Honore de Balzac came to the idea to write a series of a novel about time and place he lived in and to combine them all under the name “The Human Comedy”. He wanted to cover all the important subjects from French society to which he belonged. “Father Goriot” is one of the most famous novels from “The Human Comedy”. This novel is in part called “Scenes from Parisian Life” and its theme perfectly belongs to this region. It’s a novel which speaks about money, love, success, aristocracy and the desire to stand out.
Balzac lived in France during political turbulence and lifestyle mixing of different classes. It was a time when social injustice was the biggest evil against which the lower classes couldn’t fight. Hunger and poverty ruled most of the country while the esteemed social classes enjoyed balls, socializing and all other perks of an aristocratic lifestyle. Balzac combined all of those motives into different elements of those day’s society by describing a small Mansion Vaquer whose owner was widower Vaquer. People who lived in the mansion had their reasons to be there, and the common reason was the money they owned and made. The mansion is also social structured, and people got the room they could afford. Balzac did that structure so he could present the social scale. Those who had more money had better rooms, and those who didn’t have a lot of it had to take what they got.
The novel’s theme is the life in Paris and it is shown in a series of numerous events. The narrator is unknown, objective and omniscient. It is possible to see some of Balzac’s personal thoughts in the novel. The main problem is shown through a father’s love for his daughters that had no limits. Other analyzed problems are the fight for survival in a big city, longing for success and reputation, frauds, lies and betrayals as the basic human foundation that allow us to survive. All of these motives can be found in the lives of Goriot and his daughters, Eugene Rastignac, Vautrin, and other tenants of the mansion.
This work was written during Realism, and it became one of its most significant representatives, not only in France but also worldwide. Balzac painted a picture of the French society that doesn’t exist today, but it’s still pretty much alive in his works because of the detailed descriptions of everyday life. Every part of society, people’s opinion about the world, the living space, the desire for certain things and love are so perfectly described that we can feel the power of that world. Cold colors are present because they help to describe the poverty’s atmosphere.
Balzac put a part of himself in his work by commenting on the youth’s potential to succeed. Success makes people do all sorts of things without always getting the result. Balzac stated his subjective and objective opinion about the society and its individuals that give us an insight into the mentalities of the citizens and the artist himself. Balzac’s stance is very clear on everything because he knew what it’s like to be poor and fighting for your life and he also had a vast knowledge about the aristocracy’s nature because he had a few chances to spend some time with them.
Theme: A life struggle intertwined with themes of father’s limitless love, longing for reputation and success, frauds, disappointments, and lies.
The work begins with a description of the neighborhood in which the mansion was built. In the beginning, Balzac asks rhetoric questions such as: “Will the people outside Paris understand this novel?” He also gave an answer to his own question by saying it will only be known by the people living between Montmartre and Montrouge.
Mansion Vaquer was visited by the people who lived there or ate lunch there. When this story took place, seven people were living in the mansion. The two best apartments were on the first floor. One of them belonged to Mrs. Couture, a Republican official’s widow and the other one belonged to widow Vaquer. Next to Mrs. Couture lived a young girl Victorine Taillefer and she respected Mrs. Couture like she was her mother. On the second floor, there were two apartments; one of them belonged to a senior man named Poret and the other one was Vautrin’s. Vautrin had about forty years when he wore a black wig, and he presented himself as an ex-salesman. The third floor had four rooms, and only two were rented; one belonged to Ms. Michonneau, and the other one was Goriot’s. He used to work as a vermicelli-maker. The other two rooms were meant for poor students who would come and go fast. A student by the name Eugene de Rastignac lived in one of them. Above the third floor was an attic where they dried their laundry and two little rooms where the house servant Cristopher and the chef Sylvie lived.
Every tenant was unusual and recognizable for some unique characteristics, starting from their poverty, age, and powerlessness, desire to live, desire to defraud, the past, potential and everything revolved around one thing – money. Everyone’s life path was pretty clear, except for Goriot’s. No one understood him very well or knew how he ended up poor and miserable. He was a complete mystery to them but he didn’t lose a night of sleep over it. He had way bigger concerns than their opinions.
Another unclear character is also mister Vautrin. On one hand he’s a good guy and on the other he is a traitor. There are many defrauds and falling in love in the mansion, for example in the beginning widow Vauqer had some feelings for Goriot but he didn’t pay much attention to her so she cut off his access to life necessities such as food, water, heat… The tenants, especially Mrs. Vauqer, were interested in the beautiful women Goriot was seen with. They thought that the women were his lovers but it turned out they were his daughters. Everyone was surprised by it because they clearly had a better life than their father. With time Goriot moved up to the third floor and paid less for food and rent. He also gave up tobacco. His face started changing and his health was getting worse. He was changing so rapidly that the tenants felt uncomfortable looking at him. No one still believed he actually had such daughter and lived in such misery. What they didn’t know was he fought in all kind of way to gain access to money so he could give it to his daughters.
