This is the first book of my 2018 “French classics” TBR. Le Père Goriot is one of the instalments of La Comedie Humaine, Balzac’s monumental fresco. I found it in my mother’s bookcase and decided to give it a try!
Here is the Goodreads blurb, my review follows.
‘Pere Goriot’ is the tragic story of a father whose obsessive love for his two daughters leads to his financial and personal ruin. Interwoven with this theme is that of the impoverished young aristocrat, Rastignac, come to Paris from the provinces to make his fortune, who befriends Goriot and becomes involved with the daughters. The story is set against the background of a whole society driven by social ambition and lust for money.’
My husband often says that if Balzac had had a camera, he would have produced cinematographic masterpieces. It is true that he had a gift to spot on and describe the details of his characters’ appearance and mind that say everything about their personality. All this delivered in a brillant prose.
Balzac was certainly a truly talented craftsman. Each sentence was well worked and polished, they were not too long but very informative. I loved the images he used.
As for the characters, Père Goriot was an interesting one, although I spent the entire book wanting to kick him in the ass. His love and unconditional devotion to his daughters were so annoying sometimes! The end of his story was very touching though. His frivolous daughters were a total disgrace, I was sometimes about to be fooled by their apparent repentance, but in the end they were just self-centred, useless shallow spirits. As for Vautrin, presented as the « tempter », he was kind of elusive and difficult to decipher. He placed himself above the laws and thougt that the end justifies the means. There were lots of other interesting characters but my favourite was definitely Eugene. Good willed, full of good intentions, but also flawed and devoured by ambition. Always inclined to do good but so easily persuaded to do wrong! Definitely human. His moral struggles were extremely interesting to follow. Can’t wait to read more about him.
This said, if you look for a suspenseful and action-packed story, you may be disappointed. Balzac’s aim when crafting La Comedie Humaine, was to build a “natural history of humankind”. He was and still is the epitome of the naturalist writer, who, like a biologist who dissects the living kingdom, examines humankind under a magnifying lens: its types and constants, its variations and evolution. So there is a plot, for sure, but it mainly serves as the set for the presentations of different types of people, a background that renders in the most vivid manner the characters’ true nature. I actually enjoyed the story very much and found it well woven and imaginative, but I know people who find it boring, so I just wanted to warn you!
“Le beau Paris ignore ces figures blêmes de souffrances morales ou physiques. Mais Paris est un véritable océan. Jetez-y la sonde, vous n’en connaîtrez jamais la profondeur. Parcourez-le, décrivez-le? quelque soin que vous mettiez à le parcourir, à le décrire; quelques nombreux et intéressés que soient les explorateurs de cette mer, il s’y rencontrera toujours un lieu vierge, un autre inconnu, des fleurs, des perles, des monstres, quelque chose d’inouï, oublié par les plongeurs littéraires. La maison Vauquer est une de ces monstruosités curieuses.”