Set in mid-19th century Paris, this novel tells the story of an unmarried middle-aged woman who plots the destruction of her extended family. Bette works with Valérie Marneffe, an unhappily married young lady, to seduce and torment several people.
Not too long ago, my friend Harold told me that if he didn't have to earn a living, he would just read Balzac. This is something a literate Francophone in the middle of his life could wish for reasonably, because Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) wrote over 90 novels and a number of plays to comprise the definitive chronicle of his era -- La Comédie Humaine -- giving Harold sufficient material to engage his days. Balzac, who enjoyed popular success in his lifetime, influenced a number of significant writers, most notably Gustave Flaubert, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Emile Zola, Charles Dickens, Friedrich Engels, and Marcel Proust. His complete works are not readily available in translation, so those of us who are not fluent in French have to content ourselves with a comparatively meager handful of Balzac's treasures in English. The literature professors would most likely suggest that the must-reads are Eugénie Grandet, Père Goriot, Lost Illusions, Cousin Bette, and Cousin Pons -- all glittering masterpieces wrought by Balzac's playful hand.