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Cousin Bette (Classics) [Paperback]

Honore Balzac , Marion Crawford
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Dec 2004 Classics

A gripping tale of violent jealousy, sexual passion and treachery, Honoré de Balzac's Cousin Bette is translated from the French with an introduction by Marion Ayton Crawford in Penguin Classics.

Poor, plain spinster Bette is compelled to survive on the condescending patronage of her socially superior relatives in Paris: her beautiful, saintly cousin Adeline, the philandering Baron Hulot and their daughter Hortense. Already deeply resentful of their wealth, when Bette learns that the man she is in love with plans to marry Hortense, she becomes consumed by the desire to exact her revenge and dedicates herself to the destruction of the Hulot family, plotting their ruin with patient, silent malice. The culmination of the Comédie humaine, and a brilliant portrayal of the grasping, bourgeois society of 1840s Paris, Cousin Bette is one of Balzac's greatest triumphs as a novelist.

Marion Ayton Crawford's lively translation is accompanied by an introduction discussing the novel's portrayal of rapidly changing times, as the new, ambitious middle classes replaced France's old imperial ways.

Honoré De Balzac (1799-1850) failed at being a lawyer, publisher, printer, businessman, critic and politician before, at the age of thirty, turning his hand to writing. His life's work, La Comédie humaine, is a series of ninety novels and short stories which offer a magnificent panorama of nineteenth-century life after the French Revolution. Balzac was an influence on innumerable writers who followed him, including Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allan Poe.

If you enjoyed Cousin Bette, you might like Balzac's Old Goriot, also available in Penguin Classics.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (2 Dec 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140441603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140441604
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 176,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


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

The novel exemplifies what Henry James described as Balzac s huge, all-compassing, all-desiring, all-devouring love of reality --V. S. Pritchett --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Honore de Balzac was born in Tours in 1799 to a bourgeouis family. His first success with writing came with the publication of Les Chouans in 1829 which was followed by a vast collection of novels and short stories of which Cousin Bette, first published in 1847, is one of the chief novels. He died in 1850 only a few months after his marriage to the Polish countess Evelina Hanska, with whom he had conducted a romantic correspondence for 18 years.

Marion Crawford translated two other titles for Penguin; Old Goriot and Eugenie Grandet before her death in 1973.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Towards the middle of July, in the year 1838, one of those vehicles called milords, then appearing in the Paris squares for the first time, was driving along the rue de l'Universite, bearing a stout man of medium height in the uniform of a captain in the  Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An addictive, thought provoking read. 27 July 1999
By A Customer
Balzac at his best. Through his writing you experience a rainbow of undesirable emotions and immoral passions with such insight that you feel tainted by your acquaintance with the characters through the book.Devastating/Funny/Sad/Insightful - anyone familiar and endeared to Balzac will easily be seduced by this book.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vengeance personified 24 May 2010
By Didier TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An astounding, even disturbing book! Since I recently read Old Goriot (Classics) and afterwards The Wild Ass's Skin: (La Peau de Chagrin) (Classics) I've become something of a Balzac-addict (not a Balzac-expert, I wouldn't dream of claiming that) and so it was with eager anticipation and high hopes that I began 'Cousin Bette'. Let me immediately state for the record that I wasn't disappointed in the least.

Using a relatively small cast of (main) characters, Balzac succeeds in depicting a whole host of passions and emotions, most of them the kind we like to attribute to others but are hesitant to acknowledge in ourselves, such as treachery, envy, jealousy, even hatred. The story in itself is simple and straightforward: Bette is the (poor) cousin of Adeline who married into money after meeting the (then young and dashing) Baron Hulot, and has depended on her relatives' goodwill and patronage ever since. Bette has secretly fallen in love with the Polish count Steinbock, and when Adeline's daughter Hortense captures his attention and subsequently marries him, that is the last straw for Bette. From that moment on she sets out to plot and deceive with the sole goal of ruining the entire Hulot-family. Does she succeed? Well, I urge you to find out for yourselves. In doing so you'll encounter a rich array of very lifelike characters, in a plot that moves along briskly, find yourself facing some serious (at times disturbing) dilemmas (such as 'What would I have done?'), and be treated to little nuggets of timeless insight into the human mind on virtually every page.

A real treat, as worthy of our attention today as it was upon its first publication in 1847!
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is an amazing book for those who are interested in daily life bothers of people with remarkable passions. The interesting figures of the novel:a husband who loves his caring and self-denying wife but cannot resist his passion towards a coldhearted beauty, a cousin who enjoys the pains of her "protecting" relatives and a number of other figures from different spheres of society with varying ambitions. You will enjoy this great book and learn more about not only human nature but also an eventful era in French history.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Balzac's brilliant commentary on the newly born French republic and the struggle for power underneath Napoleon as the old order was guillotined and enterprise had free reign is a marvellous expose of a society in flux. Opening with subtle alacrity the novo homo Monsieur Crevel pays a visit to his son-in-law's mother, the aristocratic Baroness Hulot d'Ervy to explain that his reason (as a tied member of their family now through her son) behind his hindrance of supplying the Baroness' daughter, Hortense, with financial surety is due to two reasons: The first due to the vast debts his son-in-law has run up which he must cover, the second, in an delightfully narrated scene of wickedly humorous selfishness, because the Baroness' husband (his libertine comrade-in-arms) has `stolen' away Monsieur Crevel's mistress, the now infamous singer, Josepha.
Monsieur Crevel insists that he must have the Baroness himself to avenge himself on her husband and, if she agrees, he will act as financial surety for her daughter Hortense. So, in true Balzac style, in the space of a few pages, we have a marvellously huge dilemma for the cuckolded Baroness for whom, within this society, social standing is everything. It is this sense of stolen love, echoing Moliere whom Balzac constantly refers to, that permeates the novel of revenge that is Cousin Bette.
What unfolds is a perfidy to subtle and over such a long period of time that its eventual terrible denouement is a tragic tale of requited love, treacherous money motivated mistresses and selflessly loving wives.
Cousin Bette has saved from suicide one Wencelas Steinbock, a Polish refugee, and has secreted him away in her tiny home for a few months financially caring for him whilst he begins to exercise his professed enormous artistic talent.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 12 July 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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4.0 out of 5 stars Back to Balzac 10 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It's been over 25 years since I last read Balzac, so I was intrigued to come across this novel. The relationships are wonderfully depicted and the good and flawed natures of each of the characters come across really well. As a reader, I found myself engaging with the people - liking them, disliking them, but surprisingly forming strong opinions about them. The storyline is good and it is not difficult to pick up and want to continue to the final page. Read it.
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