Showing 1 - 4 of 4 annotations associated with Balzac, Honore de
- Coulehan, Jack
The country doctor, Monsieur Benassis, practices in a village called Voreppe at the base of the Grande Chartreuse Mountains. He is a seedy and unkempt, but very kind-hearted, bachelor of 50 who lives with his authoritarian housekeeper. Benassis was brought up in the country, but had lived for many years in Paris where he enjoyed a dissipated life and loved two women. He left the first, only to learn later that she bore him a son and died of heart disease. Later his illegitimate son died.
His second love, Evelina, broke off their engagement when her parents objected to the suitor’s sordid past. Benassis became very depressed and considered suicide. After visiting a monastery in the Grand Chartreuse region, he decided to move to Voreppe and devote his life to serving the poor rural people. He not only practices medicine, but over the years has also initiated a number of economic and community development projects in the area.
Above the village is a hamlet that contains a dozen cretins among the thirty families who live there. Cretinism is common in the region. Dr. Benassis decides that it would be good for the public health to have all the cretins sent to an asylum in Aiguebelle, some distance away. When Benassis becomes mayor, he arranges to have the cretins transported to Aiguebelle, despite opposition from the local people. One cretin remains "to be fed and cared for as the adopted child of the commune."
Benassis later moves the other inhabitants of the hamlet to a new, more fertile, site in the valley and installs an irrigation system for them. At the end of the novel, Benassis has a stroke and dies. He is the first to be buried in the new cemetery.
As the story opens, Raphael enters a gaming house and loses the last of his money. He decides to drown himself in the Seine. As he waits for the crowds to leave the evening streets, he wanders into an antique shop, where he tells the shop keeper that he is going to kill himself and the man shows him a mysterious-looking skin hanging on a wall. It is inscribed with a message in "Sanskrit" that one who owns the skin will have any wish granted, but that each wish will cause the skin to shrink. When the skin disappears, its owner dies.
Raphael brashly decides to take the skin. He wishes for a rich dinner, a fortune, and women. As he leaves the shop, he is stopped by friends who invite him to a dinner. Raphael tells his history. He is the son of a fairly wealthy man, but he squandered his fortune. He has spent the last three years studying in a garret and trying to win the love of Foedora, a cold society woman. His garret was warmed by the friendship of Paulina, his landlady’s daughter.
As the dinner party ends, Raphael receives word that he has inherited a vast fortune. His wishes are coming true and the skin is shrinking. Raphael now clings to life and arranges it so that his servants supply his wants before he even realizes them. One evening, he encounters Paulina; she too has inherited money and he is struck by her maturing beauty. Foedora seems ugly next to Paulina’s purity. Raphael wishes that Paulina will love him. They marry, but the skin continues to shrink.
Doctors are called to treat Raphael as his health fails and they argue over whether his disease is caused by his mind or whether his mental obsession is caused by a physical disturbance. They cannot resolve the dispute, but as their patient is a millionaire they decide to treat him anyway. They suggest applying leeches and traveling to "take the waters."
Raphael does travel and at one point duels with another young man. He warns his enemy to ask his forgiveness for otherwise, Raphael’s bullet is bound to kill him while the others’ bullet will surely miss. The other refuses and Raphael, though he shoots randomly, kills him. He takes refuge in a country cottage, but still has desires which the skin satisfies without Raphael’s conscious intention.
He returns home to Paulina and tells her about the skin. Knowing he is going to die, he indulges in a final burst of passion for her. She sees that such desire will kill him and tries to kill herself to spare him, but fails. Raphael dies.
Bette is a poor spinster, a frequent visitor at her cousin Hulot’s household. When the story opens, the Hulot family fortune has been decimated by Baron Hulot’s mistress. He spends all his money on her, leaving his wife, Adeline, and daughter, Hortense, to struggle meagerly along. Hortense, whose dowry is shrinking daily, mindlessly amuses herself by teasing Bette about her "lover", the sculptor, Count Steinbock, who lives above Bette’s apartment. Bette treats the sculptor maternally but loves him with a jealous affection.
Hortense decides she must meet Steinbock and the two fall in love at first sight. Though Steinbock has little money, Adeline agrees to their marriage, but the engagement is kept from Bette. Baron Hulot’s mistress leaves him and he becomes invoved with Madame Marneffe, the wife of one of his employees.
Cousin Bette is bitter towards the Baron and his family because they treat her like a servant. When she hears about Hortense’s engagement to her friend Steinbock, she determines to destroy the whole family. Bette introduces Crevel (whose mistress Hulot once stole) to Madame Marneffe and he becomes a rival lover. Bette also anonymously has Steinbock imprisoned for his unpaid debts.
Meanwhile, Madame Marneffe seduces Steinbock. She then secures her power by telling each of her lovers that he is the father of her unborn child. Hulot reaches the end of the line shortly thereafter, when it is discovered that he has been stealing money from the government. Hulot’s brother dies of grief and Hulot himself goes off to live with a seamstress in the slums.
Madame Marneffe and Crevel also meet miserable ends. Several months later, Adeline discovers her missing husband while on a charity mission. He comes home, but soon seduces the maid. Adeline then dies, her emotional reserves exhausted.
Sylvain Pons earns a meager living conducting at the ballet and giving private music lessons. He is very fond of fine food and fine art. Over the years, he has satisfied the latter craving by slowly accumulating pieces that now clutter the small apartment he shares with his friend Schmucke. Sylvain doesn’t know it, but the collection is worth a surprising amount of money. He satisfies his taste for fine food by frequently going to dinner at his cousin Marville’s house.
Marville’s wife dislikes having Sylvain at her table, for he is rustic and abrupt. He is finally kicked out completely when he tries to find a suitor for the Marville’s daughter, Cecile, and bungles the job. Shortly afterwards, Sylvain falls ill. His portress, Cibot, enters the rooms to nurse him, recognizes the value of his art collection and schemes to get it. She gets Remonencq, who runs a nearby pawn shop, and Elie Magus, a Jew with an eye for art, to help her.
The attack begins when Cibot convinces Schmucke to sell some of Sylvain’s paintings in order to pay for the doctor bills. The plot thickens as Sylvain’s doctor and an attorney get involved. The attorney goes to Madame de Marville and convinces her to fleece Sylvain or risk a smaller inheritance from Sylvain. Her husband regretfully agrees also.
Meanwhile, Sylvain has become suspicious of Cibot. He struggles out of his sick bed to find Magus studying the collectibles in his bedroom. The other rooms are empty. Sylvain realizes his friend Schmucke has been duped, and he plans a counter-attack. He writes a false will, leaving all his money to Cibot for her service at his final illness. He leaves it where she will see it. He then writes a second, true will that leaves his money to the crown on the condition that they grant Schmucke a lifetime annuity.
Sylvain then dies. Schmucke becomes the new target of the others’ greed. They nearly convince him to sign a paper forfeiting most of his inheritance, but when he realizes that the Marvilles are accusing him of having duped their cousin he falls ill and dies. The money passes on to the Marvilles. The attorney gets an important new job; the doctor gets a sinecure, and Magus gets the pictures. Even Cibot is rewarded; she gets an annuity and marries Remonencq after he kills her husband.