Poor Relations: Cousin Betty by Honoré de Balzac

Les Parents pauvres: La Cousine Bette
Poor Relations: Cousin Betty

As the story opens, in 1838, we see the very vain Celestin Crevel wearing a National Guard Uniform. He is going to the home of Baron Hulot d’Ervy, younger brother of General Hulot.

Crevel is dressed in a uniform, but is rather portly and the uniform hangs in a messy manner which he tries to adjust. Madame Hulot starts when Crevel is announced. She sends her daughter Hortense and her Cousin Bette from the room. Madame Hulot is described as tall, fair and very well-preserved.

Hortense is graceful but Bette is described as a “dried-up old maid” in one translation and a “withered-looking spinster” in another. She is wearing dowdy, old-fashioned clothing and doesn’t seem to mind being summarily dismissed.

Madame Hulot (Adeline) has sent for Crevel, whom she had previously forbidden their house for attempting to seduce her. She wants him to explain his actions in blocking a proposed marriage for her daughter by saying that the dowry of two hundred thousand francs would not be paid. Crevel’s only child (Celestine) is married to Adeline’s son (Victorin) who is now an attorney.

Crevel says he only spoke honestly, that the Hulots have no money and that he is helping to support his daughter and her husband. Crevel loves to put on a show while he speaks and often adopts a Napoleonic type pose. He goes down on his knee and kisses Adeline’s hand saying that she could have found the dowry in his wallet if she had fallen in with his wishes and desires. Crevel then asks the horrified Adeline why she remains faithful to a libertine who has had mistresses for years. When Hulot took Josepha, Crevel’s long time protegee/mistress, from him, he vowed that he would win Adeline in revenge. He is using the prospect of Hortense marrying as a means of obtaining Adeline’s favors. When Adeline is finally able to rid herself of him she is exhausted and sinks to the sofa to think. She knew her husband had been unfaithful for years, but didn’t know details and had “drawn a leaden veil over her eyes.” Her husband is grateful to her for this and her children continue to respect their father.

Adeline was the village beauty, but sweet and unaffected. Her father and his two brothers were in the military under Hulot who noticed they were intelligent and energetic and aided their careers. When Hulot came to the small village on military business, he noticed Adeline and married her as soon as he was able, much to the surprise of the Fischer brothers. Living in the small village with relatives after her father died, Adeline looked upon Hulot as almost a saviour when he took her to Paris, “a kind of god who could do no wrong.” Adeline was so admired by Baron Hulot’s brother that he did not marry because he could never find a woman to match her. He is old now, 72, and in poor health due to all his war campaigns. Adeline’s husband was very handsome in his younger days and his extramarital affairs were not costly, but now that he is not young and handsome he has to buy the love of courtesans. He dyes his hair and wears a corset.

Bette is five years younger than Adeline. Adeline’s father left her with Bette’s family and pretty Adeline was petted and spoiled. This was Bette’s own family but Bette had to work in the fields and Adeline didn’t. After her marriage to Baron Hulot, Adeline brought Bette to Paris. The Baron arranged an apprenticeship for Bette with the Pons brothers, the court embroiderers, and later offered to set her up in her own business. Bette refused the offer and she refused the potential husbands the Baron found for her and an embroiderer who later became wealthy. Bette could have had more suitors earlier if she had wanted them. It is mentioned that a true Parisienne would have made an advantage of “the beautiful stern eyes, the firm outlines of the face” etc. But now, her odd old-fashioned way of dressing made her unpresentable at formal parties.

Hortense and Bette have been teasing each other back and forth for a few years about Bette’s boyfriend. Hortense and Adeline don’t believe he exists. Hortense offers a yellow cashmere shawl to Bette if she proves his existence. This is a shawl that used to belong to Adeline which Bette had long coveted. It is likened to the furniture of the Hulot household, one doesn’t notice the dinginess if one sees it every day. Bette tells them she has known her Pole, a count named Wenceslas, for four years. It is the night of a family dinner. Bette is giving Adeline for her birthday the following week a silver seal which Wenceslas Steinbock made. She is showing it to Hortense as proof of her admirer’s existence. Hortense has been getting caught up in the mystery of Bette’s secret admirer and when she sees the beautiful piece of artwork she is almost in love with the mysterious and romantic someone who could produce such an item.

The Baron has arrived and Adeline confronts him about Jennie Cadine and Josepha and the loss of his fortune. He is slightly repentant but acknowledges to Adeline that there is no hope of his changing. Women are like sirens to him and he cannot resist.

The General (Hulot’s brother) arrives. He has no idea of Hulot’s activities or financial difficulties. He doesn’t even know that Crevel has been barred from the house and frequently asks about him when young Hulot’s wife, Crevel’s daughter, is present.

Baron Hulot (Hector) is always very gracious to Crevel’s daughter, Celestine. He hopes through her to make Crevel forget his resentment over his stealing away his mistress, Josepha.

It is after dinner and Hulot is going to the Opera to watch his mistress perform. Bette always leaves early in order to arrive home before dark and Hulot, who takes her in his carriage, uses this as a convenient excuse. Bette lives in a very squalid neighborhood. She has remained there all these years because the rent is cheap. As Hulot is dropping Bette off in front of her building he sees “a small, slim, pretty, very smartly dressed young woman” who immediately catches his interest. She looks at him in order to see Bette’s cousin, but Hulot, in his vanity, thinks she is eyeing him and when she later appears in a second-floor window he thinks she had done so in order that he might know where she lives.

As the woman, Valerie Marneffe, looks out the window, so does her husband and he recognizes Hulot and gasps that his office is in Hulot’s department. Valerie tells him that he is the cousin of the old maid who lives on the third-floor with a young man. Marneffe is indignant and says that is porter’s gossip and they shouldn’t speak lightly of “the cousin of the Councillor of State who’s the big boss at the ministry.”

Madame Marneffe is the natural daughter of the Comte de Montcornet. She was given a dowry of twenty thousand francs to enable her to marry “a minor official at the War Ministry.” Marneffe’s career was pushed by Montcornet, but he died before Marneffe could be made assistant manager and also without a will to provide for them. Marneffe is higher than his capability at his office and is described as depraved looking, thin with wispy hair and beard, shabby and with an even shabbier bearing. Montcornet had assisted Valerie financially with several thousand francs on various occasions. The dowry is spent and the Marneffes are descending into dire poverty as is shown by their meagre dinner which was held up while Valerie was out trying to raise money. The only room in the flat with decent furnishings is her private room but the furnishings there are devoid of taste.

After dinner as Valerie is going to see the landlord to whom they owe 1500 francs back rent, she tells Marneffe that he should try to get on good terms with the old maid if she really is the Director’s cousin.

When Bette takes her candle from the the porter, she steps forward to see if there is a light in the attic above her flat. Mme Olivier knows why Bette is looking up and knowingly tells her not to worry that he hasn’t even been out. Bette does’t care what anyone other than her family might think of her. She does not go to her flat, but proceeds immediately to the attic where she removes fruits and sweets that she brought from the Hulots’ dinner in her basket. She offers them as one would a treat to a dog.

