By: Honore de Balzac
Format/Source: eBook; my copy
By 1819, when Balzac’s novel opens, old Goriot is reduced to living in a mean forty-five franc room on the third floor, his fine cambric shirts and diamond pin long sold. Moon-faced, unhappy and unkempt, his only visitors are two glamorous Parisian women, ‘too pretty to be good’, who call infrequently and surreptitiously, leaving their carriages on the corner of the boulevard. They are his daughters, Goriot claims, but the only lodger generous enough to believe him is Eugene Rastignac, an impoverished law student, ambitious to plant a foot in the glittering society of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
I read Cousin Bette (review) last month and didn’t enjoy it but it didn’t stop me from checking out Le Pere Goriot, which has also been sitting on my eReader for some time. I’ve heard good things about this book so I decided to read it sooner rather than later.
This book is part of the Books on France Reading Challenge 2013 that I am participating in.
Le Pere Goriot was an interesting novel. It can still be rather long-winded; Vautrin, for example, goes on for pages about his views of society and Pere Goriot, while very ill, manages to give a rather long speech about paternal love. But while these descriptions and speeches can go on for pages, it was much more interesting than the previous novel of his I read and easier to follow.
I can see why he was praised for his use of realism; the characters that populate this novel are nuanced with their own motivations and characteristics. Many of them are corrupt (materialistically, attitude-wise, etc.) or susceptible to corruption and otherwise. The scenes set in Parisian society reflect the scheming and facade-like nature of their society, filled with social climbers and false emotion.
I really felt bad for Pere Goriot and the way he gave up almost everything he had so that his daughters can live comfortably. He certainly does give off the King Lear vibes, especially with the way his daughters treat him and his blindness to some of their more capricious and manipulative behaviour. I was so annoyed at the two daughters on his behalf (whether he likes it or not!), and they had the nerve to blame him for the state of their marriages? O_o Anyways, I thought Pere Goriot was an interesting character in representing the universal sense of fatherly love and care for his children.
I’m honestly not too sure how I feel about Eugene’s character though; he’s young, he’s eager, wanting to climb the ladder and enter those social circles. He had good intentions but it’s easy to get lost into the intricacies of Parisian society and all of its expenditure. And, to be honest, I didn’t really care for his story as much, I was much more interested in Goriot’s relationship with his daughters.
Overall, Le Pere Goriot was an interesting novel, far more than Cousin Bette. Balzac’s look at Parisian society at this time was fascinating to read, as were the character interactions and emotions. The presentation could’ve been tighter, the speeches less long-winded but otherwise I am glad that I checked out this novel.