Eugénie Grandet shows Balzac at his most idealistic. He presents three characters who are completely incorruptible in the face of the greed that surrounds them. Eugénie Grandet, her mother, and their servant Nanon all lead lives that are virtually monastic in their self-denial. Despite the fabulous wealth that has been accumulated by the shrewd and unscrupulous winemaker, Monsieur Grandet, his family lives in a wretched house, under strict and despotic rules enforced by him.
While Grandet, a miser who doles out candles and sugar cubes one at a time, keeps his wife and daughter ignorant of their enormous fortune, the local townspeople are very well aware of it. Indeed, talk of Grandet’s millions is the chief subject of gossip. While everyone in town is well aware that Grandet is a most unsavory character, he is regarded with awe and forgiven every trespass because of his millions of francs. As Eugénie turns twenty-three, her father assumes that he will marry her off to the candidate of his choosing. Two local figures vie for her hand, with no thought of anything but her father’s money. As all the principals are gathered for Eugénie’s birthday, an unanticipated guest arrives from Paris like a magnificent peacock descending on a barnyard.
The peacock is Eugénie’s cousin Charles, the son of Old Grandet’s younger brother. Young Charles is visiting the poor country cousins to humor his father, from whom he is bringing a letter to Old Grandet. Unbeknown to Charles, the letter contains news of his father’s bankruptcy and intended suicide.
In the few days that the young man is allotted to mourn, before he is sent to “the Indies” to make his fortune, he and his...
(The entire section is 703 words.)