Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 405
The eponymous ingenue of Balzac's Eugenie Grandet , is the daughter Felix, a man of miserly disposition despite being the beneficiary of a substantial family inheritance. Although his family members are completely unaware of this wealth, and have become accustomed to their threadbare existence, the local townspeople are not deceived....
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The eponymous ingenue of Balzac's Eugenie Grandet, is the daughter Felix, a man of miserly disposition despite being the beneficiary of a substantial family inheritance. Although his family members are completely unaware of this wealth, and have become accustomed to their threadbare existence, the local townspeople are not deceived. In particular, Monsieur Grandet's lawyer, Cruchot, is hoping to marry his nephew to the twenty-three-year-old future heiress Eugenie, while his banker Grassins harbors similar intentions for his son.
However their plans are foiled when Felix's reprobate nephew Charles arrives from Paris. Unbeknownst to Charles, his father, Guillaume, is about to end his life due to the failure of his business. The provincial Eugenie is dazzled by her cousin's patrician elegance and the two immediately fall in love. Before his imminent departure for the Indies to become a trader, Eugenie contributes a few gold pieces to aid his business.
When Felix later figures out that his daughter is no longer in possession of the gold coins, this monster of avarice cuts of all communication with his wife and daughter, with the latter confined to her room. His wife becomes ill from this treatment, and soon dies. Although she is now entitled to a share of the family wealth, Monsieur Grandet tricks Eugenie into signing her bequest over to him.
Following her father's death, Eugenie continues to live in the house with loyal family servant, Nanon.
After seven years during which he has never communicated with her, Eugenie hears from Charles, who has returned to France a wealthy, but apparently corrupt man. Although he repays his financial debt to her, he reveals that he no longer loves her and plans to marry the daughter of an impoverished member of the nobility to restore his family's name. Heartbroken, she releases him from his obligation and sends him the family keepsake he had left in her care.
Eugenie finally decides to accept the standing offer of marriage from the lawyer's nephew, Cruchot des Bonfons. However she insists on two conditions: that it will be a marriage in name only, and that he go to Paris to pay off the debts of Guilliaume Grandet to clear his family's name, a responsibility which her father had neglected. He agrees.
Cruchot des Bonfons dies not long thereafter, leaving Eugenie a very wealthy widow. She continues to live the same modest and virtuous life with Nanon and her new husband as her sole companions.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1186
In the French town of Saumur, old Grandet is a prominent personality, and the story of his rise to fortune is known throughout the district. He is a master cooper who marries the daughter of a prosperous wood merchant. When the new French Republic offers for sale the church property in Saumur, Grandet uses his savings and his wife’s dowry to buy the old abbey, a fine vineyard, and several farms. Under the consulate, he becomes mayor and grows still more wealthy. In 1806, he inherits three additional fortunes from the deaths of his wife’s mother, grandfather, and grandmother. By this time he owns the abbey, a hundred acres of vineyard, thirteen farms, and the house in which he lives. In 1811, he buys the nearby estate of an impoverished nobleman.
Grandet is known for his miserliness, but he is respected for the same reason. His manners are simple and his table is meager, but his speech and gestures are the law of the countryside. His household consists of his wife, his daughter, Eugénie, and a servant, Nanon. Old Grandet, who uses his wife as a screen for his devious financial dealings, reduces his wife almost to slavery. Nanon, who does all the housework, is gaunt and ugly but very strong. She is devoted to her master because he took her in after everyone else refused to hire her because of her appearance. On each birthday, Eugénie receives a gold piece from her father and a winter and a summer dress from her mother. Each New Year’s Day, Grandet asks to see the coins and gloats over their yellow brightness.
Grandet begrudges his family everything except the bare necessities of life. Every day, he carefully measures and doles out the food for the household—a few lumps of sugar, several pieces of butter, and a loaf of bread. He forbids the lighting of fires in the rooms before the middle of November. His family, like his tenants, live under the austere circumstances he imposes.
