Wednesday, June 4, 2014

HOLD ME IN CONTEMPT by Wendy Williams

Sure, you can name a dozen classic romances, such as Gone With the Wind. But how do they compare to EUGENIE GRANDET, penned by the man whom many great writers such as Somerset Maugham and Henry James have called "the greatest of all novelists"? Dostoyevsky began his career by translating this novel into Russian. Its author, HonorĂ© de Balzac, is cited as a major influence on Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, and Jack Kerousac. Even SF author Orson Scott Card has been influenced by Balzac. A founder of realism, his goal was "to arrive at the truth" in the most direct but revealing way. His subjects often disappear for a time only to reappear, seen for the first time in their true character, when time and circumstance have allowed a startlingly new perspective. Such is the case here, as read by the gifted narrator Jonathan Fried, in a deceptively delicate but ultimately powerful story about a miserly wine merchant's daughter who wants love more than money, while the men around her (including her father) are obsessed with gold and station in life. Shy and steadfast, Eugenie falls in love, but is prevented by her father to marry Charles, who lost his inheritance at the suicide of his own father. Charles is sent packing to the Indies to make his fortune, while Eugenie pines in a dreary household run by a man who almost certainly became a model for Dicken's Scrooge. Yet Balzac was a greater writer than Dickens because he was even more meticulous in his study of character and culture, while his application of irony to circumstance flowed as naturally and inevitably as a stream through the woods. And so when Charles returns with newfound wealth, having forgotten Eugenie, the twist that comes is one which elevates this story far above those that might have dashed to confrontation or personal revenge. Instead, it exposes the entire lie of French society at the time, and (also ironically) our own as well. Of course if it were written today, it would be labeled "boring" by readers accustomed to instant (and more shallow) gratification. So to get this post (and the above book) read, I've changed the title from "Best Romance Ever Written" to HOLD ME IN CONTEMPT, which is talk show host Wendy Williams version of Fifty Shades. (R rated; for X rated like parts of 50 Shades, try the new ROGUE.) For those with more literary interests, there is ADULTERY by Paulo Coelho. 

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