Pere Goriot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Pere Goriot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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ISBN-13: 9781593082857
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 07/01/2005
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 310,580
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.12(d)

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From Peter Connor’s Introduction to Pere Goriot

Père Goriot is also the perfect novel to start with if one has read none of the roughly ninety novels and stories that make up La Comédie humaine (The Human Comedy), the title Balzac gave to his collected oeuvre. It is probably with Père Goriot that Balzac consciously set about perfecting the technique of recurring characters that marks his signal contribution to literary history; in it, he introduces a number of people who reappear in later novels, and brings back a few who have been introduced already in earlier ones. Indeed, Rastignac stands out as an exemplary figure in this new way of envisioning the novel. Avid readers of Balzac at the time had encountered him already in La Peau de chagrin (The Wild Ass’s Skin, 1831), a novel published before Père Goriot (1835) but in which Rastignac appears as a mature man, older than the young student living at the Maison Vauquer in Père Goriot. Père Goriot gives us the story of Rastignac’s beginnings in society; a prequel to The Wild Ass’s Skin, it provides the backstory (as they say in Hollywood), just as other novels in La Comédie humaine will inform us about Rastignac’s adventures later in life. Explaining his system of composition in the preface to Illusions perdues (Lost Illusions, 1843), Balzac writes: “When one of these characters finds himself, like M. de Rastignac in Père Goriot, arrested in mid-career, you should seek him out again in Profil de Marquise (Profile of a Marquesa), in The Interdiction [L’Interdiction], in The Firm of Nucingen [La Maison Nucingen], and finally in The Wild Ass’s Skin, acting in each epoch according to the rank he has then reached.”

This explains the occasional reference in Père Goriot to the future life of one of its characters, as for example when Balzac writes of Rastignac that “the self-possession which pre-eminently distinguished him in later life already stood him in good stead.” Rastignac appears in more than twenty of the novels in La Comédie humaine, a vast tapestry of characters whose lives are interwoven in different ways at different periods. (When one considers the incidence of recurrence of other characters from Père Goriot—the Baron de Nucingen appears or is mentioned in thirty-one stories, Bianchon in twenty-nine, Delphine in seventeen, Gobseck in thirteen, Madame de Beauséant in ten, etc.—one begins to get an idea of the complexity of the social tableau Balzac painted.) The interweaving is crucial: Balzac is less interested in individual characters than in the relations that bind them together at different moments in their lives. Fascinated by the social bond in its manifold forms, Balzac wrote novels and stories that abound in the representation of alliances, friendships, associations, groups, gangs, families (and pseudofamilies, such as the boarders at the Maison Vauquer). Although he is known as the creator of some of the most compelling characters of nineteenth-century fiction (including Rastignac and Vautrin from Goriot), and in spite of the fact that he wrote in an era of unprecedented individualism—the era of individual rights and bourgeois liberalism that came fast upon the revolutionary turmoil of the late eighteenth century—one could perhaps argue that Balzac’s work demonstrates that there is no such entity as the individual; there is only the collective, shared existence of humanity (the boardinghouse in Père Goriot is a fine example of this commonality), along with a thoroughly modern sense of the precariousness of the very categories of individual, self, and identity, which Balzac approaches with skepticism. The method of recurring characters is designed precisely to allow for the representation of a vast social panorama in all its multiplicity as well as the successive and different selves (or “incarnations,” as he liked to say; see La Dernière incarnation de Vautrin [1847; The Last Incarnation of Vautrin]) for a single character who is anything but an individual.

