Pere Goriot by Honore De Balzac - Second half & Final Impressions
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Hm, I'll see where Balzac takes me after this weekend. Till then, ski break! :)
(I sure would like to see Eugene attempt skiing down the French alps!)
I thought that the view of society was scathing. No one came to good at the end of the story. However, I did think that there was some redemption for Eugene. Maybe there will be some good for the characters in the other novels. Although I am glad that I read this book and will probably read some more Balzac, I want to read something happy first.
Edited because I never type it all right!
I liked the moral ambiguity of the characters: Eugene is good in his response to Goriot's illness and helplessness, but is still striving to make it in a corrupt society; Goriot is good-natured, but unable to give his daughters the discipline they needed; Vautrin is an evil-doer, but has some of the most honest assessments of what society does to people. Only the daughters were bad to the core.
Balzac prepares us for this Nantucket sleigh-ride of an ending with his carefully crafted characterization of the principal players earlier on in the book. Goriot, who lives his life through his daughters. Vautrin, with an unblinking eye for capitalizing on a crick in the system. The daughters, Dauphine and Anastasie, married and living with the trappings of luxury, but personally penurious. Rastignac, of the landed poor in the south of France, looking to make his mark in Paris and thereby reversing his family's fortunes. The threads of their lives are woven together in the loom of Maison Vauquer.
Eugene realizes that his fortune will not be made in the slow advance of a career in law, but in quickly climbing the ladder of Parisian society. He writes to his family for the seed money he needs to launch his assault. Significantly, he repays the loan at his first opportunity when it would have been much easier not to. In pursuing Dauphine, he places a bet at the gaming table for her; she hopes to be able to pay back money owed to her former lover. Eugene wins more than enough and Dauphine insists on sharing 1000 francs of the winnings with him. He takes the money but secretly gives it to Goriot.
With this ethic in place, would Eugene buy into Vautrin's scheme to dupe Victorine? He is tempted, but decides, no. But even as Vautrin is taken away by the police, he keeps the offer open to Eugene. As events unfold Eugene must be tempted anew. He finds that Dauphine will not have immediate access to her dowry as planned under Goriot's lawsuit. Goriot himself is now penniless and his plans to recover his business, never realistic, are crushed as he suffers a stroke. Eugene attends to Goriot, but Dauphine shows her priorities by preparing for Madame de Beauseant's ball instead. She never does visit her father, or attend his funeral. Does Eugene still want to buy into this mess or take the easier road with Victorine?
This is not a Cinderella story, but a gripping story of players who know how the game is played. At the end, Eugene also knows how the game is played, but chooses his play according to his terms, not Vautrin's. He chooses Dauphine, but it is not clear whether his path lies with Dauphine or through Dauphine. When Eugene says, "Now it's just the two of us! -- I'm ready!" I get the feeling that Dauphine is not part of the pairing.
Thanks LT,GR-L! I would never have found this book without you!
I'm intrigued by the title. The story is ostensibly about the social climbing of Rastignac, and on a larger scale, the state of Parisian society at that time. So why "Pere Goriot?" Is it because the character, Goriot, mistakes idolatry for love and in doing so indulges, spoils, and ruins the objects of his affection? So Goriot is a stand-in for the bigger Parisian picture?
Goriot was a hard character to take. He objectified his daughters and several scenes with them, especially where he kissed Delphine's feet and rubbed his head against her dress (". . . in a word he did such things as the very youngest and tenderest lover might well do."), were oddly sad and grotesque at the same time.
WilfGhelen, you wrote, "When Eugene says, "Now it's just the two of us! -- I'm ready!" I get the feeling that Dauphine is not part of the pairing." Good point. I also agree with you that I would never have tackled this book on my own. So glad that it was chosen here.
I did enjoy this read, thanks to those who suggested/recommended it.
I must admit, I gave the benefit of the doubt to the daughters in the first half, but it looks as if I was too trusting. They were more spoilt than Dudley Dursley! What ghastly creatures, poor old M. Goriot, running around, trying to grant their every wish while they grind him into the dust. (I did read the entry for this in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die book, and they pointed out the parallels between this and King Lear. I don't know my Lear very well, but it does seem to ring true.)
Actually, most of the characters were pretty despicable. I didn't like Rastignac much in the first half (I doubted his motives) and while he and his fellow student did rally around M. Goriot on his deathbed (although I think his student friend was definitely in it more for the learning experience at times) which softened my feelings towards him, he was still out for what he could get.
And the way he treated poor Mlle Taillefer! Dastardly stuff.
Loved the social commentary about the upper classes of Parisian society and their shallowness. I think Balzac's scathing comments about them made the book for me.
And the ending was an amazing whirlwind, I couldn't put it down and finished the last 50 or so pages in record time.
The last 50 pages was as a whirlwind eh? I guess I should finally finish this book then. :)
My sign of a good read is 30-40ish pages in one commute, dependant on whether there are workmates to chat to and how big the font is and how much sleep I got last night and how late the buses are running, etc. (I made a staggering 60 pages this morning with The White Tiger, 2008's Booker Prize winner.)