Father Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

Le Père Goriot
Father Goriot
Also translated as Old Goriot


Madame Vauquer has run a boarding House for forty years. Although very rundown and verging on squalor, Maison Vauquer has a respectable reputation. The drawing-room is depressing and reeks of the odeur de pension (boarding house smell). Yet it could be considered delicately perfumed in comparison to the dining-room which could spoil anyone’s appetite. It will seat twenty; there are currently eighteen paying for dinner, including others from the neighborhood who come partake of the cheap fare. Breakfast is casual, like family, with only the residents in attendance.

The landlady arrives first for breakfast, preceded by her cat. Corpulent and sloppy, with a cap and false front (artificial hair), she shuffles along in her creased old slippers. She is like all women who “have been in difficulties” and is also the happiest of all the residents of Maison Vauquer. Her arrival is the signal for the fat cook Sylvie to begin serving breakfast.

There are currently seven residents. The best rooms are on the ground floor. Madame Vauquer lives in the smaller ones and the others are rented for one hundred fifty francs a month (including board) to a widow, Madame Couture, and her young relative, Victorine Taillefer, who has been disowned by her father but given an allowance of six hundred francs a year. Victorine is pale and melancholy but could compete with the loveliest women if she had dainty clothes and love letters.

Rooms on the second floor are seventy-two francs monthly. One is occupied by an elderly man named Poiret and the other by a man of about forty named Vautrin who wears a black wig and dyes his whiskers black. Vautrin is a jovial sort, but inspires a bit of fear. He is always willing to lend money and no one would dare not to repay him. He is handy with certain things like repairing broken locks. He is also the only resident to have his own key which enables him to come and go as he pleases without ringing at night after the doors are locked. Vautrin calls Madame Vauquer “Ma” and pays fifteen francs a month for an after dinner cup of coffee with brandy.

On the third floor (forty-five francs monthly), there are four rooms but one is currently vacant. An elderly spinster, Mlle Michonneau, is in one and a retired vermicelli manufacturer everyone calls Pere Goriot has another. The final resident is Eugène de Rastignac, a law student from a noble but impoverished family in Angouleme. Eugène’s family scrimp to send him one hundred francs a month.

Above the third floor is a drying loft and the two rooms occupied by Sylvie and the odd-job man Christophe.

Madame Vauquer’s boarders are her “spoiled children” and she treats them in strict accordance with the amount they pay for their board and extras. Except for Madame Couture, everyone’s clothing is as dreary and rundown as the boarding house itself. The collection of people living in the boarding house compose a miniature society. In this small society, as in larger ones, there is one unfortunate soul who is the laughing-stock and the butt of all their jokes. In Maison Vauquer, this is Pere Goriot.

Monsieur Goriot lived on the ground floor when he moved to the Maison Vauquer in 1813 after retiring.

Madame Vauquer’s curiosity made her very accommodating in helping him unpack. Among other things he showed her a little silver posset dish which his wife had given him on their first anniversary. He said he would never part with it, but would drink his coffee from it every morning for the rest of his life. That night as she lay in bed thinking of all his lovely possessions, Madame Vauquer dreamed of becoming Madame Goriot, even though she didn’t think much of his physical appearance; he was around sixty-nine to her unclaimed forty-eight.

Madame Vauquer compiled a fancy prospectus for her boarding-house and attracted Madame la Comtesse de l’Ambermesnil, a thirty-six year old widow awaiting a pension settlement. The fare at the dining-table improved dramatically as did Madame Vauquer’s wardrobe. There was even a daily fire in the sitting room and she treated her new friend to a hat in appreciation for her fashion assistance. However, when the landlady asked her new lodger to sound out Monsieur Goriot, it turned out that “la Comtesse” wanted him for herself. When she was turned down, she left, owing six months rent and other expenses.

