénie and promising to return when successful to marry her. son of the town notary. and every New Year's Day. but they are interrupted by the dandyish Charles Grandet. enlisting the banker. seeking to avoid scandal. and she spares no effort to impress him: lighting candles. and committing other acts deemed extravagant by her annoyed father. As a young woman. he seems an angelic visitor. Eugénie.loyal housekeeper. the elder M. De Grassins travels to Paris. To Eugénie. Charles remains in his room for several days. Meanwhile. who has lost his fortune and brought shame upon his family. Grandet asks to see his daughter's coins. shunning them both for a long . warming the chilly house. Eugénie gives Charles all her gold coins to invest and thereby restore his fortune. accustomed to plainness and austerity. de Grassins. when Grandet asks to see Eugénie's gold coins. Every year for her birthday. Old Grandet. son of Félix Grandet's wealthy brother. Both call on Eugénie on her birthday in 1819. who arrives from Paris in the evening for an extended visit. only to learn its fateful contents the next day: the missive is a suicide note from his father. to act in his stead in handling his dead brother's affairs. and his daughter. where he proceeds to live a life of dissolution. only to discover that his daughter is unable to produce them and that her mother seems to share with her the secret of their disappearance. Monsieur Cruchot. Charles delivers a sealed message to his uncle from his father. concocts a scheme to save his own good name. Stunned. Eugénie receives two dresses from her mother and a single gold piece from her father. Eugénie is courted by rival suitors. and Monsieur de Grassins.
Five years later. as matters stand. Later. quickness of action. One day a letter arrives from him. after his wife dies. old Grandet himself dies. demonstrating how opportunism. who has risen to a high government post. Inheriting Cruchot's property. Eugénie settles the remainder of Charles's debt. a time when shrewd investors capitalized on the return of the monarchy.period—until he is warned by the town notary that his fortune is endangered because of the approaching death of his heartbroken wife. enabling him to marry. with Eugénie waiting hopefully for news of Charles. he shows the . Avarice is presented as a spiritually crippling evil. Here as in all his works of fiction. and now Eugénie and Nanon live alone in his house. Grandet forgives his wife and daughter. Eugénie is wealthier than ever. Learning of this. according to the insights of Pierre-Georges Castex. but she spends the rest of her life experiencing the same pinched. describes the process whereby the new bourgeoisie was able to amass huge fortunes. Major Themes Set in Napoleonic France. Cruchot. stating that he no longer wishes to marry her. he tricks Eugénie into signing over her share of the property to him. She then agrees to marry one of her old suitors. Eugénie releases Charles from his pledge—shortly before he learns that his finances are still in arrears and that his fiancee refuses to marry him until he is free of debt. the effects of which can blight generations. lonely existence she has always known. For practical business reasons alone. Eugénie Grandet. Balzac illuminates the manner in which ideas have consequences. but he dies shortly after their marriage. M. and absence of scruple combine to form the modern world's concept of genius. but that he intends to wed a titled nobleman's daughter. he will have to divide his fortune with Eugénie upon her mother's death.
though extensive. especially by French women. Despite Balzac's accomplishment in this work. such as Le Père Goriot (1835) or even La Comédie humaine itself. such as unbridled greed. judicious selection of detail." Critical Reception Eugénie Grandet was well received by the French reading public upon its publication. . Martin Turnell. was never completed. Eugénie Grandet has been highly praised by critics over the intervening years for its tautness of structure. While Balzac himself was pleased with the early popular and critical response to this novel—which he regarded as "a good little tale. ©2000-2011 Enotes. wrote André Maurois. easy to sell"—he insisted that Eugénie Grandet could only be understood within the total context of La Comédie humaine—which. Considered on its own merits. and Roger Shattuck. while trenchant feminist criticism has been offered by Naomi Schor.com Inc. George Saintsbury (himself possibly the most important English-language critic of Balzac's work in the early twentieth century). What Balzac set out to show. "was the devastating power of a fixed idea. and effective characterization. Richard Aldington. it has not been the source of as extensive critical study as other novels within the larger whole. can hold upon individuals. Important aesthetic criticism of the work has been written by such critics as Hippolyte Adolphe Taine. which leads to the destruction of a family. who valued Balzac's realistic and sympathetic portraits of women as vital members of society in this and other novels.power a fixed idea.
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