Pere Goriot by Honore De Balzac - First half of the book

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Pere Goriot by Honore De Balzac - First half of the book

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1rosemeria
Dez 28, 2008, 1:16 am

Thoughts and discussions on the first half of Pere Goriot - pages 1 to 150...

2lilisin
Jan 9, 2009, 3:13 pm

I started the book last night and am on page 94 of a 1931 French edition. Being an old edition a lot of the words have lost quite a bit of the original ink and it's making my read a little slower but Balzac is certainly keeping me entertained!

I am at the part where Eugene has learned Goriot's history and has decided to avenge Goriot's honor.

Balzac's style reminds me a bit of Zola in his uncanny ability to describe scenes and characters where it's so easy to imagine yourself there. There is a difference between Balzac and Zola but I can't explain what it is. I think I would have to read more of each since I've only read one book by each. Although Hugo is also the master of describing just about everything his style is very distinct. This style of writing in general has definitely been lost throughout the ages, I feel.

It has been nice for me to get back to the French classics (I've been on a binge and have been reading Zola, Hugo again, Dumas and now Balzac) after reading so much modern work.

Can't wait to read more. :)

3jfetting
Jan 10, 2009, 11:47 am

Balzac is keeping me entertained too! I really like Rastignac (as a character). The part where he stands up for Goriot at the table was sweet and touching, but then again he is such an unabashed social climber. His initial cluelessness about the etiquette of visiting people in Paris was hilarious. I think lilisin is right - it is so easy to imagine yourself there, and it's also easy to become embarrassed for the characters when they make a faux pas.

4rosemeria
Jan 11, 2009, 8:02 pm

I have read little of French literature in the past, Balzac they call him the father of realist novels. After reading the first few pages... I can picture Balzac walking the streets of Paris incessantly scribbling in his note book, describing everything that catches his attention.

In Pere Goriot the style of writing and Balzac's method of developing the story got me hooked right away. I am enjoying all the characters, especially Eugene Rastignac or sometimes referred to as "the Student". This book is a real pleasure to read, the story includes history, fashion, romance, many life lessons, economics, aging, education, class separation, parenthood.... I compare my reading enjoyment almost on par with Middlemarch - Superb!

I NEED to finish this book tonight - I'm so afraid something bad is going to happen to Rastignac, this young man wants to be good person but Balzac never make you feel comfortable and assured that this character, Rastignac will make the right life decisions. Do French novels normally have happy endings?

5klarusu
Jan 12, 2009, 4:33 am

I've only just started - been catching up with ER books. I'm enjoying it so far and now my plate's a bit clearer, hopefully I'll fly through. I'll check back later when I've read enough to have an opinion ;)

6WilfGehlen
Editado: Jan 12, 2009, 10:19 pm

My only previous exposure to Balzac was from "The Music Man," where the town matron of River City was on a crusade to purge the library of Baaaalllll-zack and other authors not fittin' for the good citizens of Iowa. Thank goodness the books in the library had been bequeathed to Marion by "old miser Madison" and were beyond the reach of Eulalie Shinn. And thank goodness I was pushed to a group read of Pere Goriot, else Balzac would have remained for me just a Broadway musical leitmotif.

(This is my first posting to a group read. I hope the following will not be considered a spoiler. Let me know if so and I will go and fix it.)

Rastignac puts me in mind of another fictional French aristocrat, a young, poor D'Artagnon, come to Paris from the provinces to make his fortune: D'Artagnon in service to the King in the Musketeers, Rastignac in service to himself and to the mistresses he will use in conquering Paris society.

The boarding house of Madame Vauquer is a convenient base of operations for Rastignac. Nestled in an urban valley of poverty, it is not a destination for anyone of society so Rastignac can conceal his meager resources while he plans his campaign. It is therefore affordable but also convenient in proximity to those mansions he means to enter as an honored guest.