Madame Vauquer blamed Goriot for the lady’s leaving and when she saw she had no chance with him, her ambition turned to petty revenge. She took away all the dainty extras from the dinner table and was exasperated when it did not upset Goriot who was accustomed to plain, simple food. Her only resource was to speak slightingly of him and ridicule him to the other boarders.

Early one morning, hearing the rustle of a dress, Madame Vauquer saw a pretty young woman go into Goriot’s room. Sylvia followed her when she left and saw her get into a fancy carriage. When the young woman is mentioned at dinner, Goriot proudly says it was his daughter but no one believed him. A month later the same young woman comes and she is dressed for a ball. Everyone thinks she is a different woman. A few days later, a different young woman comes twice, once in the morning and once dressed for the evening, so now everyone is convinced that Goriot has four mistresses, even though he insists he has two daughters.

After a couple of years, Goriot’s finances forced him to move up to the next floor where he paid seventy-five francs monthly and toward the end of the third year he moved up yet another flight in order to pay only forty-five francs. He did without his snuff and dismissed his hairdresser, shocking the other residents when they saw his dingy olive gray hair. His wardrobe and his appearance is now that of a feeble man in his dotage.

Madame Vauquer taunts him that his daughters no longer come to visit him, implying that they are not his daughters. Goriot starts as if he has been stabbed.

As of November, 1819, Eugène de Rastignac has completed one year of his studies. During his vacation he realized the sacrifices his family was making in sending him 1200 francs of their 3000 franc income. The approximately 1800 francs remaining must maintain his parents, four siblings and an aunt with an annuity. It left him more determined than ever to succeed. During his year in Paris he saw how much influence women had and decided he needed some “feminine patronage.” His aunt, who had been presented at court, gave him a letter of introduction to a rich relation of hers, Madame la Vicomtesse de Beauseant. When Eugène sends her the letter he is immediately invited to a ball.

Eugène returns quietly from the ball. It is late at night, no one expected him until dawn but he planned to do some studying. Instead he dreams of a woman he met at the ball named Comtesse Anastasie de Restaud. In the quiet house, he hears a noise which sounds like the last gasp of a dying man and goes to investigate. Peeking through Goriot’s keyhole, he sees him twisting a silver plate and cup into an ingot. He’s impressed by Goriot’s strength but thinks he must be crazy when he sees him crying. He hears Goriot mutter, “Poor child.”

As Eugène returns to his room he hears two men stealthily coming up the stairs and sees a light in Vautrin’s room. Going down a few steps and listening, he hears the clink of gold and then the steps of men descending again. When Madame Vauquer calls out to know who is there, Vautrin announces it is only him coming in. Eugène decides that one needs to stay up all night in order to know what is going on in Paris.

The morning is foggy and Sylvie and Christophe talk while waiting for Madame Vauquer and the others. Christophe mentions the two men who came to see Vautrin and says Vautrin gave him money to keep quiet about it. He is always a good tipper. No one else is except maybe Madame Couture but Christophe likes Goriot because the ladies he sends him to give him nice tips. They both mention having been questioned by outsiders about Vautrin.

When Madame Vauquer finally comes into the dining room she sees her cat drinking out of one of the milk bowls. Sylvie says she will add some water and give it to Pere Goriot who won’t notice.

Vautrin arrives, singing and happy as always. He mentions just seeing Goriot selling some silver and then going to Gobseck the moneylender. At this point Christophe comes down with a letter he is to deliver for Goriot. Vautrin snatches it and reads the name: Madame la comtesse Anastasie de Restaud! He peers inside and sees a receipt for payment.

Madame Couture and Victorine return from saying prayers. Victorine is upset because this is the one day each year when she tries to see her father. Vautrin says that in a few days he will see what he can do.

Others arrive, among them Eugène who mentions being captivated by a woman at the ball last night and then seeing her in the area. Vautrin astounds him by telling him her name and that she was going to see Gobseck. At the mention of Anastasie’s name, Goriot looks up and cries that he must have been too late. Eugène deduces that Paris is a muckheap and mentions the silver plate and cup he saw Goriot twisting. Madame Vauquer says she is surprised he would part with it as it meant the world to him.

