Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

A rather melodramatic but nonetheless enjoyable story about the evils of wealth and social jealousy. Goriot is the doting father of two girls who expends his vast wealth meeting their every need as they secure themselves in Parisian high society. The whole story is mediated through the person of Rastignac, a student from the provinces who is seduced by the rococo and superficial niceties of ‘society’ but, through the hellish experiences of Goriot, realises his error.

The best thing about the book is its cynicism. All of the characters, except perhaps Goriot himself who is deluded as much as anything, have clear character failings and the Paris that is described is beset with petty social conventions and, at the higher levels, wrestling with a rarified and self indulgent existential angst. It is gritty and dark.

The translation I read was the Oxford Classics, which I don’t recommend. The style was stilted and there were typos, which I hate. I should have read the Penguin.


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