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Cousin Betty

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By: (1799-1850)

Cousin Betty (La Cousine Bette), published in serial format in 1846, was one of the last and greatest of Balzac's works. It was part of his long novel collection titled La Comédie Humaine. Set in mid-19th-century France, it tells the story of a woman who resents her position as a "poor relation." As we follow her schemes to bring ruin upon the more privileged members of her family, we see a society in transition. The stability and idealism of the old order give way to a new bourgeois world in which virtue is strangled in the struggle for power and money. In this novel, Balzac searchingly probes the psychology and motivations of his characters: his work influenced the development of literary realism, as practised by writers such as Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Proust, and Henry James.

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By Honore De Balzac

Translated by James Waring


To Don Michele Angelo Cajetani, Prince of Teano.

It is neither to the Roman Prince, nor to the representative of the illustrious house of Cajetani, which has given more than one Pope to the Christian Church, that I dedicate this short portion of a long history; it is to the learned commentator of Dante.

It was you who led me to understand the marvelous framework of ideas on which the great Italian poet built his poem, the only work which the moderns can place by that of Homer. Till I heard you, the Divine Comedy was to me a vast enigma to which none had found the clue the commentators least of all. Thus, to understand Dante is to be as great as he; but every form of greatness is familiar to you.

A French savant could make a reputation, earn a professor's chair, and a dozen decorations, by publishing in a dogmatic volume the improvised lecture by which you lent enchantment to one of those evenings which are rest after seeing Rome... Continue reading book >>

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