At four that afternoon everyone is again gathering at Maison Vauquer. Madame Couture relates Victorine’s latest failed attempt with her father who stood cutting his nails and then threw her mother’s last letter which Victorine begged him to read into the fire. When Goriot hears this and that Victorine’s brother didn’t even speak to her, he says, “What inhuman wretches they must be!”

Bianchon mentions he is a student of Gall and mutters to Vautrin that Mlle Michonneau always makes him shudder and that she has the bump of Judas.

The next day, Eugène dresses in his finest (but provincial) attire and goes to visit Madame de Restaud. He’s embarrassed about having to walk, but whiles away the time devising witty remarks to use. The servant, Maurice, tells him she is busy but to go through to the Salon. Eugène, trying to act like he knows his way around enters the servants’ part of the house. But before he gets back to the anteroom he hears Goriot taking leave of Madame de Restaud and the sound of a kiss!

Comte Maxime de Trailles is there. Eugène realizes his is her lover and although he knows he’s in the way, he decides to remain. Comte de Restaud arrives and Eugène is amazed to see that he and Maxime are on friendly terms. When Restaud learns of Eugène’s family, they discuss some ancestors who served together. This gives Anastasie and Maxime a few moments alone. Maxime is furious and seems to be waiting for Eugène to give him cause to challenge him to a duel. Anastasie says not to be a fool, that she would set Restaud on him.

When Eugène mentions that his neighbor is Pere Goriot, Restaud angrily cries, “you might have called him ‘Monsieur Goriot’!” Shortly afterwards, Restaud shows Eugène to the door and as Eugène steps outside into the rain he hears Restaud instruct Maurice to say that no one is home in the event he calls again.

As Eugène reaches the street, a cab driver who has just dropped off a marriage party, beckons Eugène, who although so poor decides to take the cab to Madame de Beauseant’s. He feels laughed at by the cab driver when he is confused after being asked which Hotel Beauseant and when he arrives, he hears the servants laughing at the vulgar bridal carriage.

A fine brougham with spirited horses and a coachman with powdered hair indicates that Eugène’s cousin also has a visitor. It is the Marquis d’Ajuda-Pinto, her lover of three years who has come to tell her he is marrying Mlle de Rochefide and the banns are about to be published.

The Marquis is relieved when Eugène arrives as he is able to make his escape without the dreaded scene. He says he cannot join her at the Italiens that evening as he is dining at the English Ambassador’s. As soon as he leaves, Madame de Beauseant rushes to the window and hears the directions to the coachman: “To M. de Rochefide’s house.” She immediately writes him a note asking for an explanation and gives it to her servant Jacques, telling him to either deliver it personally to the Marquis at the Rochefides’ that evening or, if he is not there to return it to her. She then turns her attention to Eugène.

Eugène relates his visit to Mme de Restaud. They are interrupted by the Duchesse de Langeais who has come to tell Eugène’s cousin that the banns of d’Ajuda and Mlle de Rochefide are to be published the next day. Madame de Beauseant changes the subject by asking Eugène about his blunder. Eugène and his cousin support each other and begin to forge a bond. He is told that Anastasie is Goriot’s daughter and also about the other daughter, Delphine de Nucingen. Both girls and their husbands disowned Goriot as an embarrassment once the Bourbons returned to power and after he had no more money to give them. After the Duchesse leaves, Madame de Beauseant tells Eugène that he should make Delphine his mistress and it can be accomplished because of the rivalry between the sisters. Delphine would do anything to be admitted to a higher society than her sister and Madame de Beauseant is willing to invite her to some functions–but not to receive her during the day. She further advises Eugène to use people and not to care about them, but if he ever does fall in love, to keep it secret. As he is returning to Maison Vauquer, the wounded young man thirsts for vengeance against society, even dreaming of killing Maxime in a duel. Suddenly reality creeps in. He has no money.

