Eugenie Grandet is a quiet tragedy.
character is the quiet and industrious daughter of a miser. His entire
life is devoted to making more money, even faking a stutter to put other
people off their guard in business transactions. Eugenie has known no
other life - every day, she and her mother sit in their freezing sitting
room (the fire can only be lit between November and April), mending and
sewing. For her, this is not unusual, and she accepts at face value her
father's complaints that they are poor and need to scrimp.
around her, however, have a fairly good idea how much money Monsieur
Grandet has amassed, and plot to have a son or nephew marry her. Then
her cousin appears on her doorstep, penniless and fatherless, and she
gathers him to her heart, not knowing enough about the world to see his
Parisian manners as a true expression of his shallow callousness.
life is ruined by money, by her father's love of it, by her neighbours'
focused energy on it, by her cousin's consideration of monetary gain.
Eugenie loves, truly, and her love is misspent. Money, having it, not
having it, and others consideration of it taints the entire world
Eugenie must live in.
Although Eugenie is shown as good and
pious, Balzac does not let her off the hook, either. Hamstrung by money
and a provincial outlook, she dwindles even as her fortune swells.
prose is powerful and merciless. The story steps lightly along,
building towards a climax that is not powerful but quiet. The uneventful
nature of her fate is even more wrenching than a tempestuous tragedy
In this book, everyone falls under Balzac's eye - the
selfishness of Parisian youth, the ambition of provincial powers, the
miserliness of Monsieur Grandet. Because of this, I'm not sure if
anything could have changed to make Eugenie's fate a happy one - not if
she was raised in Paris, not if she was given more materially, not if
she interacted more with her society, not if she retreated from it.
Money is the root of all evil, in this world. And Eugenie's family has far too much of it while enjoying none of it.