Translator: Katharine Prescott Wormeley
Missing from the Gutenberg frontpage is the original title: La Rabouilleuse
Plot summary from wiki: The action of the novel is divided between Paris and Issoudun. Agathe Rouget, who was born in Issoudun, is sent to be raised by her maternal relatives, the Descoings in Paris by her father Doctor Rouget. She suspects (wrongly) that he is not her true father. There she marries a man named Bridau, and they have two sons, Philippe, and Joseph. Monsieur Bridau dies relatively young, Philippe, who is the eldest and his mother’s favourite, becomes a soldier in Napoleon’s armies, and Joseph becomes an artist. Philippe, the elder son is shown to be a courageous soldier, but is also a heavy drinker and gambler. He resigns from the army after the Bourbon Restoration out of loyalty to Napoleon. Joseph is a dedicated artist, and the more loyal son, but his mother does not understand his artistic vocation.
Opening: In 1792 the townspeople of Issoudun enjoyed the services of a physician named Rouget, whom they held to be a man of consummate malignity. Were we to believe certain bold tongues, he made his wife extremely unhappy, although she was the most beautiful woman of the neighborhood. Perhaps, indeed, she was rather silly. But the prying of friends, the slander of enemies, and the gossip of acquaintances, had never succeeded in laying bare the interior of that household. Doctor Rouget was a man of whom we say in common parlance, “He is not pleasant to deal with.” Consequently, during his lifetime, his townsmen kept silence about him and treated him civilly. His wife, a demoiselle Descoings, feeble in health during her girlhood (which was said to be a reason why the doctor married her), gave birth to a son, and also to a daughter who arrived, unexpectedly, ten years after her brother, and whose birth took the husband, doctor though he were, by surprise. This late-comer was named Agathe.
Inclement weather and the soothing sound of both washer and drier in action meant I hunkered down under the settee quilt with my ipad to finish off this tale. Another great character observation by the rough diamond pen of Balzac.
Checking up on the title was something of an eye-opener:
‘La Rabouilleuse’ is the nickname of Flore Brazier used behind her back by the people of Issoudun. Max takes offence when some of his friends use it in conversation. Adamson translates the term as “the Fisherwoman”. From the French Wiki of this page, it appears that it is a regional word for someone who stirs up the water in a river, more easily to catch fish such as crayfish. “(En français régional, une personne qui agite et trouble l’eau pour effrayer les écrevisses et les pêcher plus facilement)”. The nickname is a reference to the job that she did as a young girl when helping her uncle to fish for crayfish, before becoming a servant to the Rouget household. The English title of the book therefore moves the focus from her to the two brothers. – wiki
I once mentioned to Dagny that embarking on Balzac will only happen once Zola was complete, yet I don’t seem to be doing too badly at 3.5* average per book:
3* Cousin Bette
3* The Unknown Masterpiece
4* The Mysterious Mansion
TR Pere Goriot
TR Eugénie Grandet