After a detailed description of the mansion, its tenants, Goriot and his lifestyle, Mrs. Vaquers love, and the opinions of the tenants about the mysterious Goriot the plot switches over to another character – Eugene de Rastignac. During his first year in Paris, he had a lot of time to experience all the pleasures of the town, and he loved all of them. He admired the women, the city, and the province and with time he wanted to upgrade on the social scale. Rastignac was smart enough to see the influence women had in the society, so he decided to enter their world abruptly and find himself a woman who will protect him.
Rastignac comes from a poor family which saved all of its money and sent it to him so he could have a good life. Since his aunt Mrs. de Marcillac had some friends in the highest nobility classes, he discovered a way to succeed in the society. He started asking her all sorts of questions about his family, and in the end, she suggested him to go and meet Ms. de Beauseant. She was, because of her name and wealth, one of the most important noblewomen of the Parisian society.
Soon Rastignac entered the high society. The desire to succeed and get rich started to pile up. The world became beautiful and filled with hope for him. He went to dances, talked to higher class people and planned his success. One day he saw Goriot preparing his silver to take it to a pawn shop and he couldn’t believe when Goriot told him that Ms. Restaud, Rastignac’s desire, was actually Goriot’s daughter. Every word and situation that Rastignac retold to the old man made him cry.
One afternoon Rastignac went to visit Mrs. Beauseant and there he saw the perks of an aristocratic lifestyle. He went to the theater with her and everyone looked at them. Rastignac felt like he was dreaming. That night he met Delphine de Nuncigen, Goriot’s second daughter. Mrs. Restaud already began to ignore Rastignac’s calls because he unintentionally mentioned her father and she was obviously ashamed of him. Mrs. Nuncigen was way above her sister, in fact, she didn’t even consider her to be her sister. The two of them disowned each other like they disowned their father.
Rastignac didn’t hide his infatuation with her. He started to flirt with de Nuncigen and she kept her coolness and distance but she enjoyed it. AS Rastignac penetrated deeper and deeper into the high society he needed to pay more time to himself. He didn’t know how to fence, didn’t have a lot of money or fancy clothes for the higher class socializing. Mrs. Beauseant gave him a couple of advices about success and getting rich and it motivated him even more. He sat at the table and started writing a heartfelt letter to his mother and sisters, telling them about his big plan and asking them for money. When his mother read the letter about a new life and successes she promised to give him all of her money and to make him some shirts, handkerchiefs and other things. Rastignac was ready for this lifestyle and his aspiration to acquire money got bigger.
Rastignac told everything to Goriot, and the two of them became great friends. Goriot used the student to get information on his daughters. Mrs. Delphine asked Rastignac to come to her house. She told him in confidence all about her despair. She was deeply unhappy, even though she looked beautiful. Rastignac admitted his feelings, and she orders him to take her last 100 francs and go gamble.
In the casino, not knowing how to play, he bet his money on the number 21, because it was his age, and he won a few times in a row. Rastignac came back to Delphine, and she was ecstatic because, according to her, he had saved her. She told him that her marriage wasn’t going all that well and that she gave all of her money for dowry and now she had nothing. Delphine said her husband gives her just the right amount for everyday expenses and that she can’t turn to her father because she and her sister ruined him. She even gave Rastignac some of the money and told him that from now on he would eat and go to the theater with her. In the evening Rastignac told Goriot everything and gave him the money he got from Delphine.
Rastignac started gambling and losing. He got wasteful and Vautrin was observing Rastignac and told him his stance about his lifestyle. He gave him advice and insulted him on occasions. He seemed to be both helpful and a traitor. Rastignac scared him. When he got stuck in debts Vautrin offered to loan him some money. Rastignac took him up on his offer and paid him back a couple days after. Soon Rastignac started having some doubts about Vautrin.
One day Ms. Michonneau and Poirot were resting in the park. All of the sudden an agent approached them and told them the real story about Vautrin. His rela name was actually Jacques Collin. He was a convict and a loan shark who would take money from other convicts, keep it safe and then help the fugitives and their families. Ms. Michonneau accepted the offer to slip a potion into Vautrin’s beverage which will make him seem dead and write some words on his skin.
Vautrine was convincing Rastignac to marry young Victorine so he could get rich out of her dowry. He didn’t even think about it because he had eyes for only one woman. Those days in the mansion many events happened – Vautrin drank the potion and the letter on his skin revealed his true identity. Ms. Victorine got a lot of money because mister de Taillefer got wounded.
Delphine sent Rastignac a message saying she and her father are looking for an apartment in which they can live. Vautrin got arrested and he started yelling on Ms. Michonneau that she betrayed him and that he could’ve given her money in order to keep her mouth shut. Mrs. Vaquer couldn’t believe all that was happening. She had 18 tenants and now she has 10.
