It’s been a while since my last post but I thought I’d pick up where I left off and continue my reviews on books. Over the summer I read Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac (considering the amount of time it has been since, this review may be a little sparse). This book was published in 1864 and is a part of a larger work that Balzac wrote called The Human Comedy. This particular story has to do with Cousin Bette, an old maid that spins a lie for her family. She tells them that after many years, a man has finally shown interest in her and is now her lover, his name being Wenceslas. Her family is astonished and are unaware of the fact that he is actually just a young artist that Bette supports. He has suicidal tendencies and comes across as very depressed and morose. He eventually meets Hortense, Bette’s cousin, and falls in love with her. Hortense is the daugther of Baron Hulot who is married to Adeline but is in love with Josepha, a singer, but when she rejects him, he sets his sights on Valerie Marneffe, who wants to seduce Crevel but is in love with Henri. When Hortense and Wenceslas wed, Valerie and Bette team up to try and get money from Baron Hulot but things happen and Valerie becomes pregnant, not knowing who the father is. Valerie and Crevel are mysteriously poisoned by a Brazilian toxin and die. Baron Hulot finishes out the story by having affairs with multiple women. His wife Adeline dies and he marries another woman shortly after.
This story reminded me of Twelfth Night or The Importance of Being Earnest in that there are multiple people with complicated love lives. The characters in this story are complex and at times extreme, making them seem real and all the more unreliable in nature. Balzac’s ultimate goal was to portray the human comedy, or more specifically the human condition, or really what it means to be a person. Balzac makes you familiar with Paris and famous figures at the time, as well as ones throughout history, making the reader have to educate themselves every now and then on who exactly he is talking about. Cousin Bette reflects on romance and relationships and explores the side of the human condition that effects all of us so deeply- love.