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Cousin Bette (La Comédie humaine)

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,579 Ratings  ·  295 Reviews
Cousin Bette was Balzac's last great novel, and in it he explores power, lust, deception, and revenge. The characters are complex and vividly drawn. Cousin Bette is a woman of breath-taking malice. She plans and executes a diabolic plot of revenge against her own family for slights more imagined than real, destroying herself in the process.
Paperback, 364 pages
Published March 18th 2008 by SMK Books (first published 1846)
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Katrina 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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Petra X
May 05, 2015 Petra X rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, reviewed

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
Chrissie
I am no literary critic. I will merely try and express what I experienced while reading this book.

I am glad I read it, but I admire the author's opus more than I enjoyed it. Honestly, it was often a struggle.

It has a very slow start. The book's narrator, after a third of the way through, states that only now will the story begin. All that before had just been an introduction to the characters! That "introduction" doesn't read as a normal introduction; you are thrown into events that you scarce
...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
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Jim
Jul 08, 2011 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Perry
Jun 23, 2016 Perry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: libri-classici
SWEET LAND OF LIBERTINES

"I'm too sexy for my shirt
Too sexy for my shirt
So sexy it hurts."
Right Said Fred, I'm Too Sexy, 1991

{{3.6 stars}}

Prudes need not read this Balzac novel, which no doubt must be the precursor to and playbook for modern-day soap operas. The story involves:

marital cruelty, sexual blackmail, spite-filled revenge, prostitution, unconscionable adultery, women with irresistible sexual allure to men, men and women having a number of different sexual partners (in a day), theft,
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Caroline
In the dedication to Cousin Bette, Balzac describes his glowing admiration of Don Michele Angelo Cajetani, Prince of Teano, for the impromptu exegesis of Dante’s Divine Comedy that he gave one evening in Balzac’s company. Thus, presumably, the umbrella title of La Comedie Humaine for his many of his novels. Balzac writes:

The two sketches I dedicate to you [The Poor Relations: Cousin Pons and Cousin Bette are the two eternal aspects of one and the same fact. Homo duplex, said the great Buffon: wh
...more
Anuradha
What can I say, I wish I lived in the 19th Century. Life would have been so much more interesting! *sighs* Also, black comedies FTW. Will review in full if I get the time.
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
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Capsguy
Apr 18, 2012 Capsguy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: french
Stupid men falling for vicious and manipulative women. You don't see that every day!
John
May 17, 2013 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Kate
Nov 21, 2011 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Geoffrey
Jun 04, 2007 Geoffrey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Balzac can be so poisonous. In the best way possible.
Adam Calhoun
Nov 28, 2010 Adam Calhoun rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Louise
Dec 30, 2008 Louise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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Scott
Jun 10, 2016 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a cynical, bitter, overwrought and completely delicious condemnation of Parisian society in the 1830s with a fuck-you-bitch ending to anyone (like me) indulging in the excesses of revenge brought on by the title character. "See all these dicks? You're a dick too! Guess who wins! None of your favorites!" That last bit was perhaps unintended on Balzac's part because I don't think Cousin Bette was meant to be as sympathetic as I read her. Then again maybe she was. This novel is wicked smart ...more
Doroti
Feb 05, 2013 Doroti rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 11, 2015 Corey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Terence Carlisle
Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but in his story of the vengeance of good Cousin Bette, Balzac serves up to the reader a dish piping hot: a great social novel, a milestone of French "Realism", a grand pot-boiler and, under its painstakingly realistic surface, a seething fever dream of male sexual anxiety.

There is a strong undertow of the daemonic in this tale of a noble family brought to ruin by its weak, foolish men and the vampiric females who devour them. The treacherous Bette, whose
...more
Anna
Apr 24, 2013 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 08, 2013 Sylvia Tedesco rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
J.
Feb 14, 2013 J. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pomegranate fanciers
Shelves: france, city-of-light
"... 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
Sylvester
Jun 19, 2010 Sylvester rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic
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
Margaret
Nov 24, 2009 Margaret rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This tale of family passions and intrigue, set in Paris in the 1830s and 1840s, was the first Balzac I've read, and I liked it quite a lot. I found that I enjoyed his sardonic cynicism greatly, even though I disagree with many of his opinions (not myself being quite so cynical as he was, perhaps). To give you a flavor of his writing, here's one of the chapter titles, which are often wry: "Chapter 24. In which chance, which often brings about true romances, makes things go so well that they canno ...more
Tania
Mar 20, 2014 Tania rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. The boring title of the eponymous main character belies the violence within her. Cracking stuff!
Mary Harju
Sep 02, 2007 Mary Harju rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first read by Balzac. I fell in love with his writing and with Paris.
Jonathan Rimorin
Money, money, money: apparently everything in 19th century Paris revolved around money. (And really, have things changed much since then?) There is not a single page in this novel that does not have someone tabulating accounts, totalling expenditures, and borrowing more money to keep up appearances. It probably reflects Balzac's own situation late in his writing life (he died a few years after its 1846 publication); other elements are also probably a bit autobiographical: its jaundiced eye on ma ...more
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
Bruce
Nov 10, 2014 Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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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.” 19 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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