“From being individual,” wrote writer and critic Barbey d’Aurevilly of Balzac’s fiction, “the novel became social. Where there had been a man, there was a whole society.” In order to represent the whole of society—“the whole hotchpotch of civilization,” as he writes in his second preface to Père Goriot—Balzac needed a more elastic form than the novel as it was then conceived. For if the novel at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century excelled in depicting the psychology of an individual character (classic examples would be Étienne Pivert de Senancour’s Oberman or Benjamin Constant’s Adolphe), it was not capacious enough to inscribe the social heterogeneity—the multiple and increasingly interconnected strata of society—that for Balzac formed the essence of the modern, post-Revolutionary experience. Balzac’s method freed him from the formal limitations of the novel and allowed him to represent the vicissitudes of a large group of characters considered over a long period of time. The technique could moreover be applied retrospectively, as it were, since with each new edition of his works, Balzac had the opportunity to alter the names of characters, selecting a known name from the ever-expanding community of La Comédie humaine. Hence, in the original edition of La Comédie humaine there are twenty-three recurring characters; in subsequent editions, there are as many as fifty.1 The vastness of the scale on which he was working (there are upwards of 2,500 characters) led him into numerous errors, confusions, and contradictions among the novels: contradictions in physical appearance; inconsistencies in civil status, character traits, or behavior (the cynical gambler Rastignac of The Wild Ass’s Skin is for some readers difficult to reconcile with the Rastignac of Père Goriot, who in the manuscript is named Massiac until his meeting with Madame de Beauséant and the Duchesse de Langeais; uncertainty of place or date of birth (Rastignac is from Gascony in The Wild Ass’s Skin and from the Charente in Père Goriot and Lost Illusions); differences in the spelling of proper names; characters who come back from the dead; posthumous children, etc. (Lotte, “Le ‘retour des personnages’ dans La Comédie humaine”; see “For Further Reading”).

