Old Goriot (1835) by Honoré de Balzac

Old Goriot (1835) by Honoré de Balzac

By Balzac

This is the first book that I am reading by Balzac. Frankly speaking, it is very captivating, that i can’t stop reading after just a few pages. However it is not a story that is easily digestable. Even after finishing the whole book, I have to think a while and look back at some of the chapters to re-think some of the meanings involved.

The focus of the characters in the book are mainly Eugène Rastignac, and Old Goriot. Eugène is obsessed with becoming a member of the Parisian élite, and does what he must to accomplish this goal: borrowing from his poor family, keeping up appearances, and seeking advice and favor from high class women such as the worldly-wise Madame Beauséant.

At first merely a tool for his advancement, a young woman named Madame de Nucingen soon appears to have fallen in love with him, and he seems to be following suit. This situation, together with his healthy conscience (for Eugène is a good man), forces him to question is motives and objectives.

The moral struggle comes to a head as a libertine and crook Vautrin tempts Eugène to have a man killed in order to gain his wealthy fiancée. Old Goriot lives a life which intersects with that of Eugène at several points, beginning with the fact that the young man is the only one in the boarding house where they live to believe that the two women who sometimes visit Goriot are his daughters. Actually, Madame de Nucingen is one of them.

This brings Eugène and Goriot together to such a degree that Eugène becomes the closest person in the world to him when the old man is on his death bed. Goriot essentially dies for love of his daughters, for he has given them all– over the course of the book his means are depleted in doting upon their whims until he has not even his health left.

At first Eugene is very sure of his love for Madame de Nucingen, one of old Goriot’s daughter. However coming to the ending, he may not be so sure already, after he saw how they treat their father when he is near his deathbed.The book wrote : “His powers of perception were keen enough for him to recognize the nature of Delphone’s heart; he felt instincitvely that she was capable of stepping over her father’s dead body to go to the ball; and he had not the authority to play the part of the mentor. nor the courage to cross her, nor the strength of mind to leave her.” In the end, Madame de Nucingen did not even turn up at Goriot’s deathbed. It was the other daughter Madame de Restaud who came. But she was also too late.

After Goriot’s death, Eugène has declared war on the superficial Parisian society (such a transformation from his earlier servitude to it!), which we are probably to assume means that the love of money will no longer corrupt his mind, and true love will blossom. But it is merely implied. He understood the importance of money. “Eugene searched his pocket but found nothing there, and he was obliged to borrow five francs from Christophe. The incident, so trival in itself, overwhelmed Rastignac, nd a wave of desperate sadness swept over him.”

Up till the end of the story, especially Goriot’s pending death, it tells of the realization of love and money. Goriot realized that his two children had never love him, and they love him only of his money. But Goriot also realized his own mistake, that as a father, he had corrupted them. “I am the cause, and the only cause, of their unfilial conduct; I spoilt them. Today they want pleasure, as they used to want sweets. I always indulged them in all their childish whims. They had a carriage of their own when they were fifteen! Nothing was denied them. I, andI only, am to blame; ut I sinned through love of them. “


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