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Honoré de Balzac: Le Père Goriot

Written by son of rambow on Friday, July 30, 2010

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) was a French novelist, best known for his series of novels called La Comédie humaine, in which he depictured life in France after the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. It was divided into: Scenes from private life, Scenes from provincial life, Scenes from Parisian life, Scenes from political life, Scenes from military life, Scenes from country life, Philosophical studies and Analytical studies.

Le Père Goriot, written in 1835, belongs to Scenes from private life, although, at first, the writer had put it in Scenes from Parisian life. In this novel, there’re characters that recurr in his other novels, such as, for example, Eugène de Rastignac, Jacques Collin, alias Vautrin (The Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans) and Baron de Nucingen (La Maicon Nucingen).

The idea of the story is similar to Shakespeare’s King Lear. It’s about Jean-Joachim Goriot, a former vermicelli-maker, who gets poor from too much fatherly love towards his spoilt and greedy daughters, Anastasie de Restaud and Delphine de Nucingen and is forced to live in a boarding-house owned by Madame Vauquer. In the boarding-house, among others, live Eugène de Rastignac, an impoverished nobleman and law student, who’s trying to establish himself in a high society (In French, the word Rastignac, has been used as the term for a social climber.) and Vautrin, an escaped convict and latent homosexual (this is more obvious in The Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans). It was said that ex-criminal, who’d later become policeman, Eugène François Vidocq was the model which inspired Balzac for the character of Vautrin.

In my opinion, the most crucial moment, as well as the most powerful one, is when Madame de Beauséant is “teaching” her cousin, de Rastignac how to deal with people on his way up in society. In short, she advises him to be cold and calculating, to use people, men and women equally, and to leave them when they accomplished their tasks. Most of all, he should find a young, wealthy, rich and stylish woman to open the "right doors" for him. However, all the way through, he must learn to hide his feelings, otherwise he’ll be ruined.

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