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Cousin Bette (La Comédie Humaine)

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3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  4,812 ratings  ·  246 reviews
Cousin Bette (1846) is considered to be Balzac's last great novel, and a key work in his Human Comedy. Set in the Paris of the 1830s and 1840s, it is a complex tale of the devastating effect of violent jealousy and sexual passion. Against a meticulously detailed backdrop of a post-Napoleonic France struggling with massive industrial and economic change, Balzac's characters ...more
Paperback, 490 pages
Published October 15th 2008 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1846)
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Kat Old Man Goriot is a really approachable novel. The historical context of the novel is also super fascinating. It takes place after the fall of…moreOld Man Goriot is a really approachable novel. The historical context of the novel is also super fascinating. It takes place after the fall of Napoleon in 1814, so you can see the shuffling, settling, and disquiet of a warring nation that put republicanism at it's centre (ironically naming Napoleon Emperor), and the (limited) return of a monarchy--one, I might add, that had been violently overturned in the French Revolution. (less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mummy

This is a soap opera masquerading as a classic. It has all the right ingredients.

* A husband, a baron, who has spent all the family money on other women.

* A wife who justifies acting like a doormat by saying it is religious feminine submission.

* An in-law who threatens to put the kybosh on any potential "good match" marriage for their dowry-less but pretty (and rather boring) daughter Hortense if religious doormat doesn't sleep with him.

* Cousin Bette, the protagonist of the story, who is the
...more
Anascape Taylor
*Spoilers Inside* Sigh. It is a shame to give only 3 stars to a book so eloquently written, but what will linger in my mind about Cousin Bette 30 years from now will most likely be the rotten taste it has left in my mouth, not the honey-dipped words.

The first star was lost because I had to suffer through long sections of Balzac's rambling, misguided moralizing. His sermons seem to cover all topics, from the high-handed judgment of a variety of races to the merits of "good breeding." I like an a
...more
Jim
This is the third time I have read this late masterpiece of Balzac's -- and it got better with each reading. There have been other novels (mostly European) about men who have ruined themselves for illicit love of other women, but Balzac's Baron Hector Hulot goes further than any of them. At the beginning of Cousin Bette, he is at his apogee: married to a loving woman, with two loving adult children -- and an incredible itch for what willing young women have to offer. I will not say what happens ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
They are scoundrels! The whole lot of them! Well, ok, there are one or two virtuous people among them, but they are boring. Which is what makes the rest of them scoundrels. I loved this book. I think I was supposed to be scandalized, but I live now, not then.

It is a time of opulence and excess. Money and Sex. Depending on gender, they use one to get the other. To what lengths they will go in pursuit of money and sex! And then there is Cousin Bette who has neither. Because she has neither, she i
...more
Capsguy
Stupid men falling for vicious and manipulative women. You don't see that every day!
Adam Calhoun
Like seemingly every French novel of the period, Cousin Bette's first hundred pages are boring tidbits of backstory that could have been condense to only a few pages. Fortunately, the remainder of the book makes up for that fact. Cousin Bette is the story of a bitter family member who decides to bring down the relatives that she sees as having done her wrong. Since she takes slights easily, this is quite a few of them.

But it's really an exploration of changing social mores, as nouveau riche gain
...more
Dagny
Cousin Bette is Lisbeth Fischer, a "poor relation" of the Hulots. The story opens in 1838, when she is in her early forties, a spinster--although she had turned down several proposals of marriage. When Bette was a young girl, her sweet and very beautiful cousin Adeline, five years older than Bette, came to live with the family in their small village. Lisbeth had to work in the fields while Adeline was pampered. Adeline made a spectacular marriage and moved to Paris. Always kind to Bette, Adeline ...more
Kate
Thrilling and terrifying. Can women really be this heartless and greedy? And can men really be so criminally stupid? Anyone who says that drawing room novels are dry and boring should read this one, where most of the murderous, high-stakes, life-ruining action does indeed take place in someone's living room. Balzac's Paris is a ruthless jungle, and I'm fascinated. I'm totally going to read more.