The townspeople wonder whom Eugénie will marry. There are two rivals for her hand. One of them, Monsieur Cruchot, is the son of the local notary. The other, Monsieur de Grassins, is the son of the local banker. On Eugénie’s birthday, in the year 1819, both call at the Grandet home. During the evening, there is an unexpected knock at the door, and in comes Charles Grandet, the miser’s nephew. Charles’s father amassed a fortune in Paris, and Charles himself, dressed in the most fashionable Parisian manner, exemplifies Parisian customs and habits and tries to impress these awkward, gawking provincials with his superior airs.
Eugénie outdoes herself in an effort to make the visitor welcome, even defying her father in the matter of heat, candlelight, and other luxuries for Charles. Grandet is polite enough to his nephew that evening. Charles brings a letter from his father, in which Grandet’s brother announces that he lost his fortune, he is about to commit suicide, and he entrusts Charles to Grandet’s care. The young man is quite unaware of what his father wrote, and when Grandet informs him next day that his father’s business failed and he committed suicide, Charles bursts into tears and remains in his room for several days. Finally, he writes to a friend in Paris, asking him to dispose of his property and pay his debts. He gives little trinkets to Eugénie, her mother, and Nanon. Grandet looks at them greedily and says he will have them appraised. He informs his wife and daughter that he intends to turn the young man out as soon as his father’s affairs are settled.
Charles feels that there is a stain on his honor. Grandet feels so, too, especially since he and his late brother had the same family name. In consultation with the local banker, Monsieur de Grassins, he arranges a plan whereby he can save the family reputation without spending a penny. Monsieur de Grassins goes to Paris to act for Grandet, but instead of returning he enjoys a life of pleasure in the capital.
Eugénie falls in love with Charles. She sympathizes with his penniless state and gives him her hoard of coins so that he will be able to go to the Indies and make his fortune. After the two young people pledge everlasting love to each other, Charles leaves Saumur.
On the following New Year’s Day, Grandet asks to see Eugénie’s money. Her mother, who knows her daughter’s secret, keeps silent. In spite of Eugénie’s denials, Grandet guesses what she did with the gold. He orders her to stay in her room and announces that he will have nothing to do with either her or her mother. Rumors begin to circulate in town. The notary, Monsieur Cruchot, tells Grandet that if his wife were to die, Eugénie could insist on a division of the property. The village whispers that Madame Grandet is dying of a broken heart caused by her husband’s treatment of her. Realizing that he might lose a part of his fortune, Grandet relents and forgives his wife and daughter. When his wife dies, he tricks Eugénie into signing over her share of the property to him.
Five years pass with no word from Charles to brighten Eugénie’s drab existence. In 1827, when Grandet is eighty-two years old, he is stricken with paralysis. He dies urging Eugénie to take care of his money.
Eugénie continues to live with old Nanon and to wait for Charles to return. One day, a letter comes from Charles, in which he tells her that he no longer wishes to marry her. Instead, he hopes to marry the daughter of a titled nobleman and secure his father-in-law’s title and coat of arms. Eugénie releases Charles from his promise, but Monsieur de Grassins hurries to Charles and tells him that his father’s creditors are not satisfied. Until they are, his fiancé’s family will not allow a marriage. When she learns of his predicament, Eugénie pays the debt, which enables Charles to marry.
Eugénie continues to live alone. Her routine is exactly what it was while Grandet lived. Suitors come to the house again. Young de Grassins is disgraced by his father’s loose life in Paris, but Monsieur Cruchot, who rises to a high post in the provincial government, continues to press his suit. At last, Eugénie agrees to marry him, providing he does not demand the prerogatives of marriage; she will be his wife in name only. They are married only a short time before Monsieur Cruchot dies. To her own property, Eugénie thereupon adds his. Nanon marries, and she and her husband stay with Eugénie. Convinced that Nanon is her only friend, the young widow resigns herself to a lonely life. She lives as she always lived in the bare old house. She has great wealth but, lacking everything else in life, is indifferent to it.