Une Fille d’Ève
A Daughter of Eve
Honore de Balzac’s work bears a certain Jekyll & Hyde quality: Either he is slipshod and rushed (the classic example is A Woman of Thirty), or he is in complete command of himself and takes the time and trouble to tie up all the loose ends. Fortunately, A Daughter of Eve is one of these latter. It is unfortunate that it is not better known, as it is, to my mind, a good book to start reading The Human Comedy.
Like many of Balzac’s novels, the characters in A Daughter of Eve have a past: Felix de Vandenesse was one of the stars of The Lily of the Valley; and we have also seen his wife Marie, Eugene de Rastignac, the bankers du Tillet and Nucingen, the money-lender Gigonnet, and even up-and-coming litterateur Raoul Nathan in other novels. That is one of the wonderful things about Balzac: To commit oneself to reading the entire oeuvre, one is always running into old friends.
A Daughter of Eve is one of those stories in which people get themselves into terrible trouble, whose ripples spread until they seem to be stuck in some ghastly maelstrom of their own making. The Countess Marie de Vandenesse, out of boredom at being married to a good man, decides to take a lover, one Raoul Nathan. Thinking that his fortune is made, Nathan quickly finds himself in deep water until he is rescued by the efforts of the Countess, who in turn is rescued … but I will not divulge how. Suffice it to say that this is one of Balzac’s more gentle and delightful tales. In it, we do not sup with horrors, as in Pere Goriot or Cousine Bette: Poor Relations, Part One.
I hope that some talented translator will bring A Daughter of Eve from out of its Victorian cerements and into the light of the 21st century. Reading Balzac is not only good for your soul, but also will help you live without dangerous illusions.
Review by Jim Paris, July 2010