Thursday, March 31, 2011

Featured Passage, Eugenie Grandet

I have been debating between two passages out of Eugenie Grandet to feature today, and I decided that since many of my readers may not have had any Balzac in their lives to this point, I would give both passages.  Together, they reflect in miniature the book as a whole.  Enjoy!

"Into a girl's innocent and uneventful life there comes a day marked with delight, when the sun's rays seem to shine into her very soul, when a flower looks like the expression of her thoughts, when her heart beats more quickly and her quickened brain, in sympathy, ceases to think at all, but all ideas are dissolved in a feeling of undefined longing.  It is a time of innocent sadness and vague joys that have no sharpness of edge.  When babies first observe the things round them, they smile: when a girl first dimly perceives the existence of love, she smiles as she smiled when a child.  If the light is the first thing we turn to with love, surely it is love that first brings light to the heart?  This day had dawned for Eugenie.  She had begun to see life clearly for the first time."

And, on a gloomier (though no less true note), here is the second passage.  Some would say such an authorial aside mars the aesthetic value of the work.  I say the timing within the book, which is not reproduced here, justifies it.  Further, it's hard to remember these words are about 19th century France:

"Misers hold no belief in a life beyond the grave, the present is all in all to them.  This thought throws a pitilessly clear light upon the irreligious times in which we live, for today more than in any previous era money is the force behind the law, politically and socially.  Books and institutions, the actions of men and their doctrines, all combine to undermine the belief in a future life upon which the fabric of society has been built for eighteen hundred years.  The grave holds few terrors for us now, is little feared as a transition stage upon man's journey.  That future which once awaited us beyond the Requiem has been transported into the present.  To reach per fas et nefas an earthly paradise of luxury and vanity and pleasure, to turn one's heart to stone and mortify the flesh for the sake of fleeting enjoyment of earthly treasure, as saints once suffered martyrdom in the hope of eternal bliss, is now the popular ambition!  It is an ambition stamped on our age and seen in everything, even the very laws whose enaction requires the legislator to exercise not his critical faculty, but his power of producing money.  Not 'What do you think?' but 'What can you pay?' is the question he is asked now.  When this doctrine has been handed down from the bourgeoisie to the people, what will become of our country?"

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