Balzac's Miser

This is an excerpt from the novel that illustrates

Balzac’s perception:-

“A miser’s life is a constant exercise of every

human faculty in the service of his own personality. He considers only two

feelings, vanity and self-interest; but as the achievement of his interest

supplies to some extent a concrete and tangible tribute to his vanity, as it is

a constant attestation of his real superiority, his vanity and the study of his

advantage are two aspects of one passion – egotism. That is perhaps the reason

for the amazing curiosity excited by misers skillfully presented upon the

stage. Everyone has some link with these persons, who revolt all human feelings

and yet epitomize them. Where is the man without ambition? And what ambition

can be attained in our society without money?.......

Like all misers he had a constant need to pit his

wits against those of other men, to mulct them of their crowns by fair legal

means. To get the better of others, was that not exercising power, giving

oneself with each new victim the right to despise those weaklings of the earth

who were unable to save themselves from being devoured? Oh! Has anyone properly

understood the meaning of the lamb lying peacefully at God’s feet - that most

touching symbol of all the victims of this world - and of their future, the

symbol of which is suffering and weakness glorified? The miser lets the lamb

grow fat, then he pens, kills, cooks, eats and despises it. Misers thrive on

money and contempt.”

In the novel, Felix Grandet is depicted as the

stingy, egotistic and mean-spirited money hoarder in suburban France against a

money-grubbing social backdrop with the rise of the bourgeoisie. He rations

everyday food for his weak-minded wife, his only daughter Eugenie and his loyal

house servant, and purposely keeps his house in shabby disrepair, while making

immense fortunes secretively. He almost seems to derive sadistic pleasure in

ruling his domestic household with an iron fist.

The only two persons who have

knowledge of his true worth are his lawyer and his banker. Knowing that these

two are trying to get their nephew/son to win the hand of Eugenie, he plays off

one against the other to draw the greatest monetary advantage. He employs

devious means to cheat and benefit from his deceased brother’s creditors and insists

on Eugenie breaking romantic ties with his nephew Charles, who is left

penniless by his deceased father’s bankruptcy. Charles is forced to go off to

the Indies to find his fortune and Eugenie gives him all her gold coins that

her father has given her over the years, to the miser’s furious dismay.

When he

comes back to France a rich man, having made his fortune from dealing in

slaves, he forsakes Eugenie for an aristocrat, mistaken that she is poor.


by nature a kind-hearted country girl, after experiencing the heartbreaking end

to her love story and getting to know about her father’s deeds, becomes a

skeptic as she learns about the hypocrisy and shallowness of the bourgeois

class. She later inherits both her father’s and husband’s fortunes (the husband

being the lawyer’s nephew, who dies shortly after their loveless marriage) and

lives on her own terms.

The loud and clear

message in the novel is how avarice (in the case of Felix Grandet) and

materialism (in the case of Charles) can corrupt the soul. Isn’t the essence of

the story in constant replay in our money-idolizing societies, East and West,

that have blind faith in unbridled capitalism?