In a gloomy house in provincial Saumur, the miser Grandet lives with his wife and daughter, Eugénie, whose lives are stifled and overshadowed by his obsession with gold. Guarding his piles of glittering treasures and his only child equally closely, he will let no one near them. But when the arrival of her handsome cousin, Charles, awakens Eugénie’s own desires, her passion brings her into a violent collision with her father that results in tragedy for all. Eugénie Grandet is one of the earliest and finest works in Balzac’s Comédie humaine cycle, which portrays a society consumed by the struggle to amass wealth and achieve power. Here Grandet embodies both the passionate pursuit of money, and the human cost of avarice.
Passionate and perceptive, the three short novels that make up Balzac’s History of the Thirteen are concerned in part with the activities of a rich, powerful, sinister and unscrupulous secret society in nineteenth-century France. While the deeds of ‘The Thirteen’ remain frequently in the background, however, the individual novels are concerned with exploring various forms of desire. A tragic love story, Ferragus depicts a marriage destroyed by suspicion, revelation and misunderstanding. The Duchess de Langeais explores the anguish that results when a society coquette tries to seduce a heroic ex-soldier, while The Girl with the Golden Eyes offers a frank consideration of desire and sexuality. Together, these works provide a firm and fascinating foundation for Balzac’s many later portrayals of Parisian life in his great novel-cycle The Human Comedy.