Wenceslas, a pale, fair young man, looks like a poet at work by the light of a lamp. As Bette kindly tells him he is working so hard and the treats will refresh him, he looks at her in amazement. When Bette snaps at him to go ahead and eat them instead of staring, he thinks that is more like his mentor’s normal mode. Wenceslas is twenty-nine. He looks younger, although a bit faded by fatigue and the hardship of being exiled.

It was one night about five years prior, in 1833, around 1 a.m., that Bette smelled carbonic acid and heard death moans. Suspecting that the young man who had recently come to live in the attic above her rooms was committing suicide, Bette rushed up the stairs. With her peasant strength, she forced open the door and saved his life. As he slept more naturally in the desolate, bare room, she found the note he left. He gave his name as Count Wenceslas Steinbock. He blamed no one for his death. His funds were reduced to the exact amount he owed for rent. Bette was impressed that he had not spent the money in order that he could die debt-free and not cheat his landlord.

Bette brought her work up to the attic in order to watch over the young man. When he awoke he told her his story and how his dream of becoming a sculptor was impossible to a penniless man. Bette told him she had some savings and if he agreed to work hard she would lend him enough to live upon if careful and pay for his apprenticeship. Wenceslas happily agreed and Bette said she would adopt him as her son risen from the dead.

Bette makes inquiries and places Wenceslas as apprentice at the studio of Florent and Chanor. He is soon designing ornaments. It doesn’t pay much and at the end of two and a half years, Bette’s savings of 2,500 francs is gone and Bette is doing extra work to support them. In her panic at realizing her savings of sixteen years is gone, she turns to an old friend and advisor, Rivet (the man who had purchased the embroidery business from its former owner). Achille Rivet is also a judge at a commercial court. He sees that the only security Bette can get for her spent savings is Steinbock’s liberty. Thinking that Bette has been fooled by the Pole, Rivet goes through some legal shenanigans and tells Bette: “You have Wenceslas Steinbock bound hand and foot, and so effectively that in twenty-four hours you can put him in Clichy for the rest of his life.” (Clichy is a debtor’s prison in the Rue de Clichy.)

Rivet hears that Steinbock is a genius and could make a lot of money, but that artists are all alike and spend their money extravagantly. When Bette arrives at the Rivets for the weekly dinner he tells her she will be repaid if she can keep Steinbock working and not loafing. This changed the domestic life of Bette and her protege. “The good mother became a cruel stepmother.” She scolded, pestered and reproached him; then she would try to make up for her harshness with kind attentions.

Once when Bette had returned to find he had idled away the day, the two poverty-stricken friends had a worse fight than usual. Bette screamed at him that if he was honorable he would try to pay her back as soon as possible. Wenceslas retorted that she had saved him only to make a galley-slave of him and spoke of leaving. Bette then told him about the papers she had and with which she could have him imprisoned for the remainder of his life. “Steinbock fell into a black depression and absolute silence.” The next night, Bette heard Wenceslas again attempting suicide. She gave him the file of papers, told him to be happy and leave her and asked forgiveness for her torments. They reconciled and Wenceslas returned the papers to Bette. This was about six months prior to the present time. Wenceslas has worked hard these six months, producing the seal Bette intends giving to Adeline, a sculpture sent to an antique dealer for sale and the magnificent clock he is justing finishing. Bette has been in love with Wenceslas for about four years, but can’t conceive herself as his wife. She is jealous and wants to keep him locked up just for herself.

When Baron Hulot arrives at the Opera, the building is deserted and a sign reads “Performance cancelled owing to indisposition.” He rushes to Josepha’s only to have the porter tell him that she has moved. After slipping the porter two hundred sous, Hulot gets the address of “a house they say the Duc d’Herouville has given her.” Arriving at the new location, he is thought to be a late-arriving guest and is admitted. The luxury he sees is not only expensive, but elegant and tasteful. There are two hundred thousand francs worth of paintings in the drawing-room. Josepha enters and says “Well, now you understand, old boy?” Hulot is dumbfounded at Josepha’s impudence in using the term old boy. Josepha brags about how much the Duc has spent on her and about the company in the dining-room–aristocrats, bankers and courtesans. The final insult is when Josepha tells Hulot she gave all the old rubbish away, but if he wants to pick up his cotton nightcap, boot-jack, corset and moustache-wax, she has left instructions they are to be given to him. The rubbish is the furnishings for which Hulot paid.

When Hulot returns home, Adeline sees he is upset and takes him aside. He tells her all and she sympathizes! Then she gives him a good piece of advice: “Why don’t you do as Crevel does and take inexpensive women who are in a class that is satisfied with a little for a long time?” Hector says how wonderful Adeline is and that he will be the family man and bury the libertine.

Hortense has slept with the seal Wenceslas made under her pillow. Enchanted with it, she talks her father into accompanying her to the shop where Bette told her the group piece is displayed. It is near Bette’s apartment building, but Hortense doesn’t want Bette to know about the visit to the antique shop. The piece is in an antique shop because Wenceslas artifically aged it.

Finding himself so near Valerie’s home sets Hulot thinking about how she would make him forget the “greedy” Josepha. When they meet, Valerie “recognizes” him since her husband has told her who he is. She explains which department her husband is in and tells Hulot that her husband’s fate is in his hands. Hulot tells Valerie that he will visit his cousin and she can make her request to him there. Valerie tells Hulot she has no one to whom she can turn and lets him know she is Montcornet’s daughter, but since the will was not found and Montcornet never acknowledged her, she received nothing on his death.

Inside the shop, Hortense likes the group and inquires about the price. The dealer, with a glance at Wenceslas who is sitting to the side on a stool, tells her fifteen hundred francs. Hortense and Wenceslas each like the other’s appearance very much. When Hortense offers twelve hundred francs, the dealer tells her it is an antique. Hortense, knowing the history, informs the dealer that it was just made this year, but if they agree on the price she holds out the offer of some important commissions for the artist. Wenceslas rushes over and accepts the offer. Hortense gives her father’s card and tells Wenceslas not to mention their name to Mademoiselle Fischer, their cousin.

Hulot comes in and Hortense tells him she has found a husband in the shop–a count and a sculptor. She tells her father she knows her planned marriage is off because there is no money for her dowry, so she will be happy in love. Hulot wants to check into the Count’s background and papers. Hortense says fine but not to say anything to Bette until time to sign the marriage contract. Hortense knows Bette won’t like it, but feels Bette is too old for Wenceslas.

The Art Dealer, Wenceslas and the “group” arrive at the Hulots after lunch as planned, also bringing the clock with the twelve hours and the cupids. Hortense gives some gold coins to the dealer and as he leaves, Wenceslas warns him not to mention the name of Hulot. They discuss the commission for a statue of Montcornet which Hulot hopes to get for Wenceslas; then Hulot tells him to bring his papers and not to mention anything of this to Bette. The mention of Bette is noticed by Adeline. Hortense gives Wenceslas a pretty Algerian purse containing the money for the group, the first he has received for his artwork. After Wenceslas leaves, Adeline asks Hortense what is going on and Hortense tells her mother she hopes to get Bette’s admirer for herself.