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Pere Goriot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought a copy of Pere Goirot along with Cousin Bette to feed a new large appetite for books I have developed this year. Over ten years ago, a friend recommended Pere Goriot. I remember thoroughly enjoying the book, along with the basic plot but it being so long ago, my memory was a bit fuzzy. Greatly disappointed with Cousin Bette, with it's copious notes, making it much more of a chore to get through than a pleasurable read, I winced at cracking Pere Goriot.However, I was delighted to find it as charming and entertaining as I did many years ago! Balzac's perception of human nature is truly insightful. Each character's personality and the atmosphere which helps to develop their perspectives make this a timeless human story. One can easily relate to the ambitious Eugene, struggling between the desire for success which require a moral compromise, and being a friend and humanitarian to the self sacrificing character of Goriot. Along with Delphine,desperate to maintain her sanity and luxury, showing only superficial concern for her Father's privation, or the sinister Vautrin, representing a cynical and indifferent approach to hypocritical social and cultural codes. Unlike Cousin Bette, which will be forever confined to the arena of the Franco-phile, literary student, historian, and teacher with it's specified content, Pere Goriot shows Balzac at his best. It offers a realistic, comical,and tragic look into the hearts and minds of the woman and man of every age. Definitely worth reading!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Why is this the 1st review of this wonderful classic? Perhaps it is one of the lesser known classics but please take the time to read this incredibly absorbing read. Goriot is so obssessive in this tale of obssessing over your children and it's consequence still rings true today. Balzac is truly a prose artist.
theaelizabet on LibraryThing 28 days ago
Balzac wrote this book (published in 1835) as part of a sequence of books and plays known as La Comedie humaine. Through the strivings of a young student named Rastignac, Balzac tells of an 1819 Paris, where the social order is up ended, poverty is rife and residents will do anything to climb up, through and over the social ladder. Emile Zola (who came a couple generations after Balzac) wrote, ¿He killed off the lies of the old genres and inaugurated the future . . . Balzac . . . grows stronger every day and presides over a literary movement that will certainly be that of the twentieth century.¿ Remembering Balzac¿s importance in literary history may help one continue reading Pere Goriot, despite a desire o throttle every selfish character in the book.
nee-nee on LibraryThing 28 days ago
The story starts out by meeting Madame Vauquer, a poor but, more or less, respectable woman who runs the boarding house where we meet most of the characters in this novel. The boarding house is a horrible, dirty, little, place but reputable enough. It is here we meet Eugene Rastignac and the rest of the story pretty much follows him. A poor law student from the country, Eugene has seen enough of Paris to want more, more than a poor law student can achieve without assistance. He comes up with a plan to get a rich mistress who will help him to succeed in society. But as no Parisian woman would have him as he is, he writes home and borrows money from his family and asks an Aunt, who used to frequent Parisian society, for an introduction to anyone she thinks might aid him in this social climb. The family comes through with the money and a letter to a distant cousin Madame la Vicomtesse de Beauseant. The introduction to Madame de Beauseant is important for Eugene. He is invited to ball is accepted there and meets a beautiful woman, Madame la Comtess de Restaud. She is beautiful, rich and will serve his purpose quite well. On his first call to the Madame de Restaud he blunders unforgivably. He sees a fellow boarder leaving their house and questions if they happen to know "Old Goriot." As it turns out "Old Goriot" is Madame's father. This embarrasses everyone and as Eugene leaves Monsieur de Restaud tells the doorman not to let him in again.From there Eugene goes to Madame de Beauseants and applies to her for help. How can he have a rich mistress if he has poor country habits? He asks her to teach him how to behave in society. She does this and helps him to find another potential mistress. Madame de Nucingen "Old Goriot's" other daughter. This works out well as Madame de Nucingen's last beau has just left her. Eugene takes to seeing Madame de Nucingen very frequently and when he comes home he tells Goriot all about it. By this time Eugene has come to admire and respect Goriot. He finds out exactly what kind of women this mans daughters are and why he, Goriot, is in such poverty at Madame Vanquers. He gave them everything they ever wanted as children he has continued this in their adulthood. He ruins himself with his maniacal desire to pay their debts. Eugene remains more or less good at heart through this debacle. But instead of changing his mind he continues in his scheme. I very much enjoyed this novel. The human natures described here are both appalling and engrossing. A great read and a quick one (275 pages.) Completely worthwhile.
rocketjk on LibraryThing 28 days ago
This was my first Balzac novel, although I've read several of his short stories, and I found it insightful, sad and funny, if a bit over-written in parts. The book shows us the story of Eugene Rastinac, a young member of the rural French gentry who comes to the big city, determined to make his way in the society of early 19th Century Paris (and/or study law). His story intersects with that of the title character, an old retiree who, King Lear-like, has made the mistake of giving his fortune to his two daughters in the expectation that they will care for him in his old age. Rastinac and Goriot meet in the run-down rats nest of a rooming house they both live in, an abode described so well that a reader can almost smell the dust and feel the decay.Henry Reed, the translater of the Signet Classic edition I read, tells us in his Afterword that Balzac was in the habit of going back and amending his works, sometimes even after they'd been published. Those amendments usually consisted of additional text, and not always, as Reed tells it, to the ultimate benefit of the work. Still, while some French publishers offer shorter versions, Reed has here translated the entire text of Balzac's final edition. And, really, it's not that hard to tell where the padding has occurred, as his characters speeches sometimes seem overlong, especially towards the end.Nevertheless, Pere Goriot is keen social satire, the characterizations are quite good, and the observations are often both memorable and funny. For example very early on, we are told that Madame Vaquer, the keeper of the rooming house, had originally entertained designs of marriage on Goriot during his first days as a lodger, but that those hopes had quickly been dashed. Her reaction is described, in part, thusly:"Inevitably, she went farther in hostility than she had ever gone in friendship. It was her expectations, not her love, that had been disappointed. If the human heart sometimes finds moments of pause as it ascends the slopes of affection, it rarely halts on the way down."The hypocricy, and the heart, of human society at all its levels is investigated well, here. And the book is lots of fun.
williamcostiganjr on LibraryThing 5 months ago
There's a lot to love about this book. The writing is evocative and often humourous.However, there is a lot of extra padding that could have been trimmed. Sometimes the characters go on repeating themselves for pages at a time. The romance is overdone--but considering when it was written, is not so bad.I liked Balzac's black humor, showcased in frequent asides about Paris, money, family, society, etc. I liked how money incessantly influenced his characters' actions.The story is far-fetched in parts, but that did not detract from my enjoyment too much.
bookworm87 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
"Pere Goriot" was a good book about the dangers of wealth. The old man is a once-wealthy tradesman with two beautiful but unhappily married daughters. Their frivolous spending habits cause Pere Goriot, who dearly loves his daughters, to give up his fortune and sell all of his valuables in order to pay their debts. The book also chronicles the struggles of Eugene Rastignac, who desires the life of the rich and famous Parisians that surround him. The book was a fast read--although it could have been more absorbing--and it taught a good lesson. Quite funny in parts!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My first experience with Balzac and I'm planning on many more after reading this. Very little action but still kept me turning the pages. I thought it was a terrific reflection of the socioeconomic times and people of France at the turn of previous century. Very readable for the modern reader.
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Too much talking and not enough action.
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MairL More than 1 year ago
I read this 30 years ago and was reminded by a reference in a current nonfiction so decided to give it a revisit. Poor Eugene, trying to social climb with occasional fits of conscience but the tunnel vision of most young people. I probably identify more with old Goriot than I did before. Still a clear rep of society in early 19 century France.
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