In the meantime Rastignac found out that Delphine’s husband invested his and hers money into many associations and because of that he had to sent them abroad but Delphine was penniless. She told her father all about her situation. A similar situation happened to his other daughter which came running to him saying she’s ruined. Her husband Maxime was in a bad condition and in order to save him she pawned all of her diamonds. Goriot was sad and angry because he expected his daughter’s would finally start helping him. He didn’t have enough money to cover their debts. He only had 1200 francs of rente. Rastignac heard about their situation and he took one bond from Vautrin, changed it to 1200 and to Goriot’s name. he wanted to stay close with the family. Goriot’s daughters diamonds at the ball of Mrs. Beauseant made him sad because all he could picture was poor Goriot suffering in his bed.
All of the problems made Goriot even more ill. His face started changing and it assumed a worse form. The only one who noticed it was Rastignac and through which Goriot was trying to get to his daughters. He wanted them to visit but both of them had some excuse; either they were ill or had a lot of work. Goriot was furious because he couldn’t believe that after all he has done for them they won’t even come and see him on his death bed. He stated that they did it all for the money and that a man knows who his children are when he’s near death.
Rastignac went to Delphine to tell her what’s happening to her father and she rejected his visit because she wasn’t feeling well. Delphine asked him where his watch was and Rastignac said he pawned it because he had to help Goriot. Mrs. Restaud took the courtesy to come but it was too late. When he father was dead she realized how cruel and inconsiderate she was to him. Since the son-in-laws didn’t send any money for the funeral Rastignac tried to pay for a decent funeral but he only managed to pay for a cheap coffin. No one but Rastignac went to his funeral. He in vain visited his daughters; they were too disappointed, sad and miserable to leave the house.
He paid for the funeral at a church 70 francs. The death was, just like the rest of Goriot’s life, poor and miserable without any loved ones. Rastignac looked at the grave with great sadness and shed a tear for Goriot which symbolized his transition from an innocent boy to a grown man ready to do anything to succeed.
Characters: Eugene de Rastignac, Goriot and his daughters, Mrs. Vauquer, mansion’s tenants,
Rastignac was a twenty-one year old law student who lived in the mansion out of his family’s poor savings. After drifting away from the real reason for coming to Paris which was his university, he dedicated himself to observing the world. He couldn’t put up with the misery and poverty surrounding him and he wanted more from life. His character developed gradually through the plot by upgrading his level of maturity, hope for a better and more successful life.
Boosted by his ambitions he entered the aristocratic society and fought to get rich and to make his life better. After meeting Goriot’s daughters he fell in love and started acting completely different. He made some money, started gambling but his lifestyle wasn’t correspondent to his financial boundaries.
Vautrin, as his voice of reason, tried to explain to him how to improve his social and financial status. Rastignac didn’t know if he should be scared of him or not. In the end, Rastignac became the strongest character after pawning everything he had to give Goriot a better life in his last days and to afford a funeral for him.
Father Goriot is a symbolic example of limitless parenting love. He describes what it feels like to have your blood in other human beings who show their happiness by wearing gowns, entertaining people and seducing men. His daughters had a wealthy lifestyle all because of their father’s sacrifice but they didn’t appreciate him or showed and gratitude. In the end of the work, Goriot dies and they realize their husbands are vicious for forbidding them to see their father and after his death they start having feelings for him. Goriot lived and died for his daughters after he loses himself in an emotional, physical and financial way. Love, as any other would, died because it wasn’t returned back.
Vautrin is the person with the strangest status in this work. He is the most mysterious persona and it turns out he was only posing to be Vautrin. His real name was Jacques Collin. Vautrin was a convict and a loan shark who took money from other prisoners, kept it safe and then used it to help the fugitives and their families. He was discovered when Ms. Michonneau put a potion in his drink which made letters appear on his skin revealing he was a prisoner. Vautrin had his own perspective of Rastignac. He gave him advices in order to get money out of him. Even though he hid his kindness every now and then he would let a certain depth come out of him.
Honore de Balzac Biography
Honore de Balzac was born in France in 1799. He was a dramatic, storyteller and novel writer and all of his novels belong to Realism. He was born in a respectable family and he planned to be an attorney. Since he never received enough love and warmth from his family in 1820 he decided to break all ties with them and moved to Paris to dedicate himself to writing.
He was disappointed when he couldn’t achieve fame in a short and easy way so he started doing questionable jobs. His failed jobs bring him into a financial crisis. After that he dedicated himself to literature for the rest of his life in order to pay off his debts.
In 1829 he published a novel “Les Chouans” and the novel made part of “The Human Comedy”. In “The Human Comedy” he described his vision of the Parisian society of the 19th century. In a short period of time he created more than a hundred works. His most famous novels are “Lost Illusions”, “Le Pere Goriot”, “Cousin Pons”, “Cousin Bett”, “Louis Lambert”…
Completely exhausted with work and paying off debts he died in Paris in 1850 when he was 51 years old.