Balzac conveys in rich images the boarding house itself, the rooms within, the people within the rooms. The residents range from the nearly rich to the nearly destitute. Some on the make, some on the take, some to be left in the wake. Rastignac, Vautrin, Goriot. Will Rastignac remain true to himself, allied with Goriot? Or take the path of expediency with Vautrin?

rosemeria--I only know from Dumas (Three Musketeers) and Hugo (Les Miserables)--they are epic stories, with poignant, not joyous, endings.

7geneg
Jan 12, 2009, 11:46 pm

Ummm, let's see -

Ya got trouble, I say trouble
right here in River City,
and that starts with T
and that rhymes with B
and that stands for Balzac!

No, that just doesn't have the same catchy flavor, does it?

8guppyfp
Jan 13, 2009, 12:26 pm

I got hooked early on, in spite of having some prejudice ( from what, I don't know) that it was going to be dull.

I like the leisurely, 19th century pace that he starts out with - describing each of the characters and adding observations as the narrator about society and people's places in it. It is so different from most modern novels, where you learn the status and nature of each character "on the fly", not by being directly told about them. Although the tale is told by an "omniscient narrator" (I think that's the right term), he is not self-effacing; he's almost a character in his own story.

9theaelizabet
Jan 13, 2009, 9:00 pm

Ha! WilfGehlen, I thought I would be the only one who kept hearing Hermione Gingold's "Baaaall-zack" every time I picked up the book!

I guess I'm going to be the lone voice, however, in saying that I don't like Rastignac. What a little weasel! Nevertheless, I'm finding all of the characters lively and vividly drawn, so I'm having a great time with the story.

Loved the care Balzac took to establish the boardinghouse with its awful dining room and boarders. That work prompted a big payoff when Rastignac returned from Madam de Restaud's to see the "eighteen guests, like so many animals in a stable, gobbling their meal."

Hate to go too much into the story because my page numbers don't seem to match up. So I'll wait to hear from others before I write more, to avoid spoilers.

10englishrose60
Editado: Jan 14, 2009, 4:40 am

I have enjoyed reading the first half of the book. Balzac's fine details of people and place bring both to life. I also like his occasional comments which he inserts into the story. Looks like Rastignac is going to be a drain on his family in order for him to 'get on' in society. On the other hand I approve of his defence of Goriot against the jibes of the the other boarders, but have reservations about his possible reasons for doing so.

11geneg
Jan 14, 2009, 2:03 pm

I didn't like either Goriot or Rastignac. Goriot spoiled his girls and paid for it. Rastignac was a social climber with no regard for self-reliance, or dignity. He chased after pretty ribbons and bows.

My hero was Vautrin. He knew who he was, where he fit in society, and built up a nice business providing a service. albeit a terrible one, but nonetheless one which people took advantage of.

As people, both Goriot and Rastignac lack balance.

12theaelizabet
Jan 14, 2009, 4:38 pm

geneg--You pretty much sum up my feelings about the three.

13englishrose60
Jan 15, 2009, 3:13 am

Well, I have finished it and although I did enjoy reading it I can't say that I liked any of the characters very much.

14billiejean
Editado: Jan 15, 2009, 12:14 pm

I found it interesting that Goriot is the father who cared so much for his children that he would do anything for them, when Blazac treated his own daughter terribly. The children all seem so selfish (both daughters and Eugene) expecting their parents and siblings to give up their meagre earnings so they can waste it on lavish dress and evenings out. They constrast with Mlle Taillefer who is so kind and rejected by her father. Vautrin is the most interesting character, I agree. He somewhat reminds me of Mephistopheles in Faust.

Parts of the book are so funny like the Polish saying "Harness five bullocks to your cart! probably because you will need them all to pull you out of the quagmire into which a false step has plunged you." (I am going to keep that saying in mind!) and later "The Duchess gave Eugene one of those insolent glances that measure a man from head to foot, and leave him crushed and annihilated." So much for the first foray into society. I wonder why he wants this so badly? Here was his chance to say, Sorry, not my cup of tea!

