One of renowned French author Honoré de Balzac's finest works, Père Goriot provides a fascinating glimpse into Parisian life of the early 19th century. The rich character studies and themes of class, personal ambition, and materiality make this insightful novel as compelling today as when it was first published. At the shabby boarding house in the rue Neuve-Sainte-Geneviève, petty Madame Vauquer and her tenants wonder at the plight of the aging resident Goriot. Once a well-heeled merchant, Goriot was, at first, afforded special treatment from the Madame. But now something is clearly amiss in his financial affairs, and his increasingly tawdry appearance makes him a subject of ridicule in the household. Some think he lost in the markets, others see him as a lecherous patron of prostitutes, but one thing is clear: his selfless, complete devotion to his two daughters.
As the tragedy of old Goriot is revealed, the shallow values of society come into scrutiny.
"Le Père Goriot holds so much, and in proportion to what it holds is...so simple and compact, that it easily ranks among the few greatest novels we possess." (Henry James)
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If you read only one Balzac novel, this is it.
Balzac's powers of description are amazing -- and the characters are memorable.
Without doubt the young student Eugène de Rastignac, an attractive but misguidedly ambitious young man -- whose last name has actually entered the French language as a synonym for an opportunistic social climber -- an "arriviste." Rastignac wrestles with his own moral conscience as he manipulates people to achieve his social ends.
- David E. Gregson