Eugène thinks back to the ostentatious display of wealth at the Restaud home and compares it to the elegance of the Beauseant home. When he enters the dining room of the boarding house, he is disgusted at the squalid surroundings and the people who are eating like animals at a trough.

Vautrin remarks that Eugène’s visit to Anastasie must not have gone well and Eugène tells them that she has closed her door to him because he mentioned dining with her father. This brings tears to Goriot’s eyes which he passes off as snuff in his eyes. Eugène tells them that from now on anyone who bothers Goriot will answer to him as Goriot is worth more than the rest of them put together except for the ladies. He calls at Anastasie’s several times and is never admitted even though he is careful to arrive after Maxime’s departure. He stops studying law and begins studying society and calls on his cousin several times.

Eugène learns Goriot’s history from Muret, the purchaser of Goriot’s business. He hears how he had been a thrifty and hard-working but simple workman before the Revolution and was able to take advantage of his master’s fall in 1789. Goriot knew grain, even if he knew little else of the world, he knew grain and trading grain. Goriot had loved and admired his wife and when she died after seven years of marriage he gave all his affection to his two young daughters. When the spoiled daughters grew up and married men of their own choosing, they were embarrassed to have a father in trade. After five years, Goriot gave in and retired, hoping to live with one of his daughters. When he could no longer even see them except privately, he moved into Maison Vauquer in despair.

Vautrin has realized that Victorine has feelings for Eugène. He proposes to Eugène he arrange a marriage worth one million francs for him and Eugène will give him two hundred thousand francs so he can emmigrate to America. The plan is for an excellent marksman to kill Victorine’s brother in a duel, leaving Victorine the sole heir to her father’s fortune. It’s not only the fastest but practically the only way for Eugène to become wealthy and powerful. When Eugène expresses his horror at this plan, Vautrin tells him that he will surely do worse himself some day and gives him two weeks in which to change his mind.

Goriot tells Eugène that Delphine de Nucingen will be at the Carigliano’s ball on Monday. He found out from her maid. The maids are almost his only source of information about his daughters’ activities.

Eugène dines at the Beauseant Mansion and later accompanies his cousin to the Italiens where he sees Delphine for the first time. Although Madame de Beauseant critiques her looks, Eugène is enchanted. She points out de Marsay who is with someone else this evening and says Delphine is very upset and “there’s no better moment to approach a woman, especially a banker’s wife.”

When d’Ajuda appears, Eugène is impressed by the look of genuine love on his cousin’s face. At her request, d’Ajuda takes Eugène to Delphine’s box and introduces them. Eugène tells Delphine how Anastasie has closed her doors to him because he mentioned their father. He cagily mentions how distasteful Madame de Beauseant and her friend found this disloyalty. Delphine says how poorly Anastasie treats their father and that she can’t think of Eugène as a stranger if he knows her father.

As Eugène walks home, he thinks he could make use of Delphine’s husband to make a fortune. When he arrives home, he knocks on Goriot’s door. Goriot admits him and quickly jumps back in bed. This is the first time Eugène has actually been in Goriot’s room and he is shocked to see how wretched and dismal it is. He thinks that even the lowliest messenger would have better accommodations. There is not even proper bedding.

Eugène tells Goriot about his evening at the Italiens and on being asked which daughter he likes better, replies Delphine because she loves her father more. Goriot continues to maintain that both daughters love him equally and it is only their husbands who cause this neglect of him. When Goriot asks what message Delphine sent to him, Eugène lies and says she sent her love and kisses although he knows she had no thought at all of her father.

The next morning at breakfast Goriot sits beside Eugène. Vautrin, who has not seen Eugène since their conference, seems to be trying to read his thoughts. Eugène recalls Mlle Taillefer’s dowry but decides that his new passion for Delphine is a good antidote to the evil thoughts which enter his head unbidden. He soon leaves for the Ecole de Droit in order to spend as little time as possible in the boarding house which is now odious to him.