The scene shifts to Wenceslas and Bette. Wenceslas has hidden his joy about Hortense in his exultation at having sold the group and received compliments. After hiding the purse he gives Bette the money. Bette says the money will last him for a year. She wants to get fashionable clothes for Wenceslas and a larger, better-furnished flat.

The next day, Bette is startled to receive a visit from Hulot. Her first thought is that Hortense is after her admirer, but abandons that idea when Hulot confesses his interest in Valerie. Bette’s front room, which serves as sitting-room, dining-room, kitchen and workshop, is very clean, but the tone is cold. The stamp of mediocrity repulses Hulot. No one has ever set foot in her bedroom.

Having seen Hulot arrive, Valerie comes in to begin the campaign on her husband’s behalf. She invites Hulot to her apartment. Valerie is very successful without actually promising anything to Hulot. Marneffe obtains a rise in position, a bonus and even a fortnight’s leave to begin in a month’s time. In addition Valerie receives numerous gifts including jewelry.

Hulot has also been working for the success of Wenceslas. He sold the clock to a prince for thirty thousand francs. Eugene de Rastignac, now Comte de Rastignac and Under Secretary of State, not only purchases a group but promises a studio at the marble depot. Wenceslas now goes to the Hulots to see Hortense six days a week, only staying away on the day Bette goes to the weekly dinner there. Hulot has confirmed Wenceslas’ rank and status and Adeline is pleased with his manners and character.

Bette has never been so popular. Hulot wants her to spy for him in Valerie’s household and Valerie is hoping to keep track of what is going on in the Hulot household via Bette. Valerie has fooled both Bette and Hulot. She is adamant with Hulot that anything he can get for her husband through the government is fine, but not to personally give her gifts or she will suspect him. Hulot is, of course, emptying his purse to buy her things, thinking he has realized a dream in finding a virtuous woman. Marneffe pretends to be oblivious to what is transpiring between Hulot and his wife.

Hulot makes a mistake when he tells Valerie of the coming marriage between his daughter and the “great artist, Steinbock.” He even goes so far as to say he will leave his wife without scandal once his daughter is married. The story of Wenceslas peaked Valerie’s curiosity and she decided to speak to Bette about him. Valerie told Bette she could help Wenceslas make the statue of her father (Montcornet) perfect by loaning him the little miniature painted by Sain.

Bette is stunned to hear of the proposed statue and the studio and living-quarters at the marble depot. The description of an incensed Bette is masterful. Valerie is almost frightened until Bette tells her she loves Wenceslas as if he were her child. Reassured, Valerie informs Bette of the impending marriage between Wenceslas and Hortense and how he goes to the Hulots each evening as soon as Bette leaves for dinner. In a rage, Bette relates to Valerie how she had been sacrificed to Adeline since her childhood, how she was beaten while Adeline was petted and much more.

Bette swears undying devotion to Valerie. Valerie then relates how she was spoiled until her father married from ambition and almost forgot about her. She adds how she has had only one real love, a Brazilian who went away a year ago to sell his property so he could settle in Paris. She wonders aloud why he hasn’t returned yet, maybe he is shipwrecked like her virtue. Bette tells Valerie that Hulot has been wanting her to go and live in Valerie’s new home in the Rue Vaneau. He wanted her to spy on Valerie for him. She doesn’t want to stay here now and will go. Valerie is delighted to have Bette as a guarantor of respectability and offers Bette her furniture as Hulot will be furnishing Valerie’s rooms with new furniture. Bette rushes to the office of Monsieur Rivet and tells him to set the paperwork in motion. She is happy to think that Wenceslas will be locked in a cell with herself as his only visitor. She happily thinks of revenge on Adeline and Hortense.

Crevel thinks that Bette is promoting the marriage of Hortense and Wenceslas and it suits her purposes to let him continue under the misapprehension. Crevel is still desperate for revenge on the Hulots, Hector for stealing his mistress and Adeline for rejecting him. Bette tells Crevel about Hulot’s new interest, Valerie, and Crevel sees an opportunity not only for revenge on Hulot but to obtain a better class of mistress for himself. He offers Bette ten thousand francs to help him and she tells him secrecy is more important than the money. When he finds out Valerie is the daughter of a marshal of France, he is willing to sacrifice one hundred thousand francs.

Bette rushes to Wenceslas’ attic. She has the paper warning of his impending arrest which needs to be delivered. She says it is an official document and places it under a sketch of Montcornet. She sees Wenceslas working on a box decorated with hortensias and is suspicious that it is a gift for Hortense. Bette tells Wenceslas she is going to make his fortune. As he looks at her, his filial love for her is mixed with his romantic love for Hortense. Bette misunderstands and thinks all his love is for her. She tells him that Crevel is willing to advance one hundred thousand francs to set him up in business if he will marry her. The pale and stunned look Wenceslas casts on her crushes Bette. Wenceslas tells her he is in love and is loved. In her desperation to keep him, Bette continues to tell him she will make his fortune and when he has thirty thousand francs income, then he can marry. She then offers him Valerie as a mistress. Wenceslas tells her once more that he considers her as a mother. “These words fell like an avalanche of snow upon a blazing crater.”

Wenceslas is arrested and sent to debtor’s prison. Bette tells him not to let anyone know he is there or it will ruin his reputation. She leaves happy as she plans to tell Hortense that Wenceslas’ wife has had him pardoned and he has returned to Russia. She then goes to the Hulots shortly before the time Wenceslas is expected. Adeline and Hortense are worried Bette will still be there when Wenceslas arrives. Hortense faints when Bette mentions Wenceslas’ “wife.” Wenceslas arrives; he thinks Bette has obtained his release. Bette covers herself very well, congratulating Wenceslas and saying how happy she is it is Hortense he loves as now he will be her cousin. Adeline promises interest on an annuity for Bette with the principal reverting to Hortense.

Baron Hulot returns home. He explains the dowry situation to Wenceslas: that it will be said to be two hundred thousand francs and Wenceslas will acknowledge receipt of same, although he will only receive sixty thousand francs less the cost of Bette’s annuity. Hulot acknowledges at this time that his son’s dowry was also said to be two hundred thousand francs but that the “poor boy hasn’t had a farthing of it; he never will.” Hulot will help his son and Wenceslas with government contracts and other favors he can promote. The marriage is scheduled in approximately two weeks, on Adeline’s birthday.

It was Stidmann who engineered Wenceslas’ release. The famous sculptor who had been Wenceslas’ teacher went to Leon de Lora and Joseph Bridau to raise the money.

Johann Fischer is the youngest of three Fischer brothers. The eldest was Bette’s father, the middle one was Adeline’s father. Johann is Hulot’s uncle by marriage. Hulot confesses to Johann that he is ruined. He says he will need 100,000 francs in a year. By a shady deal, Hulot was able to obtain some ready cash through the German Banker Nucingen. Now he is sending Johann to Algeria to cheat both the locals and the government out of at least 100,000 francs annually. Hulot tries to tell Johann that a government salary is not enough, but Johann knows about Josepha so he isn’t fooled.

Hortense’s wedding is scheduled for the same day that Valerie is to move to her new flat on Rue Vaneau. Hulot tells Adeline that once Hortense is married they will really cut back on expenses, moving to a small place, dispensing with most of the hired help, and only eating at home once a week. When Crevel arrives for the signing of the marriage contract, he acts as if he has forgiven Hulot and even apologizes to Adeline.