The Cousin Bette of the title is an overlooked and resentful poor relation to the novel's central fam
...more
Doroti
Единственото, което отличава епохата на Балзак от нашата, в крайна сметка се оказват кринолините и липсата на мобилни телефони. Човешките взаимоотношения, интриги, лъжи, заеми, драми - до известна степен са същите. И накрая: what goes around comes around... Но дали?
"Животът е невъзможен без забравяне."
Corey
What a great story! What a great ending! What a great writer! This was one of the best End of the Year Big Classics I've read.
Geoffrey
Balzac can be so poisonous. In the best way possible.
Anna
While I enjoyed this book, I'll just list a few things that caused me to give it three stars. Perhaps I am judging it too closely from a modern perspective, but since Balzac was so moralizing in his descriptions, I don't feel so bad doing it.
1) His moralizing: I have no doubt that this was an effective social critique at the time, but it's dense and frequent.
2) Adeline: I just find myself saying "you can't be serious" over and over again. Of all the weaknesses in all of Balzac's characters, her
...more
Sylvia Tedesco
I first read this book about fifty years ago and loved it. On the rich plot of the story rests a network of beautiful writing and many clever and surprisingly modern observations of life. Recently I suggested it to our book group and I think it was probably too time consuming as only four people came to the discussion.
From Balzac and Jane Austen I believe I came to think great literature must take into consideration the importance money plays in our lives. In this book, Balzac says the greatest
...more
Helen Kitson
"Books and flowers are as necessary as bread to a very great many people."

Set in 1840s Paris, the novel revolves around the family, friends and acquaintances of Baron and Baroness Hulot. The Baron is a kind-hearted womaniser who squanders all his money on the mistress of the moment, leaving his long-suffering and martyrish wife almost destitute. "The look with which the Baron rewarded his wife's fanatical devotion confirmed her in her belief that gentleness and submissiveness were a woman's most
...more
J.
Feb 14, 2013 J. rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pomegranate fanciers
Shelves: city-of-light, france
"... there is, in the ocean of generations, an Aphrodisian current whence every such Venus is born, all daughters of the same salt wave..."
Can't say I'll be reading a long list of Balzac titles in my near-future. There is a longstanding tradition of the French bedroom farce out there, and while this is a close relation, that's not quite what it is. What's here, (and at some length), is a kind of mirthless, hectoring plot-loop, cautionary tales that vary little as they repeat, set in Paris, circa
...more
John
I had decided to listen to the book itself after recently seeing the 1971 video starring Margaret Tyzack and (a young) Helen Mirren; the novel moves at a slower pace, although the basic elements are the same. A good subtitle would be: "in which (almost) everyone gets what they deserve."

I dislike reviews that rehash plots, but in this case I'm going to have to do that myself to comment on what to expect for folks considering tackling this classic. Poor plain Bette snaps when her niece Hortense, d
...more
Louise
Envy. Raging envy. The story of a woman (Bette) who has lived bitterly in the shadow of her successful, beautiful cousin, Adeline. Till the opening of the story, she has been content to be the fifth wheel in the Hulot family, accepting their kindness grudgingly. However, when her niece Hortense sets her sights on the man that Bette believes to be her own, she becomes a formidable foe, obsessed with bringing down the entire Hulot family.
Interesting, a bit predictable, evil is evil and good is ang
...more
Sylvester
Balzac. The Human Comedy. I just love that idea of an author attempting to explore all aspects of life; the rich, the poor, the stupid, the good - you have to be crazy to imagine attempting such a thing.

Cousin Bette has a lot of the things I love about a novel of manners - the shift of society, where the one on top has to bow to the one who was before his servant; the difference between those who fight and grasp and crawl their way through life, and those who float from whim to whim or submit li
...more
Manny
Plain, spinsterish Lisbeth has become insanely jealous of her beautiful cousin Adeline, and decides that she will finally get even with her. She knows that Adeline's husband is unable to resist feminine charm, so she forms an alliance with the gorgeous and completely amoral Madame Marneffe. I love the following quote; a slightly adapted form even found its way into the dreadful movie version.
« Madame Marneffe était la hache, et Lisbeth était la main qui la manie, et la main démolissait à coup pr
...more
Bruce
Read in French, the English translation being Cousin Bette.

Honoré de Balzac wrote this novel in the middle of the 19th century. Bette is a spinster who is dependent on her extended family, a fact that makes her bitter and vindictive, determined to manipulate events such that the family fortunes are dissipated and their individual and collective lives made miserable until they are ultimate dependent on her instead. Her Machiavellian actions are carefully disguised, and family members are unaware
...more
Mary Harju
My first read by Balzac. I fell in love with his writing and with Paris.
Anita
I’ll admit I have little to zero knowledge about French Classic Lit. So, I began this book without any idea of what I was going to read, besides the blurb in the back.