During the day, Eugène and Bianchon happen to meet in the Luxembourg Gardens and have their conversation about the Chinese mandarin. When Bianchon concludes that he would let the Chinaman live, Eugène replies, “Thank you, Bianchon; you have done me good. We will always be friends.” Just before they part, Bianchon mentions that he saw Michonneau and Poiret talking to a man he suspects is an undercover detective and that they bear watching.

Back at Maison Vauquer again, Goriot hands Eugène a letter from Delphine inviting him to join her in her box on Saturday to hear Italian music. She tells him to come to dinner and relieve her husband of the task of escorting her.

Goriot is thrilled just to smell the paper that his daughter’s fingers have touched. Eugène is cautious. Although he does not know the great lengths to which women will go to be admitted to the inner circle of society, he knows that Delphine wants to use him.

First half summarized by Dagny, September, 2007


Our hero Eugène de Rastignac has been invited to spend the evening with the lovely (albeit married) Delphine Nucingen. He is surprised to see Delphine looking distraught, and this stings his pride. They get in a carriage, and Delphine asks to be driven to the Palais-Royal, where gambling houses are said to proliferate. She explains to Eugène that Nucingen keeps her on a short leash, and she owes money to that notorious rake Henri de Marsay, which galls her.

She hands Eugène a bag containing a hundred francs and puts him to the test by asking him to find a casino and turning that hundred francs into six thousand. Eugène finds a casino and–in two turns of the roulette wheel–wins the six thousand francs. This does not set a good precedent for our young hero, as no one but cheats win at gambling in the long term.

Delphine is elated and throws Eugène some loving looks that all but melt him. On Eugène’s advice, Delphine pays off the de Marsay debt immediately and gives Eugène the balance, claiming she originally intended to split it with him. The world is Eugène’s oyster at this point. He has had fantastic beginner’s luck at roulette, and there is the possibility that Delphine will cuddle up to her golden boy and offer her treasures that he has only imagined.

They go to the opera together, where they are seen and talked about by tout Paris. Eugène is puzzled, however, that Delphine’s ardor seems to have cooled from the passionate kisses she gave him at the Palais-Royal. Upbraided for her lack of consistency, she explains it well: “Last time, . . . I was showing gratitude for a devotion I had never hoped for; now it would be a promise.”

Eugène returns to Ma Vauqer’s place and checks in with Père Goriot. The old man is outraged at Nucingen’s stinginess and promises to see his attorney Derville to see if she has any recourse to accessing her dowry. The young man gives Goriot a thousand francs of the three thousand Delphine has given him and claims that Delphine told him to give it to her father. Goriot’s eyes fill with tears.

As he goes to bed, Eugène meditates that doing the right thing has its rewards.

After his brilliant debut, Eugène continues his conquest of society–but at a cost! His funds begin to dwindle, and he realizes that Vautrin’s pessimistic assessment of how much it costs to be a social lion in Paris is spot on: “If you want to cut a figure in Paris, you must have three horses and a tilbury for the daytime, and a brougham for the evening; making a total of nine thousand francs for your carriages. You would be unworthy of your destiny if you did not spend three thousand francs at your tailor, six hundred at your perfumer’s, three hundred at the bootmaker’s, and three hundred at the hatter’s. As for your laundress, she’ll cost you a thousand.”

Eugène actually begins to consider Mlle Taillefer as a possibility, with Vautrin taking notice. Encountering him, Bianchon asks: “So have we killed the mandarin?” Eugène’s answer: “Not yet, . . . but he’s at his last gasp.”

Our hero is also in debt to the Marquis d’Ajuda-Pinto and Maxime de Trailles. Vautrin offers to lend him the money, keeps urging Mlle Taillefer upon him, and criticizes his scruples: “You are still playing childish games.”