Valerie requested to be present at Adeline’s wedding and to accomplish this Hulot had to invite her husband’s entire department and staff. At the wedding ball, Crevel asks to be invited to dinner at Valerie’s. Bette leaves the ball at 10 p.m. to go to her new flat on Rue Vaneau where she gloats over her certificates representing twelve hundred francs a year. Valerie’s husband is away on leave. Hulot has made an error in providing Valerie with a dress for the ball which is not in keeping with her husband’s salary and there is gossip which she mentions to Hulot. She continues to make Hulot think this will be the first lapse in her virtue even though her husband has been playing the rogue for some time. The marriage and the ball along with the (unpaid) dowrys served to defray rumors about Hulot’s financial difficulties and to explain his having to borrow money.

The story moves forward three years. Valerie has both Hulot and Crevel supporting her. She keeps them from finding out about each other with the aid of her husband who feigns jealousy of Crevel and trust in Hulot. Hulot has spent twice as much on Valerie as he did on Josepha, but Valerie is very careful about appearances. Her luxury shows up only in her bedroom. The household’s new standard of living, not luxurious, is explained by saying there was a large legacy from her father, Montcornet. The Oliviers (porters/managers) have also come to the new residence and with an increased salary from the former gloomy quarter. Valerie and Hulot also saved their son from having to serve six years in the military, further insuring the loyalty of the Oliviers.

Crevel had married a rich miller’s daughter who is described as ugly and stupid. She died early, but her dowry and inheritance accounted for three-quarters of Crevel’s fortune. It is from Crevel’s days as a clerk in the perfume business, catering to the customers, that he got his craving to have a society woman as his mistress.

Valerie takes Bette’s appearance in hand, choosing her clothing, hair style, etc. Although Bette still wears the yellow cashmere shawl, her appearance is so changed that she would be unrecognizable to anyone who hadn’t seen her in the past three years.

Bette brings a relative from the country, pays her well, and teaches her how to shop in Paris. Baron Hulot pays two thousand francs for meals six nights a week at Valerie’s for himself and any guests. With Bette’s management and her relative as cook, it only costs half that, netting one thousand francs a month profit for Valerie. Valerie and Bette are also making one thousand francs a month by collecting for the same new clothes from both Hulot and Crevel. They are investing their funds with Crevel.

Valerie is enamoured of Wenceslas and urges Bette to talk him into coming to dinner. Bette is still plotting revenge. This new-found power has regenerated her looks and her face glows. She decides she wants to marry Hulot’s elder brother, Marshall Hulot.

Whereas Valerie furnished her new flat with all new furnishings, giving Bette her previous furniture, Adeline has had to bring her old furniture with her to the scaled-down apartment. She doesn’t mind as they are full of memories for her. But she is living there almost in solitude as Hulot has now stayed away for three weeks. Adeline isn’t eating much in her desperation to save money.

Bette has gone to dinner at Adeline’s and is gossiping with the cook about Hulot. Bette mentions that Hulot would have spent twice as much money at Valerie’s if it wasn’t for her and her relative from the country. The cook mentions that Adeline knows Bette is doing all she can to help and that she had misjudged her. Marshal Hulot has been visiting. As he rushes by Bette, barely pausing to bow on his way out, he drops some papers. Bette picks up the papers, but purposely doesn’t catch up with him. She reads that Adeline had written asking the Marshal to lend her a few hundred francs.

Bette goes into Adeline, sympathizes and offers to lend her some of her savings. Adeline is still trying to keep up appearances. Bette brings up her plan to marry Hulot’s brother, Marshall Hulot, and requests Adeline’s assistance saying it will secure his money and the widow’s pension. Just then the Marshall arrives and whispers to Adeline that he has given two thousand francs to her cook and that he had planned to spend that much on a gift for Adeline anyway. After dinner young Hulot tells Hortense and Bette of the financial problems of Baron Hulot. Bette then tells young Hulot about her plan to marry Marshall Hulot for their financial benefit and requests his aid. Bette leaves early so they can work on the Marshall.

Meanwhile, at Valerie’s dinner party the footman announces the Brazilian Baron de Montejanos! Valerie covers by rushing to call him “my cousin.” The Portuguese is tanned, handsome, has stately bearing and is superbly dressed with a one hundred thousand franc diamond in his silk cravat. Crevel and Hulot are so anxious that anyone smart enough could realize that they are both Valerie’s lovers. Hulot just then realizes the truth about Crevel and vows to have it out with Valerie, even as Crevel is planning to confront Valerie about Montejanos who is “one Baron too many.” Montejanos tells Valerie that he has been faithful to her and that his uncle is dead and he is now twice as rich as before and plans to live in Paris with her.

Hulot is very jealous of Valerie and the Brazilian Montejanos. Fearing a scene, Marneffe takes Valerie and Montejanos out of the room. All of the guests leave except for Hulot and Crevel, who are both determined to outlast the other and have it out with Valerie. Neither believes that Montejanos is her cousin. Marneffe returns and says Montejanos has gone and Valerie has gone up to check on Bette who has indigestion from the dinner at Adeline’s. Crevel and Hulot don’t believe this either. Hulot goes upstairs to Bette’s “to check on his cousin” and Crevel invites Marneffe to play cards (the only reason he can think of to remain).

Hulot and Valerie have a scene in Bette’s flat, all of which is overheard by Montejanos who is hiding in the closet. Valerie wins the argument, banishing Hulot back downstairs while she cares for the “ailing” Bette. Bette has also been upbraiding Hulot about his treatment of Adeline and tells him that she is taking her savings to Adeline the next day.

Valerie now cries into her handkerchief and gets to put on another act telling Montesjanos how he doesn’t love her, etc. He wants her to live with him but she doesn’t want to lose her reputation and tells him that Marneffe will be dead within five years. She then extracts a promise from him to marry one year after Marneffe’s death.

Crevel and Marneffe are insulting each other rather wickedly. Valerie enters the room, pets her husband and tells him he needs his rest. She whispers to Hulot to walk about outside and return when he sees Crevel leave. When she is alone with Crevel she really works him over for lots of money. He has been wanting for years to throw it in Hulot’s face about his relationship with Valerie and he has also come to need Valerie. Between insults, promises and threats she finally gets him to say he will put over one hundred thousand francs in her name.

Valerie walks down the stairs with Crevel and tells him that Hulot is hanging about outside waiting for a signal and gives Crevel permission to tell him that she loves only Crevel. In fact, she tells Crevel to take him to to their love nest and prove everything to him and to keep him there the entire night as a slow torture. As soon as the street door is closed behind Crevel, Valerie calls to Madame Olivier and tells her to bolt the door and not to open it. Valerie rushes up to Bette’s to signal Montesjanos that the coast is clear.

Outside, Crevel goes up to Hulot who is pacing in the rain and tells him that “our” Valerie now wants only him. Hulot wants proof so Crevel takes him to the hidden love nest. The two men begin to talk about how much Valerie has cost each of them and that she is worse than Josepha. They decide now that the Brazilian has arrived they will give her up because she is “as false as Town Hall promises.” But they each recall her wonderful looks and lovely ways as they go to bed.

