Eugénie Grandet, Honoré de Balzac (1833)

Is there any purer pleasure than reading Balzac on a summer morning? A perfectly surprising yet perfectly symmetrical joy. I’m a relatively modern kid, I think–anxious and suspicious to the core–but sometimes the relief of committing myself into the hands of a fully omniscient narrator is just too blissful to be questioned. It’s the same feeling those old ladies holding up pictures of Stalin on May Day must be after.

As always with Balzac, the story here turns on the author’s frighteningly detailed insights into two very complex and apparently very different phenomena: human nature and financial planning. A paragraph of brilliant characterization is inevitably followed by one explaining the workings of some obscure investment vehicle. If Old Prodigious were to be reincarnated in today’s USA, I bet he’d set a story in a Rent-a-Center. Oh! if only!

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