Unmasking the Bourgeoise

Balzac's Cousin Bette

A Love Story




Real Life

The film Cousin Bette, based on Honore de Balzac's 1846 novel, takes place in the middle of 19th century France. It is the story of a peasant woman named Bette who lives in the shadow of her cousin, Adeline. Adeline, who marries into money, becomes Baroness and leaves Bette in her humble surroundings. When the Baroness dies, Bette is hired on as the family maid and now transcends her spite onto Adeline's daughter, Hortense. Embellishing on her lonely life, Bette tells Hortense of her secret lover named Wenceslas, a starving artist who lives in the apartment above Bette. Hortense, trapped within the expectations of the bourgeoisie to marry into money, defies society in the search of romance and seeks out Bette's lover to snatch for herself. Bette, now a jealous and bitter woman, takes it upon herself to get Wenceslas back.

Cousin Bette shows the Bourgeoisie at its worst; there are very few moral characters within it. Bette spends her time plotting revenge against her cousin's family and making sure they will never be happy, and Jenny Cadine, the beauty of the story, spends her time seducing men and sleeping with them. Through Bette's revenge and talent for acting, she introduces Jenny to Wenselas (who is married to Hortense) and convinces Jenny to seduce him. Bette also makes sure that Hortense walks in on Jenny and Wenselas making love--to ensure the failure of Hortense's marriage.

This story is very different from the Patisserie of Fate; there is nothing ideal about the Bourgeoisie within Cousin Bette. Where the Patisserie of Fate shows how romantic and beautiful love can be, Cousin Bette shows how evil and manipulative some Bourgeois can be when they want to hurt those who accomplish what the Bourgeois society say to accomplish.