9:00 a.m. the next morning: Hulot and Crevel tell each other their plans, Hulot to the Ministry and Crevel to the country. They aren’t going to think about Valerie any more.

10:30 a.m.: Crevel rushes up the stairs to Valerie’s and finds her, charming as always, and eating breakfast with Montesjanos and Lizbeth. He takes her aside and offers to marry her when Marneffe dies.

Shortly: Hulot arrives and also wants to take Valerie aside privately.

Valerie tells Hulot and Crevel to look at themselves and to look at Montesjanos. She only wants to be their friend now that Montesjanos is here–although she made an assignation with each of them for later! When Hulot and Crevel reach the street below, they look at each other, laugh bitterly and agree they are two crazy old men.

Once Bette and Valerie are alone they discuss the future and Valerie laments that in three years she has not made an inch of progress with Wenceslas. She loves Montesjanos but Wenceslas is a whim.

Bette visits Hortense who is very disillusioned. As a new bride, Hortense was always pleased to steal Wenceslas away from her rival–sculpture. Without Bette to push him, Wenceslas became indolent and enjoyed life and his new situation. A beautiful baby was produced instead the statue of Montcornet. When finally complete, the statue was appalling, yet when his friend and former tutor Stidmann tried to enlighten Wenceslas he was accused of jealousy. Wencelas is now in the habit of going into society and is very popular, but artists must work to become great. Hortense realized her error too late. Then, like Adeline, she couldn’t bear to worry her husband.

Hortense tells Bette they need five or six thousand francs. Bette mentions that Valerie will lend them money at five percent if they will flatter her. Hortense knows this is her father’s mistress is and horrified; she begs Wenceslas never to go there and he agrees, knowing he will either change her mind or go secretly.

At long last Wenceslas has been persuaded to come to dinner at Valerie’s, with the hope of obtaining a loan. Bette introduces her young cousin Wenceslas to Valerie who says she remembers him from the former apartment house. Valerie then gives her attention to the other guests and Claude and Bette sing her praises to Wenceslas.

Wenceslas is used to devotion and Valerie’s actions cause him to almost make it a point of honor to gain her attention. Hortense is lovely and loyal but Valerie is dangerous and exciting. Bette reminds Wenceslas that had he remained with her he could have had Valerie as a mistress, married her when she was widowed and had an income of forty thousand francs.

After a lively, witty dinner, Wenceslas, full of good food and too much wine, stretched out on a divan and Valerie came to sit beside him. As Valerie plays with Wenceslas’ hair she tells him she wants no interest for the loan but a bronze portrayal of a powerful Delilah cutting Samson’s hair. Crevel, overhearing the conversation about the proposed bronze, tells Wenceslas that if he makes Delilah a portrait of Valerie he will pay one thousand crowns for a copy. Wenceslas agrees if Valerie will pose for him.

While Wenceslas is falling under Valerie’s spell, Hortense is sitting by their baby’s bed sewing and worrying because he is so late returning. She recalls how much time Wenceslas spent dressing for this dinner with Chanor and Florent, like a woman wanting to enhance her appearance. Wenceslas returns home and lies about where he has been. He finally gives Hortense half of the money received from Valerie in order to avoid further questioning. He keeps the other half to pay debts that Hortense doesn’t know about. He told Hortense that the money was loaned by Chanor and assures her that he is going to begin working again, first thing in the morning.

Hortense is happy when Wenceslas leaves around nine the next morning. Stidmann arrives to see Wenceslas and inadvertently mentions the dinner party at Valerie’s causing Hortense to faint. Adeline is sent for and Stidmann goes to Valerie’s where he doesn’t stop to consult the porters but leaves the message with Valerie’s servant, Reine, that his wife is dying, then waits on the street for him to emerge. Bette, having been informed by Reine, catches up with Wenceslas and speaks to him.

Adeline has arrived and in her anxiety for Hortense’s situation mentions how long Hulot has been having mistresses but she had to keep it quiet or Victorin and Hortense would not have been able to make good marriages. She advises Hortense to not let anyone else know about Wenceslas and Valerie. Wenceslas arrives with explanations of having to borrow the money secretly in order not to worry Hortense. He asks how he could possibly prefer a “jaded, faded, seedy woman” to Hortense. The shock of hearing this contemptuous slang pacifies Hortense and Adeline. Wenceslas promises Hortense that he will never go to Valerie’s again except to pay back the loan and goes to the studio to work on the Samson and Delilah group which he hastily covers when Hortense arrives. But she caught a glimpse of it and the beauty of the woman portrayed revives her suspicions.

Valerie has not seen Wenceslas for three weeks. He has been busy working and Hortense accompanies him everywhere, including the studio. This irritates Valerie so much that she now joins Bette in hating Hortense.

Valerie discovers she is pregnant. As she is having breakfast with Marneffe and Bette she announces it. Marneffe is thrilled, feeling this will assure another promotion. But he doesn’t want his son to suffer. Valerie assures him: “The new one, instead of bringing in bills from provision merchants, will save us from poverty.” Bette snorts at the reference to little Stanislas who has been at boarding school.

As soon as Marneffe leaves, Valerie and Bette look at each other like two augurs and burst out laughing. Valerie now shows Bette a letter she has written to Wenceslas stating that he is the father of her child. She is planning to send it when he is away so that it will be intercepted by Hortense. It is decided that the portress, Mme Olivier can accomplish this.

Not ten minutes after the letter has been sent, Baron Hulot arrives to hear Valerie announce: “Hector, you’re a father!” Hulot agrees to place a twelve hundred franc annuity in the new baby’s name.

Meanwhile, Hortense reads the letter, packs, writes a letter to Wenceslas and leaves for her mother’s home with the baby and her maid. She tells the cook she will reward her if she takes good care of Wenceslas. She loves him but she will not be like her mother.

Wenceslas returns. When he reads his letter from Hortense, he is almost happy. He likens the last three weeks to being as much a prisoner as he was with Bette. He thinks of Hortense and regrets that she is gone, but nevertheless rushes to see Valerie. He arrives to see Crevel there–“puffed up with pride.” Bette warns Crevel not to show his emotion so openly for the sake of the future.

Next to arrive is Montesjanos. Valerie whispers her news to him. He is overjoyed but must conceal it for appearances.

Hulot had left to try to arrange the promotion for Marneffe. His friend tells him how serious Hulot’s own position was not very long ago and advises that this is a bad time to try to promote that incompetent man. When Hulot returns to the Marneffes, he is dejected, but Valerie soon cheers him up. She tells him to have Adeline effect a reconciliation between Hortense and Wenceslas. She warns him that Bette will have to leave for appearances’ sake and the household expenses would triple. She also tells him that she will have to reconcile with Marneffe and he won’t leave her room. Marneffe speaks with Hulot, saying how charming Valerie is and if he has to reconcile with her, then he will just keep her for himself.

Meanwhile Crevel has told Valerie that the purchase of the new house will be final the next day. Coolly Valerie asks about furniture.

When Hulot arrives at his flat, Adeline is thrilled to see him but her hopes are dashed when she realizes he did not come from a desire to see his family but only because he has something else he wants to accomplish.

