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Written by Timothy Sexton
Eugenie Grandet should by all rights be an 1800’s version of Paris Hilton. She is the heiress to a fantastic fortune, made all the greater by the character of her father (more on than later.) Instead of being the center of a novel about a vapid young girl overwhelmed with money who knows not how to spend it wisely, however, Eugenie ultimately is painted by the author as one of his most admirable heroines; a young woman who instead of living for the love of income, lives simply for love. She is loyal to her friends and stays to care for her parents as they age and wither away. In fact, by the time the novel named after her draws to a close, Eugenie stands proudly as one of literature’s greatest anti-spoiled rotten heiresses.
Eugenie’s father, on the other hand, stands right up there alongside Ebenezer Scrooge as one of literature’s all-time misers. Not just a man who wouldn’t spend a dollar when a quarter would make do, Monsieur Grandet attempts to fool not just others, but himself into thinking that he efforts to save or make a little more money are in the name of the greater good. For instance, the nifty little profit he manages to make for himself under the guise of keeping his brother from the ignominy of bankruptcy. Eugenie gets the last laugh on her father’s destructive lust for money which continually increases his net worth by spending it on those he would have felt least deserved it.
Eugenie’s cousin, but keep in mind that during this period and within this social class, cousins were fair game for romance. What better way to ensure fortunes were kept well within the family than by having members of the family marry each other, after all? Poor Eugenie falls for her cousin Charlie who, it must be admitted, does somewhat fulfill the image of what a male version of a Paris Hilton-type heir might look like. To put it diplomatically: Charles Grandet is the very model of a dandy. As an heir to a fortune, however, things are so dandy for Charles: his father’s suicide essentially leaves him without recourse to anything but dodgy dealings with the love-infused gift of money from the naïve Eugenie.
Eugenie’s mother and the target of her father’s greatest outburst of miserly anger over spendthriftery. Madame Grandet finds solace from her husband’s insane outbursts of anger over perceived violations of his niggardly financial code in religion and only begins to take up the arms of insurrection against the dominant authority of “Goodman” Grandet when the cause becomes preserving her daughter’s right to love as she chooses.
Monsieur Grandet plucked the rather imposing masculine housekeeper Nanon from the bottom rungs of the social order and installed her among the serving class. Perhaps not the steepest climb up the ladder of mobility for modern readers, but for Nanon a leap of such significance from a life in which her repulsive physical appearance virtually guaranteed decades of long, lonely, backbreaking physical labor that she is so profoundly grateful to “Goodman” for saving she is more than willing to overlook her master’s less admirable qualities…except on certain occasions when that miserly spite is directed to his wife and daughter. Nanon is also admired by her master for her efficient management of his home. Eventually, Nanon will essentially become the mistress of the household once Eugenie’s sad life forces her to become much closer to Howard Hughes than Paris Hilton as she ages.
A bureaucrat who long has designs on Eugenie’s fortune finally gets his chance when Charles Grandet eventually moves out of the picture by marrying another. Eugenie reluctantly agrees to marry Cruchot on one condition: that he not have any expectations toward sexual favors from her. And so they marry in name only, but the marriage is short-lived as Cruchot dies not long afterward.
Monsieur de Grassins
A banker appointed to act in the interest of Monsieur Grandet during the dealings related to the bankruptcy of his brother, de Grassins leaves the provincial village for Paris to oversee these dealings and never returns. Eventually his pursuit of pleasure in the capital city leaves him disgraced.
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