Pere Goriot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Pere Goriot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)


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Pere Goriot (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) by Honore de Balzac

Pere Goriot, by Honore de Balzac, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

A supreme observer and chronicler of nineteenth-century French society, Honoré de Balzac wrote a vast number of novels and short stories collectively known as The Human Comedy. These books were unsurpassed for their narrative drive and scope, their large casts of vibrant, diverse, and interesting characters, and their obsessive interest in and examination of virtually all spheres of life.

The greatest of these novels is Père Goriot, which opens in a dirty boarding-house where three of the novel’s main characters live. Goriot is a father who sacrifices his wealth and health so that his two daughters can gain access to Parisian high society. He pays off their debts, succumbs to their lavish demands, and receives nothing but scorn in return. His fellow boarder is the mysterious Vautrin, one of Balzac’s most remarkable creations. A criminal mastermind, Vautrin recognizes that the social contract is nothing but a fraud for those without money and power. Finally, there is Rastignac, who represents one of Balzac’s favorite themes—the ambitious young provincial fighting for advancement in the competitive world of Paris. With Goriot and Vautrin acting as surrogate fathers, Rastignac begins his climb up the social ladder—only to discover that there is a spiritual cost to be paid for life’s apparent prizes.

Peter Connor is Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is the author of Georges Bataille and the Mysticism of Sin (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). He has translated Bataille’s The Tears of Eros (City Lights Press, 1989), as well as many works in the area of contemporary French philosophy, including The Inoperative Community, by Jean-Luc Nancy (University of Minnesota Press, 1991).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593082857
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 07/01/2005
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 82,926
Product dimensions: 5.19(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.12(d)

Read an Excerpt

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) 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 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.
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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