Tuesday, 8th November, 2011

‘Money has never lost the least opportunity of showing how stupid it is,’ we are told in Chapter 29 of Balzac’s Cousin Bette. The following is by no means complete (or even certain) but it gives a fuller view of Monsieur Hulot’s finances in the novel c.1838, than that offered in David Bellos’s La Cousine Bette (London: Grant & Cutler, 1980).

I am fairly sure that it would be possible to chart all the transactions of the novel and in doing so demonstrate the flow of money (and power) from those made successful by the Empire before the novel begins, to the new bourgeoisie by the novel’s close. I suspect that such a tally would also, as this brief glimpse indicates, reveal that ‘the money plot’ simply does not hang together, that the figures liberally thrown about in the novel are intentionally ridiculous. Bette is an economist, Hulot has no grasp of money and as a result his figures do not add up.

 Monsieur Hulot’s finances c.1838

Ministry of War salary 25,000 Rent 6,000
Living expenses 30,000
Cost of four servants ????
Affair with Josépha 50,000
IOUs from Johann Fischer 30,000
Part payment on sculpture* 1,000
Setting up Valérie’s flat 30,000
Gifts for Valérie 10,000
Dowry for Victorin 200,000
Hortense’s Dowry 200,000
Sale of Adeline’s diamonds ‡ 6,000
Loan from Nucigen ‡       70,000
Sale of Johann’s business‡ 40,000
Investment in Govt. stock‡ 60,000
*The total cost of Wenceslas’s sculpture is 13,000 francs. Hortense covers the rest of the price with the entirety of her savings.
†Arranges for Victorin to raise this money himself.

‡ Monies raised to cover Hortense’s dowry and trousseau @ 200,000 francs.

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