Monsieur Goriot is one of a disparate group of lodgers at Mademe Vauquer's dingy Parisian boarding house.
At first his wealth inspires respect, but as his circumstances are mysteriously reduced he becomes shunned by those around him, and soon his only remaining visitors are his two beautifully dressed daughters.
Goriot's fate is intertwined with two other fellow boarders: the young social climber Eugene Rastignac, who sees a way to gain the acceptance and wealth he craves, and the enigmatic figure of Vautrin, who is hiding darker secrets than anyone.
Weaving a compelling and panoramic story of love, money, self-sacrifice, corruption, greed and ambition, Old Man Goriot is Balzac's acknowledged masterpiece.
A key novel in his Comedie Humaine series, it is a vividly realized portrait of bourgeois Parisian society in the years following the French Revolution.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 336 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 06/01/2011
- Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780140449723
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Review by jnwelch
I had Old Goriot recommended as a place to start with Honore de Balzac, and it worked well. It's set in post-Napoleonic Paris, and at various times made me think both of King Lear and Charles Dickens. There is a strong cynical view of upper vs. lower classes in it. Old Goriot had become wealthy via his vermicelli (!) business, and was able to set up his two daughters in marriages to aristocratic gentlemen. To help finance them, he lives modestly in a boarding house. The book begins with what for me was a dense and lengthy foundation-setting involving the boarding house's inhabitants, but once that was done the novel became much more engaging.The other central character is law student Eugene Ratsignac, a largely pure-hearted young man who wants to make his way in Parisian society. He has little money, which normally would make such advancement impossible, but he has an aristocratic family connection that gets him some initial footing on that social ladder. A cousin is willing to help him, and soon he makes a powerful romantic ally.Old Goriot lives for the happiness of his daughters, and they take every advantage of his generosity with little demonstration of paternal affection. Their husbands don't want him around, and he lives for brief glimpses of his daughters. Eugene comes to appreciate Goriot's sacrifice, and the nobility of his soul.Turns out that Dickens was indeed influenced by Balzac, and there's even a Magwitch-type character in Old Goriot, the ex-convict Vauterin, except his aims are self-benefit rather than recompense. Vauterin tests Eugene's honesty, and Goriot's treatment by his daughters and their husbands, among other things, opens Eugene's eyes to the often vicious nature of Parisian high society. In this book and others Balzac apparently broke from a more romantic tradition and provided a realism that readers hadn't seen before. Old Goriot provides a vivid and unflattering picture of Paris in that era, as two more noble spirits try to negotiate their way through it.