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Cousin Bette

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A gripping tale of violent jealousy, sexual passion and treachery, Honore 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 Comedie 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.

Honore 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 Comedie 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, Emile 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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