Mlle Michonneau and her friend Poiret the Parrot are in cahoots with a police agent named M Gondureau, who is hot on the trail of Vautrin. This is where we learn more about the mysterious Monsieur Vautrin, whose real name appears to be Jacques Collin, alias Death-Dodger (or Trompe-la-Mort/Cheat Death). He has made his money acting as a banker and adviser for convicts and as a member of the secretive “Society of Ten Thousand,” men who won’t do a job for less than ten thousand francs. Also, he appears to be drawn to young men, such as our Rastignac.

What Gondureau wants is to be sure that Vautrin is Collin, so he is enlisting the help of the two lodgers, who bid fair to be the most unattractive characters in the book so far, to help him make the positive identification and deal a death blow to the nefarious Society’s activities. (The ID in question is a brand on the shoulder that appears when one strikes the skin around it.) This they agree to do, for three thousand francs.

In the meantime, Pere Goriot has surprising news for Eugène, who has thought that Delphine had lost interest in him. The old man announces that he has arranged for new de luxe living quarters for Eugène, and begs to be allowed to occupy one room in the attic so that he could snool over his daughters. And, just moments before, Vautrin had announced to the young man that the duel that would make Victorine an heiress by killing Taillefer’s only male heir was all set. In a quandary, Rastignac begs Goriot to tell Monsieur Taillefer of the upcoming duel and to do what he can to put it off.

Alas, Vautrin has heard. As dinner is served at Ma Vauquer’s, our criminal mastermind orders wine for the table. It is no coincidence that two of the guests are overcome with the wine, Rastignac and Goriot. It looks as if Taillefer will not get his warning.

The next day gives us one of the most noteworthy scenes in this great novel. It begins with Rastignac receiving a sorrowful letter from his Delphine as to why he didn’t call on her the previous evening as planned (he was unconscious at the time). At the same time, word reaches the Maison Vauquer that Victorine’s brother has been wounded in a duel and is not expected to live. Exit Victorine and Mme Couture to visit the hitherto obdurate father. Vautrin smirks at Eugène because he has delivered on his part of the “devil’s bargain” that would make Victorine’s fortunate accessible to the young law student.

Vautrin pours himself some coffee and adds the cream that has been spiked by Mlle Michonneau with knock-out drops she and Poiret obtained from Gondureau. He drops like a stone and leaves the assembled guests thinking he has had a stroke. Mlle Michonneau helps Ma Vauquer with her lodger and is able to discover the brand on his shoulder that definitively identifies him as Jacques Collin, Death-Dodger, the “sorbonne” (or brains) of Paris criminality.

Just before the police arrive to make their arrest, Bianchon lets drop a stray remark that blows the cover of the “Venus of the Père Lachaise”: “The day before yesterday Mademoiselle Michonneau was talking about some gentleman nicknamed Death-Dodger; there’s a name that would just suit you [Vautrin].” Vautrin knows the jig is up. Indeed, the police arrive, cover all the exits, and take the defiant Jacques Collin into custody. Vautrin identifies Mlle Michonneau as the snitch who doctored his coffee and turned him in to the flics.

Ma Vauquer’s tenants are up in arms against Michonneau and her boyfriend and force them to leave the boarding house. Ma Vauquer is in a quandary: she is beginning to lose her boarders. Michonneau and Poiret are forced out; Victorine and Mme Couture are likely to move up in the world and out of the boarding house; and now Goriot and Rastignac are about to move to the Rue d’Artois.

With Vautrin off to prison and the pressure regarding Victorine off for the time being, there is played a sweet little scene between Delphine and Eugène as he sees the new chocolate box of a bachelor’s establishment into which he’ll move with Goriot.

The dream of Delphine and Eugène and Goriot all together on the Rue d’Artois receives a check when Eugène hears Delphine’s agitated voice coming out of her father’s little cubbyhole at Ma Vauquer’s. As mentioned earlier, Goriot had seen his lawyer Derville about getting Nucingen to return Delphine’s dowry. That led to the Alsatian banker putting on his best poor mouth and claiming that the request would catapult him into poverty. He is apparently willing to give his wife her freedom providing she leaves her money invested with hubby. He had even (supposedly) dismissed his mistress and is planning a course of stringent domestic economy for a period of TWO YEARS.