The next morning Bette arrives. There is a big scene with Hector, Adeline, Hortense and Victorin who also arrived, having been notified by Bette about Hortense and Wenceslas. They all seem to love Hulot and forgive him anything. Victorin (who had redeemed some of Hector’s notes) tells his father that even though his devotion is unlimited, his resources are not. Bette looks at the scene, smiling. Hulot has been expecting funds from Algeria but the note brought to him from Fischer reveals a dire story which Hulot doesn’t tell the family.

Valerie has sent her maid, Reine, with a magnificent sob letter to Hulot saying that Marneffe is so incensed about not yet receiving his promotion that he has ordered her not to see Hulot. She says how they should run away together and live in the country. She asks for a reply just to say he loves her and Hulot sends an answer–on his official stationery! When he rushes to Valerie’s, Marneffe opens the door and threatens him with a pistol.

Later when Hulot and Bette meet, she gives him a message from Valerie and a key to Crevel’s love nest. She tells Hulot to have duplicate keys made so he can use it as a place in which to meet Valerie. Hulot is so grateful he tells Bette he will do anything for her, but then gasps when she asks him not to oppose her marriage to his brother the Marshal. He quickly agrees though to persuade his brother after Bette mentions the widow’s pension of six thousand francs.

Valerie and Hulot have met three times at Crevel’s little “love nest” on Rue du Dauphin. A fourth visit is planned. Valerie sends a note by Reine to change the time and saying she has arranged to stay the night! Alas, when Hulot awakens the next morning, he is confronted by a police commissioner, a justice of the peace and Marneffe. Valerie screams and hides. Hulot, worried, requests the officers to take care of Valerie. He then takes Marneffe aside and offers a promotion and the Legion of Honor medal. Marneffe now mentions money for the baby and tells Hulot he has two days.

One of the officers loudly mentions that Baron Hulot has walked into a trap. When he sees the killing look Valerie gives him, he knows he is correct. As Marneffe is taking Valerie away, Hulot begs a word alone with her. He tells her there is nothing left but to go away together. When the Marneffes are gone the officer proves to Hulot that Valerie had planned the morning’s event with Marneffe. Hulot AGAIN cries on Adeline’s shoulder.

Ten days after Bette had installed herself as housekeeper at Marshal Hulot’s, the first marriage banns were published. Adeline arranged it by secretly speaking with her brother-in-law of the Baron’s financial crisis.

Hulot receives more bad news from Algeria. Things with Fischer are critical and he asks for help. The last line of the letter ironically reads: “If you can’t do anything, I’ll die gladly for the man to whom we owe our Adeline’s happiness.”

Hulot collapses after reading the letter. Adeline finds him, takes the letter and reads it. The shock causes her to have nervous tremors which remain with her the remainder of her life. Adeline is desperate to save her uncle and writes to Crevel. She has decided she will sell herself to save the family honor and her uncle’s life.

Hulot sees a newspaper article about the scandal and rushes out. Hortense sees an article about Valerie’s Delilah group and says she has lost hope. Adeline dresses carefully and awaits Crevel. She hoped to be as alluring as Valerie.

The scene with Crevel and Adeline is very intense. Crevel had assumed she wanted to see him about the children. Now that he is mayor and in politics he thinks more of himself than three years ago. He believes Valerie has taught him fancy manners, but in reality she taught him mannerisms and a pose even more ridiculous than his former one. When Crevel first suspects Adeline’s plans he thinks she wants revenge on Hulot and that she likes him better now as a mayor than three years prior as a National Guardsman. Adeline bolts the door and throws herself at Crevel’s feet. She thinks she might be able to get the money without giving up her honor and says: “Buy my heart, you who sought to buy my virtue.”

When Adeline tells Crevel she needs two hundred thousand francs, he suddenly understands that she is offering herself. He tells her the money he would have given her three years ago is now in the hands of another woman. Crevel strikes his new pose and continues saying that he wanted revenge and he has had it with Valerie who will be his wife when Marneffe dies. Adeline, even in this extreme moment and shocked at learning the true reason for Hulot’s return home, cries, “You’d give your daughter a step-mother like that!”

Crevel praises Valerie and all she has taught him. He refuses to take Adeline for himself but offers her his protege from the country, Beauvisage. The shock of this insult awakens Adeline to the horror of what she was doing. She tells Crevel that is enough and God’s will be done. After this speech Crevel considers her sublime and will give her the money in two hours with no strings attached. Adeline now tells him it is to save Fischer. Crevel goes down on one knee and kisses her dress before leaving.

On his way to get the two hundred thousand francs necessary to save Fischer, Crevel stops at Valerie’s. Valerie notices immediately that something is on his mind besides her and cajols Crevel into telling her of the scene with Adeline. At the mention of two hundred thousand francs Valerie pouts. She says she is also religious and that he doesn’t realize the sacrifices she makes to betray her husband with him. She must henceforth be faithful to her husband and she and Crevel must part. Valerie then laughs diabolically at how a pious woman can get two hundred thousand francs from him and tells Crevel that if he gives so much as two sous to Adeline she will never see him again. He must invest it in the funds and will not be allowed in again without the receipt.

Marshal Hulot’s home is a splendid house worthy of his rank. It was furnished with a “settling-in grant” since he had no fortune of his own. His servants for thirty years have been an old soldier and the soldier’s sister as cook. The Marshal lives simply on the ground floor. Bette wants to rent out the first floor, saying that the rent would cover the household expenses but the Marshal feels that he may someday need it as a refuge for Adeline and Hortense. The Marshal is much respected in the neighborhood and saluted by all the old soldiers as he walks about. Bette has told him to try to get a position for Adeline as she needs the money and suggests that being an inspector for The Paris Ladies’ Charitable Association would suit her. He is very happy with Bette running his household and coddling him, happier than he ever expected.

Marechal, Prince de Wissembourg, has sent for Baron Hulot about the Algerian affair. He tells Hulot to try to die of a stroke to save his honor. Marshal Hulot enters on his mission for a position for Adeline. The Prince tells the Marshal that his brother is a scoundrel. When the Marshal doesn’t believe him, the Prince gives him a file containing two letters. One is the official document about the Algerian scandal and mentions that Fischer has committed suicide. The other is the last letter from Fischer to Baron Hulot which was intercepted. The Baron has been unconditionally implicated and the Prince asks for his resignation so there will not have to be a trial and tells him he never wants to see him again. He then asks for Marneffe to be sent in and confronts him, demanding that he repay the money. When Marneffe says Valerie spent it all. the Prince says either pay back the funds or go to Algeria to which Marneffe insolently replies that he would rather resign. The Prince then asks Marshall Hulot why he happened to come to see him that morning and is told about Adeline. The Marshal asks the Prince to look after Adeline and leaves taking Baron Hulot with him.

Marshal Hulot brings his brother the Baron home with him. They do not speak. He leads him into his study, gets out a case containing pistols given him by Napoleon and tells Hulot: “There is your remedy.” Bette has seen this and rushes off to get Adeline. Meanwhile, the Marshall sends his old soldier servant Beaupied to get his lawyer, Wenceslas, Hortense and the Treasury stockbroker.

