Monday, 11 March 2013

Father Goriot [Old Goriot] by Honore de Balzac (4/5)

First published: 1835
Original title:
Le Père Goriot

Original language: French
Translation to English by:
Ellen Marriage (the translation of Old Goriot had gone through 54 editions by 2006 and was still held then by 1306 libraries worldwide – says Wiki)
Page count: 445


The back says: 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.

I say: The one thing I enjoyed most about this novel was de Balzac’s writing; it was witty, poignant, and full of wonderful and excellently phrased metaphors.

In other words, everything I want in a writer.

However, there was the ordeal of the story itself, which put a few dampers in my burgeoning love for de Balzac. We have Goriot who has spent all his money on his two daughters who now shun him. He lives in a boarding house with an array of characters, among them Eugene who later starts an affair with one of his daughters. Along the way we deal with a whole lot of funny, as well as rather trite, dialogue; lies, bitterness, jealousy, betrayal and death.

The way things usually go with French novels.

Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed with the plotline – it was unoriginal and predictable. Furthermore, the entire work was sprinkled with disparaging comments about women, both from the characters as well as the narrator. Yes, I understand this was a part of the plot (or perhans de Balzac’s personal views), but it still rubbed me the wrong way. Not to mention the fact that the women all behaved either like greedy and heartless monsters, like Mademe Vauquer, or like deceitful, egotistical and downright cruel, like Goriot’s two daughters. The only redeeming woman was Victorine – but then she annoyed me for being too frail.

I have never had much interest in reading about Parisian high society and I can’t stand women who faint and/or cry at the drop of a hat; therefore this was a rather bland read.

Having said all that, this is a great novel for discussion as it deals with money, family, deceit and how much the characters value each. As always, this ended with people realising their mistakes and if it had ended differently I may have liked it a bit more.

4/5 because of the excellent writing (and the similarities I found between Rastignac and Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment). I look forward to reading more works by de Balzac.

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