Well, now I will have to go back and rewatch The Music Man to hear Balzac called out.
--BJ

15shinyone
Jan 17, 2009, 11:59 pm

I enjoyed the way Balzac set the scene at the beginning of the book with his detailed descriptions of the boarding house and all its inhabitants. It is like the boarding house is a little world unto itself.

I felt sorry for Goriot at first, but after learning more of his story it was harder to pity him because he really brought a lot of his problems on himself by spoiling his daughters so thoroughly, catering to their every whim. No wonder they grew up to be so selfish.

Rastignac just seems young and confused at the beginning. He is tempted by the glimpses of high society that he gets and wants to be a part of it, but doensn't quite know how to go about it. He seems to have good intentions about working hard and making money honestly, but he isn't able to follow through with them. He also seems to take it for granted that his needs are more important than those of the rest of his family, as we learn that the family estate has an income of about 3000 francs a year, of which 1200 go to him. Even though he is already a drain on the family, he asks for more. His mother and sisters, like Goriot, are willing to make any sacrifice to get him the money he asks for so that he can buy nice clothes and go out into society. To his credit, he does seem to feel a bit guilty about this, and to have good intentions of repaying them once his plans are successful. (But you know what they say about good intentions...)

16Sandydog1
Jan 18, 2009, 12:40 pm

Rosemeria (4), and WilfGehlen (6),

Madame Bovary and The Red and the Black also immediately came to mind.

Oh, such happy endings!

17wookiebender
Jan 25, 2009, 11:52 pm

I'm reading an old Penguin edition, translated b M.A. Crawford. And I read up to (and slightly beyond, because I was on a bus) p115 with its "So ends the prologue of this obscure but terrible Parisian tragedy".

Okay, I've been told this goes towards despair (even by Balzac himself) but at the moment I can't see any despair. M. Goriot doesn't seem to have much of a happy life (shunned by his daughters, living in near poverty, treated badly by his fellow lodgers), but he's a terribly minor character at the moment to me. (Is that callous, to not care so much about minor characters?)

Our young student (Eugene) is a prat, but he's going to go far (I believe a bon mot he dropped about his tailor made the tailor's fortunes; anyone who can drop such a bon mot is a person with a great deal of power!). Goriot's daughters are well married (okay, not my idea of a blissful life, but it must be nice to not have to worry about money, especially in such a place and time). I suppose it all must go horribly wrong with Eugene and the young impressionable Mlle Victorine, or with Eugene's family (I'm not sure I trust him to pay back the money he *squeezed* out of them).

I like the writing style (I'm always curious how much is the original writing, and how much is the translator's style), it seems positively cheeky at times, especially at the beginning. And I like his passion about the decadence of the upper classes (and I am curious how there can be aristocracy *after* the French Revolution, I might have to read up a bit of history there).

Reading Pere Goriot on the bus the other day, there was a mention of Talleyrand, so I looked him up on my mobile phone browser (no, not an iPhone) and got completely distracted reading about the Pirate Wars between France & America in 1798-1800. Now *that's* what I like out of books, incidental information and education! Oh, and Talleyrand was fascinating too.

Looking forward to part 2...

18lilisin
Jan 25, 2009, 11:57 pm

17 -

"I like the writing style (I'm always curious how much is the original writing, and how much is the translator's style)"

I can't say much about the translator's style but I can discuss Balzac's as I'm reading it in French. He is indeed quite cheeky as you put it so I'm guessing the translator you have is doing a good job. :)

19wookiebender
Jan 26, 2009, 4:23 am

Thanks lilisin (#18). It is a very readable translation (I once got bogged down in a dull translation of War and Peace so I'm somewhat sensitive to potential translation issues now.)

I forgot to say that I wasn't actually 100% convinced by Goriot's backstory. Not that it wasn't a good story, well told, but I feel there are further mysteries to be exposed (what is it with him selling all his silver - it's not *really* to keep spoiled daughters who have married rich men in the manner to which they have become accustomed??), so I keep on expecting an AHAH! moment when I find out the "real" story. :)

Maybe I've just read too many books with twists lately, I'm seeing them everywhere now.