According to Delphine, Nucingen said, “Either all is lost, you are left without a farthing, you are ruined, for I would never find anyone else to be my accomplice; or you will leave me to carry through my ventures to a successful conclusion.”

Goriot is stunned by this setback. He threatens to take the matter to the courts and even as far as parliament. Delphine continues that Nucingen’s investments are involved with bogus construction projects and phony bankruptcies, implying that the law could descend on him if it was found out.

No sooner does Goriot crumple from Delphine’s problems than dear little Anastasie comes knocking. She had sold to the notorious moneylender Gobseck a diamond belonging to her husband to pay off Maxime de Trailles, only to be discovered in her perfidy. Monsieur de Restaud demands to know if either of his two children is his own (only the eldest is) and demands his wife’s written authorization to sell off her property.

Now comes an integral piece. We have already seen that Anastasie and Delphine have descended on their father to help pull their chestnuts out of the fire. And what sizable chestnuts they were! Anastasie has sold a valuable diamond that didn’t belong to her, and Delphine has been spending fearsome amounts of money to maintain a position in society.

Both sisters, as well as Mme de Beauséant, have been so foolish as to try to buy the loves of such hard-hearted layabouts as Maxime de Trailles and Henri de Marsay (both members of The Thirteen), and the Marquis d’Ajuda-Pinto. “Tout Paris” knew about these relationships, and the fall of these striving socialites has been the entertainment of Paris society for some time.

Sadly, it is the downfall of Goriot. After his daughter’s visit, he makes one more foray in a vain attempt to join the army, and then collapses. He continues to decline until the final crisis is reached. He is under the attentive care of Bianchon (and his medical associates) and Rastignac, who appear to be more faithful than his daughters. From this point on, he receives no visits from Anastasie or Delphine until it is too late.

Intervening is one of the grand entertainments of the day: the Marquis d’Ajuda-Pinto has thrown Mme de Beauséant over for a younger woman and doesn’t even bother replying to the invitation to her ball. Mme de Beauséant finds out in advance, resolves to put the best face on her failure, and promptly vanish from Paris society forever. But not before she asks Eugène to collect her love letters from the Marquis, which he does with no resistance from the Marquis. Mme de Beauséant burns the letters in her grate. In the meantime, she smiled and acted the gracious hostess while Paris society watched her crack from within.

Eugène frantically tries to get either or both daughters to pay a visit, but after the ball, both are put on short rations and an even shorter choke leash by their respective husbands. Neither daughter visits Goriot.

Goriot, while raving, becomes like Lear raging at Goneril and Regan. He denounces his daughters–but takes it all back again. The question is: Which was the more lucid moment?
The denunciation? The forgiveness?

The old man finally dies and is buried in a pauper’s grave at Père Lachaise cemetery in Belleville. The daughters do not even appear here, but their empty carriages do put in an appearance?!?

Rastignac is disillusioned and resolves to conquer Paris, but first he plans an evening with Delphine de Nucingen.
So ends one of the greatest novels ever written. I have read it three or four times now, and constantly find myself being deeply affected–especially at the scenes of Eugène with Mme de Beauséant and the Duchesse de Langeais when he tries to learn about his social offenses, and the heartwrenching death of Goriot.

Second half summarized by Jim, October, 2007


Read it here

Summarized by Jim and Dagny, September — October, 2007


2 comments on “Father Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

  1. scamperpb says:

    As I’ve been reviewing the “Human Comedy” works in the order that our yahoo group read them, I’ve collected writings for each work. As a start, the summary posted on the belong and anything Saintsbury has to say on the work. Then I add interesting articles, Wikipedia entries, research from my library’s Literature resources like Gale, etc. And top it off with reader comments (like those of Lisa) at Goodreads. Finally, I look in my books about Balzac and his works.