Adeline arrives. The Marshall recounts all that Hulot has done over the years and blames him for Uncle Fischer’s death because Fischer, peasant though he was, could not endure living in disgrace. But he sees that Hulot can live in disgrace and tells him to go and that he never wants to see him again. He tells Adeline to get Hector out of his sight before he shoots him.

Marshal Hulot sells the shares which were in Hortense’s name with the interest going to Bette in order to add to his funds for the two hundred thousand francs. The next day he takes the money to the Prince who tries to refuse it. They embrace as friends. The Prince knows it is the last time he will see Marshal Hulot. A few days later the Marshal is dead. His funeral is attended by a huge and very diverse crowd as he was a loved and respected person.

Adeline must give up the flat. Victorin and Celestine say she can live with them. Hulot is going into hiding to avoid creditors. Adeline begs him to let her accompany him. He says he will not leave without speaking to her but when she leaves the room, he slips out the back way. On finding out he is gone, Adeline collapses and is near death for a month.

Baron Hulot has hired a fancy carriage and gone to Josepha’s. He tells her his problems and asks to stay a few days while he decides what to do. She welcomes him to her home and even tells him he can say he’s her father. Hulot wants her to arrange a job in the country for him, but she has a better idea and tells him about Bijou (jewel).

Hulot isn’t interested and when he tells Josepha that he wants to be virtuous she exclaims “You!” As soon as he sees Olympe Bijou, his libertine self returns and he accepts. Ten days later Hulot is set up with Bijou in an embroidery business.

His father’s disgrace, Marshal Hulot’s death and Adeline’s illness have made Victorin the head of the family and he is admirable. The Prince sends for him, gives him the two hundred thousand francs the Marshal had used to repay his brother’s embezzlement and tells him of the plans made for him and his mother.

Adeline, Hortense and Bette are now living in Victorin and Celestine’s huge home with Bette managing the running of the households. She is to go see Valerie once a month for news of Wenceslas and Crevel. She secretly sees her friend more often.

Twenty months have passed and Adeline is happy in her job for the Charities, but still worries about Hulot’s fate. Valerie’s baby was still-born. Marneffe has died and Valerie’s ten months of mourning are now ended. Celestine and Hortense have become very close from living in the same house and their children strengthen the bond between them. Celestine tells Hortense that she would be able to get Wenceslas back if she desired and now that life is peaceful, she’ll get bored with an empty life. The banns have been published for Crevel’s marriage to Valerie.

Hulot has been spotted in Paris, renewing Adeline’s hope of finding him. Bette has been relishing Adeline’s tears all the more as she has been in contact with him, knowing where he is and giving him money for at least six months through Pere Chardin.

After a remark of Bette’s, Adeline decides to go to Josepha for information about Hulot. Josepha tells her servants to treat Adeline with the greatest respect. After a poor beginning, the women understand each other perfectly. Josepha is very gracious to Adeline and apologizes for the harm she has caused her and sends for little Bijou. Josepha tells Adeline that six months before, Hulot withdrew all the money he was supposed to receive quarterly and vanished. She has not seen Olympe Bijou since then either. The footman returns with the news that Olympe has married very well and that her mother will be arriving. Josepha takes Adeline into her boudoir as Madame Bijou might not reveal any information in front of her. Madame Bijou tells the story of Olympe and how a claqueur led her astray and his sister stole Hulot. The claqueur is a relative of Bette’s informant/go-between Chardin. Then the abandoned Olympe caught the eye of one of the storekeepers to whom she sold embroidered shawls. He wanted to console her but she held out for marriage. He married her on the condition she have nothing to do with her family but he gave the family a settlement of ten thousand francs and an allowance. Josepha offers Madame Bijou one thousand francs if she can find Hulot, Pere Thoul as he is known to them. When Josepha goes into the boudoir she finds that Adeline has fainted from the horror of hearing the depths to which her husband had sunk.

A mysterious elderly woman calling herself Madame de Sainte-Esteve calls on Victorin and offers to solve the problem of Valerie’s proposed marriage to his father-in-law Crevel for a price. Victorin tells her he wants no one to die or any criminal act to be performed. She laughs at him and is undeterred, telling him that in three months when an old priest comes and asks for a forty thousand franc donation, to pay it if he is happy with the situation.

After Adeline relates her visit to Josepha, Bette rushes to Hulot. She doesn’t tell him about the family’s renewed finances, but leads him to believe he’d better stay in hiding or go to jail. Disenchanted with Elodie Chardin (who stole him from little Bijou), he is again changing his name and relocating. Bette offers to drive him there in the cab; she’ll know where he in this way. She gives him two thousand francs and leaves him at a very shady-looking house.

The next day Crevel pays a visit to the household of the young Hulots for the first time in two years. He came to invite them to his wedding. Victorin tells him they will not attend and appear to sanction the union. He tries to warn Crevel about Valerie, telling an unbelieving Crevel that he will give him proof. When Crevel leaves in a huff, Celestine begs Bette to go after him. Crevel asks Bette to accompany him to the signing of the marriage contract. Bette tells the family that she is going in order to find out the terms of the contract.

Valerie now loves Wenceslas who laments that he married to Hortense instead of listening to Bette. He is jealous of Montesjanos. Valerie is nervous about what Montesjanos will do when he finds out she is marrying Crevel.

The marriage contract is read and signed. Bette rushes to the young Hulot household and is rather miffed when Celestine and Victorin are indifferent to the money. Wishing to humble them she mentions Valerie’s remark about Adeline and the two hundred thousand francs (referring to when Adeline offered herself to Crevel for money to save her uncle Fischer). Adeline goes into convulsions and begs the children to go to visit them and to receive “that woman.”

This threat to his mother prompts Victorin to take action. He goes to the Police Station and asks to see the head of the Criminal Investigation Department who we discover is Vautrin, the nephew of the woman using the name of Madame Sainte-Esteve (Jacqueline Collin).

When Victorin returns to the house to await Madame Sainte-Esteve, he finds three doctors consulting about his mother. Madame Sainte-Esteve, posing as a client, arrives to see Victorin. The price for taking care of Valerie has increased to fifty thousand francs plus expenses of which twenty-three thousand francs have been spent purchasing the assistance of Valerie’s maid, Reine, and a Raphael. He tells her to proceed.

The Brazilian, Baron Montes de Montejanos, is a mysterious celebrity. Everyone knows he is rich but that seems to be all they know about him. Du Tillet is his banker. Du Tillet’s mistress, Carabine, persuades him to give a dinner to find out if Montejanos has a mistress. The usual party assembles at the Rocher de Cancale with one new addition: a beautiful and fresh woman of sixteen called Cydalise from Normandy. She is brought by Carabine in conjunction with “Madame Nourrisson” (Madame Sainte-Esteve again). It is her first appearance. When Jenny Cadine asks Carabine about her, we find that she is intended as a wife for Montejanos and that Carabine is receiving a picture by Raphael (the Raphael mentioned to Victorin) for her assistance. After a sumptuous meal with plenty of wine, Leon de Lora calls everyone’s attention to Montejanos who has been sitting next to Cydalise without paying her any attention. Briefly embarrassed, Montejanos regains his composure which irritates Carabine. Du Tillet mentions that Madame Marneffe is going to marry his friend Crevel and de Lora says she is crazy about his friend Steinbock. These remarks strike Montejanos like three gunshots to the chest. He jumps up and calls the party blackguards. Turning to du Tillet he asks for the truth and is told that du Tillet is invited to the wedding. Carabine says she can give him proofs at her home in an hour.

