Eugénie Grandet Summary
by Honoré Balzac

Start Your Free Trial

Eugénie Grandet Summary

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.

Download Eugénie Grandet Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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.

Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 2,294 words.)