    On many of the works I can find very little, which is why our Balzac blog seems important. Often my whole collection will be maybe 10 pages or so. Not true of “Le Pere Goriot”, which the literary world judges to be the best f the best. I stopped collecting pages at 134, and I’ll never be able to finish reading all the passages in my reference books about this work. And the critics are right, this is Bazac’s very best work. I enjoyed reading about reading “Le Pere Goriot” almost as much as I enjoyed reading the novel – and I read the novel twice. Balzac steals Shakespeare’s “King Lear” plot, but the bard would be proud. He keeps the store lean and mean, not overly complicating it with extraneous characters and plots like he does sometimes. And, oh, he shows so vividly the greed for money and power, the scorn of children whose father gave them too much too easily, the pathos of life. I realized on reviewing the work how important Rastignac is, and how hopelessly he is lured to the life of money and corruption. I didn’t notice on the first reading how good and pure Bianchon the physician is, and if I’m not mistaken he never becomes a corrupt man. I wonder if he’s the only Balzac character that doesn’t succumb to society. Perhaps.

    I often have wondered what makes Balzac so great when he’s good and not so great at other times. Henry James wrote about Balzac in an article entitled “Honor de Balzac” that provides some hints. He says Balzac profoundly believed that it was “possible to write magnificent novels, and that he was the man to do it. He believed…that human life was infinitely dramatic and picturesque, and that he possessed an incomparable analytic perception of the fact…The chief point is that he himself was his most perfect dupe; he believed in his own magnificent rubbish, and if he made it up…as he went along, his credulity kept pace with his invention. This was, briefly speaking, because he was morally and intellectually so superficial…the moral, the intellectual atmosphere of his genius is extraordinarily gross and turbid…When we approach Balzac we seem to enter into a great temperament – a prodigious nature. He strikes us half the time as an extraordinary physical phenomenon. His robust imagination seems a sort of physical faculty, and impresses us more with its sensible mass and quantity than with its lightness or firmness….There is nothing in all imaginative literature that in the least resembles his mighty passion for things – for material objects, for furniture, upholstery, bricks and mortar…To get on in this world, to succeed, to live greatly in all one’s senses, to have plenty of things – this was Balzac’s infinite; it was here that his heart came in. It was natural, therefore, that the life of mankind should seem to him above all an eager striving along this line – a multitudinous greed for personal enjoyment.”

    That says a lot to me, and it is Balzac’s supreme confidence and his materialistic view of life, and his preoccupation with how to get wealth that sometimes frustrate me. But in “Le Pere Goriot” he got it right. James says that “Balzac’s portraiture of people is his strongest gift, and it is so strong that it easily distances all competition. Two other writers on this line have gone very far, but they suffer by comparison with him. Dickens often sets a figure before us with extraordinary vividness; but the outline is fantastic and arbitrary; we but half believe in it, and feel as if we were expected but half to believe in it…But behind Balzac’s figures we feel a certain heroic pressure which drives them home to our credence…The imagination that produced them is working at a greater heat; they seem to proceed from a sort of creative infinite, and they help each other to be believed. It is pictorially a vaster, sturdier, more systematic style of portraiture than Turgenieff’s. This is altogether the most valuable element in Balzac’s novels; it is hard to see how the power of physical evocation can go further. “

    And it is when Balzac throws himself into his characters that we are stunned – who can ever forget Goriot, Rastignac, Bianchon, and Vautrin? And, like Proust’s Swann being told he isn’t dying because the society matron who is supposed to be his dear friend wants to go to the ball wearing her red shoes, Goriot’s daughter Dephine denies the dying of her own father because she doesn’t want to miss her entry into Paris society. Unforgettable.


  2. This is the first book by Balzac that I ever read and the one that made me a fan of his work for life. I was loaned the book by a neighbor. It was a sad paperback with the pages falling out–but she wanted it back!

    i’ve now read it about half a dozen times in as many different translations.


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