Carabine arrives at her home with Montejanos and Cydalise. Madame Sainte-Esteve (under the name of Mme Nourrisson) is waiting, posing as an aunt, with a copy of a letter from Valerie to Wenceslas. Montejanos says a letter is no proof, it could be a forgery, so they undertake to show him Valerie with Wenceslas. Montejanos states that if it is true he will kill Valerie and that Hulot couldn’t have really loved her because she is still living. He is not worried about the police as he has access to a very dreadful and fatal disease, the cure of which can only be obtained in Brazil.

Madame Sainte-Esteve conducts Montejanos and Cydalise to a clandestine house she owns in the name of her associate whose name she also uses, Nourrisson. In one of the private rooms, Wenceslas is lacing Valerie’s stays when a waiting-woman lifts the door latch with a knife and throws the door open. After a moment’s surprise Valerie is extremely haughty. She berates Montejanos and after dressing tells Montejanos he has her permission to tell Crevel as he will not believe it. Montejanos asks Valerie to come to Brazil with him and she tells him maybe in two years but now she is after eighty thousand francs a year as Crevel loves her so much he’ll die of it. She leaves triumphantly. Montejanos, unable to move, says he has no more scruples.

Valerie and Crevel are now married. Between Crevel and Wenceslas, Valerie feels she hasn’t a moment to herself, so is happy to quarrel with Wenceslas. When she reproaches him for the money she loaned him, his pride keeps him away. Finally, on a day when Crevel has to go to the country she is able to find an entire day to spend with Montejanos. Reine, perhaps feeling a bit guilty, tries to warn Valerie about him. Bette arrives to report to Valerie that when Wenceslas was feeling low, Victorin happened to see him and bring him home. Hortense has now reconciled with him. Bette is bitter that Valerie let this happen. Montejanos arrives before they can talk further.

It is several weeks later. Adeline is regaining her health and Josepha is still aiding in the search for Hulot. One evening at Victorin’s office, a hermit appears at the window desiring admittance. He is shabby to the point of smelling bad but the mention of fifty thousand francs convinces Victorin that he is there on behalf of Mme Sainte-Esteve. When Victorin asks if everything is taken care of, the beggar tells him he can pay after the funeral.

The next morning Doctor Bianchon allows Adeline to go into the garden for fresh air. Bette is still confined to bed where she has been for about a month. As Bianchon chats with Adeline and the rest of the family he mentions a rare case of a couple he is treating. Turning to Celestine he asks if she is M. Crevel’s daughter. Celestine immediately wants to go to her father. Bianchon tells her to stay a foot away from him and not to kiss him and advises Victorin to accompany her to make she she adheres to the precautions. While Celestine is dressing, Bianchon details the horrors of the disease to Victorin. Victorin feels like a murderer.

Hortense and Adeline go into Bette’s room. When they mention Valerie’s illness, Bette goes to see her. When she arrives there are seven doctors observing and consulting. Bette is truly concerned for Valerie, one of the few friends she ever had. She asks Valerie how it happens that she is in this condition. Valerie relates a letter she received from Montejanos. Valerie has turned to religion and wants to make amends. Bette is suitably skeptical; Valerie is still only looking out for her own best interests. Bette then visits Crevel who is only worried about Valerie.

Valerie dies; two days later Crevel dies. The old monk visits Victorin the day after the funeral and receives eighty thousand francs that Victorin found in Crevel’s desk. The beneficiaries are Celestine, Hulot and the sickly Stanislas Marneffe.

One of the charitable organizations which Adeline works for was founded by Madame de la Chanterie. When Adeline resumes her charitable duties Madame de la Chanterie asks her to also assist in arranging marriages for couples that can’t afford the fees. There is a very poor neighborhood that the police only visit when absolutely necessary but it is one of the first areas Adeline visits. There she is told of a fifteen year old girl named Atala who is living with an old man of eighty. Adeline is horrified by the young woman’s situation and is determined to have her married to the man. She is escorted to the building where Atala lives with her public letter-writer. It is Hulot! Adeline tells him of their renewed financial situation and persuades him to return home with her. She provides for Atala who is much admired by one of the stove-fitter’s sons.

The family is very happy to have Hulot home, but shocked by his poor appearance. “Lisbeth, already quite wretched at the good fortune that was shining on the family, could not withstand this happy event.” A few days later Bette is dead, still thought of as the good angel of the family.

With good care and food, Hulot’s health and appearance improve. Adeline is so happy that her nervous trembling almost ceases. All goes well with the family for over a year but Hulot falls back into his old libertine ways under the spell of a kitchen-maid, Agatha, who is appalling looking. When Adeline catches him in Agatha’s room one night it is too much for her and she dies three days later. Hulot leaves after Adeline’s funeral and eleven months later Victorin hears that he has married Agatha.

Read it here.

Summarized by Dagny, May – July, 2011


4 comments on “Poor Relations: Cousin Betty by Honoré de Balzac

  1. scamperpb says:

    I read this novel several years ago, and it stands in my memory as one of Balzac’s most enjoyable. As Saintsbury agreed, Balzac didn’t get sidetracked, didn’t create filler with side stories, and stays focused on the main storyline. Not that the story was simple – I was almost overwhelmed re-reading the summary here at the Balzac blog. And in fact I might schedule this book for a reread as I’ve forgotten quite a lot of it. I thought Balzac masterful in his depiction of the main characters, and we won’t soon forget Bette or Valerie or Hulot. I just started viewing the 1978 DVD of a movie adaptation of “Cousin Bette”, and it is bound to be fun to watch.

    Bette certainly was hard to figure. She’d had several offers of marriage with respectable men. Her revenge would seem more appropriate if she’d never had an offer. Perhaps she became sorry she didn’t marry, and her artist was all she had left in life. How this woman in cahoots with the amoral Valeria managed to ruin the entire family is amazing. Balzac died within a couple of years of this work – what works we might have had if he’d lived to a ripe old age.


    • I’ve read Cousine Bette three or four times and the rereads were always enjoyable with new tidbits and insights being discovered each time. It didn’t seem to matter that I knew the ending because the getting-there was so entertaining.


  2. scamperpb says:

    Have you seen the 1971 movie, Dagny? I’m watching it now. It has Helen Mirren as Veronica – she’s so young I hardly recognize her, LOL. I’m used to seeing her excellent acting mostly in BB Shakespeare performances. Margaret Tyzack is ABette. I understand a later movie with Jessica Lange isn’t very good and doesn’t much follow Balzac’s novel.


  3. Yes, the 1971 mini-series. It is super. I knew Margaret Tyzack from The Forsyte Saga. You’re right about the Jessica Lange movie. I watched it once and don’t think I can bare to watch it again. The best thing about it is Hugh Laurie, lol.


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