If I remember correctly, Balzac was a realist writer (apparently, according to Wikipedia, I remember perfectly) and this novel, of course, is full of details. He gives a lot of description of setting and clothes, which helps to give the book a more realistic tone. At least, they helped me picture 19th century Paris more vividly. Th
...more
Sara Van Dyck
This sardonic view of Parisian society in the1840s depicts adultery and vengefulness in the family. In addition to these household dramas, we see official corruption, nepotism, bribery, and theft of government property. Balzac is denouncing the hypocrisy and the degraded values of the time – as Crevel says, the monarch of the time is “the holy, venerated,…and all –powerful five franc piece.” And there is an amazing authorial comment – “At the present moment the labouring classes are the fashiona ...more
Rozzer
The best that Balzac ever wrote, and that means Cousin Bette is one of the two or three finest French novels of the Nineteenth Century. Yet we here in the U.S. are now (2012) light-years away from 19th Century French points of view. Which creates an interesting problem for the reader. Balzac paints a wonderfully colorful and nuanced picture, but it's as if he paints sometimes on the far ends of the spectrum, in colors that we can't see. Kind of a dog-whistle.

To get the most out of this book we
...more
Jim Leckband
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a married man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a mistress."

This Nabokovian mangle is just one of the premises of "Cousin Bette". Since this is cynical mid 1800's France of Balzac and not the "virtuous" Austenian England, we are in for a rollicking ride of double-cross, revenge, false friends, overnight degradation and overnight successes, and endless intrigue. Balzac name checks Les Liaisons Dangereuses to let us know that he is well awar
...more
Gabriel C.
In the afterword it says that Balzac is the best reference we have today for the differences in income level and expenses for the upper and lower classes is Paris in the time periods about which he was writing. If that's so, I can't help but bring him to task for not making a clearer moral case. I'm probably misunderstanding authorial intent, but I feel that I am supposed to sympathize with some of the characters-- Adeline, Hortense, and Victorin. Whether or not it is successful, I find this app ...more
Tyler
Jun 13, 2011 Tyler rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Literature
Shelves: 19th-century
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jo Ann
While Cousin Bette is an astute, and, at times, propagandistic, analysis of French social history, the novel is also a compelling portrayal of human, ahistorical passions, particularly of desire and vengeance. Hulot is the consummate slave to Eros, responsible for all the woe his family and comrades endure. Humiliated professionally and socially, he persists like some abstract figure of desire, taking on pseudonyms (all anagrams of his real name), attaching himself to one then another teenage mi ...more
Czarny Pies
Oct 03, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who have read Pere Goriot or Eugenie Grandet and want to go deeper into the Balzac catalogue.
Recommended to Czarny by: Professor Vercollier who chose to put the shorter Pere Goriot on her course.
Shelves: french-lit
Cousine Bette is the story of an ugly spinster who executes a savage revenge on her cousin who has committed the two crimes of being more beautiful physically and more noble in the soul. While some of Balzac's novels are beginning to look dated, Cousine Bette's popularity is increasing as the number of nasty hags of her ilk appear to be increasing in the 21st Century.

Read this book. If nothing else you will find a more nuanced view of Bette than what this review has presented.
Ann
I actually read this on my Sony e-reader. I downloaded the free version from Google - it's one of the "messier" versions of these books that I've read, but I got by. That's pertinent because I chose it because it was a classic I've never read.

This is one that I didn't have to get too far into it to realize why it has stood the test of time. When he described certain men as "perambulating coffins" containing the souls of an earlier time held in check by their current ambitions, I knew that the au
...more
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Honoré de Balzac was a nineteenth-century French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of almost 100 novels and plays collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the fall of Napoléon Bonaparte in 1815.

Due to his keen observation of detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders o
...more
More about Honoré de Balzac...

Other Books in the Series

La Comédie Humaine (1 - 10 of 86 books)
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  • Letters of Two Brides
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  • Modeste Mignon
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  • A Second Home
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Père Goriot Eugénie Grandet Lost Illusions (La Comédie Humaine) The Wild Ass's Skin Le Colonel Chabert

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“If the artist does not fling himself, without reflecting, into his work, as Curtis flung himself into the yawning gulf, as the soldier flings himself into the enemy's trenches, and if, once in this crater, he does not work like a miner on whom the walls of his gallery have fallen in; if he contemplates difficulties instead of overcoming them one by one ... he is simply looking on at the suicide of his own talent.” 18 likes
“Hortense was a wife; Valerie a mistress.
Many men desire to have these two editions of the same work, although it is proof of deep inferiority in a man if he cannot make his wife his mistress. Seeking variety is a sign of impotence.”
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