Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Honore De Balzac - Pere Goriot (1835)

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

This tale is included in the Scenes de la Vie Privee. After appearing as a serial in the Revue de Paris in 1834-1835, it was published in two volumes in 1835, and a second edition was called for the same year. According to Balzac's own authority, he wrote the novel in twenty-five days. Pere Goriot has been called "the French King Lear"; but it has no Cordelia to soften the sorrows of the pathetic old man. Pere Goriot and Madame Vauquer appear in no other work; but many of the other characters frequently reappear. This book introduces the ubiquitous Eugene de Rastignac; and Vautrin, or Trompe-la-Mort, who figures in Illusions Perdues and Splendeurs et Miseres, is of great importance in this volume. Pere Goriot's two undutiful and ungrateful daughters, Madame de Restaud and Madame de Nucingen, occur in other books and stories—Madame de Beauseant and the Marquis d'Ajuda in La Femme Abandonnee; Poiret and La Michonneau in Splendeurs et Miseres, and Poiret also in Les Employes; Bianchon is a familiar character in La Peau de Chagrin and many novels of the Comedic; the Taillefers in L'Auberge Rouge; Maxime de Trailles in Beatrix; and the Duchesse de Langeais, one of Balzac's most fascinating women, in a story to which her name is given in the Histoire des Treize.

THE Maison Vauquer, which had been kept by Madame Vauquer for forty years, was in one of the least known and ugliest quarters of Paris—in the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve, not far from the Pantheon. The front of this boarding-house stood at right angles to the road, and looked upon a little garden, in which grew artichokes and rows of pyramidal fruit-trees, surrounded by a border of lettuce, pot-herbs, and parsley. Over the entrance were the words in large letters MAISON VAUQUER, and beneath these, in small letters, Lodgings for both sexes, etc. The house was three stories high; and there were five windows in each story, the blinds of which were always awry. It was built of rough stone and covered with yellowish stucco. A French window gave access to the sitting-room on the ground floor—a dreary and depressing place, connected by a door into the dining-room. The furniture was covered with black horsehair; on a round marble-topped table, in the center of the room, stood a white china tea-service; and the wall-paper above the wainscot was stamped with scenes from Telemaque; that of Calypso's banquet to Ulysses had suggested jokes to the boarders for forty years. The excessive neatness of the hearth showed that a fire was rare; and on the chimneypiece a vase filled with artificial flowers, imprisoned under a glass shade, stood on either side of a very ugly bluish marble clock. The damp, stuffy, musty, and rancid odor ex-haled by this room, which might be termed "the boarding-house smell," was like the delicate fragrance of a boudoir when compared with that of the adjoining dining-room. So dirty were the painted paneled walls that it was impossible to discover their real color. On the sticky surfaces of the sideboards stood the glass decanters and blue earthenware plates; in one corner a box with numbered pigeonholes was the custodian of the boarders' wine-stained table-napkins. Lamps covered with oil and dust, execrable engravings in black frames, a clock, a green stove, and a table and chairs completed the furnishings. The oilcloth that covered the long table was so greasy that a waggish boarder would sometimes write his name on it with his thumb-nail; the chairs were broken-down invalids; the wretched little hempen mats would slip away beneath the feet; the foot-warmers were hingeless, charred and broken; and the red tiles of the floor were also full of depressions. In short, this room expressed the reign of dire, parsimonious, concentrated, threadbare poverty. Madame Vauquer was the embodiment and interpretation of her lodging-house: you could not imagine the one without the other. She was about fifty, sleek and corpulent, with a bloated countenance, a nose like a parrot's, fat little hands, and a shapeless, slouching figure.

Madame Vauquer had seven lodgers. The best rooms on the first floor were let to Madame Couture, the widow of a commissary-general, and Victorine Taillefer, a schoolgirl to whom she filled the place of a mother; Madame Vauquer occupied the other rooms. The second floor was occupied by an old man named Poiret and a Monsieur Vautrin, who wore a black wig and dyed whiskers and called himself a retired merchant. Two of the four rooms on the third floor were also let—one to a Mademoiselle Michonneau, an elderly spinster, and the other to a retired manufacturer of vermicelli, Italian paste and starch, called by all the boarders "Daddy Goriot." One of the remaining rooms, allotted to birds of passage, was occupied by Eugene de Rastignac, a young law-student from the vicinity of Angouleme, one of a large family who pinched and starved themselves to spare twelve hundred francs a year for him. He was one of those who realize that their parents' hopes are centered on them and prepare themselves for a great career.

Above the third floor were a garret and two attics, in one of which slept Christophe, the man-of-all-work; and in the other, Sylvie, the stout cook. Several law and medical students dined at the Maison Vauquer, so there were usually eighteen or twenty at the dinner-table. At breakfast, however, only the seven lodgers appeared, and they came down in dressing-gowns and slippers. The dreary surroundings of the house were reflected in the costumes of the boarders—all wore shabby, threadbare, limp, frayed clothes; and their faces were, as a rule, hard and cold; for these people had weathered the storms of life. Mademoiselle Michonneau was angular and sharp; Poiret, a sort of automaton; Victorine Taillefer, a pretty but unhappy young girl, whose rich father intended to disinherit her for the sake of her brother; Madame Couture devoted herself to this almost penniless girl, who soon fell in love with Eugene de Rastignac. Nothing escaped the hawk-eyed, jovial Vautrin, who, despite his invariably good humor and gaiety of spirit, was a mystery to the others. He often put his arm around "Mamma," as he playfully called Madame Vauquer. There was one butt and laughing-stock of the household—the re-tired vermicelli merchant, Daddy Goriot, "upon whose face a painter, like the historian, would have concentrated all the light in his picture." Why did the boarders regard him with a half-malignant contempt?

At the age of sixty-nine—about 1813—Daddy Goriot had sold his business and retired—to Madame Vauquer's. He took rooms now occupied by Madame Couture, for which he paid twelve hundred francs. He was called "Monsieur Goriot" then. His fine wardrobe and collection of silver impressed Madame Vauquer, who, despite his sunken and watery eyes, the look of stupid good-nature in his full-moon countenance, and his somewhat boorish manners, felt a desire "to shake off the shroud of Vauquer and rise again as Goriot." Her attentions failed to bring about the desired result; and, toward the end of the second year, M. Goriot asked for a room on the second floor at a reduced price. Henceforth Madame Vauquer spoke of him as Daddy Goriot. The boarders advanced many theories regarding his life, and were somewhat puzzled by calls from two richly dressed, youthful ladies. At the end of the third year, Daddy Goriot took a room on the third floor, and did without snuff and hair-powder. The boarders were astonished one day to see him appear at the table in his own hair—a dingy olive-gray. He had grown sadder, too, under the influence of some hidden trouble, and his face was dread-fully wobegone. In the fourth year, he suddenly dropped into his dotage: his keen, blue eyes had faded and grown dull, and his red, swollen eyelids looked as if they had wept tears of blood.

One evening, Madame Vauquer said half-banteringly:

"So those daughters of yours don't come to see you any more, eh?" meaning to imply doubts upon his paternity. Daddy Goriot was wounded to the quick:

"They come, sometimes," he said in a tremulous voice. "Aha! You still see them sometimes?" cried the students. "Bravo, Daddy Goriot!"

It was now November, 1819. Eugene de Rastignac had been in Paris for a year, taken a degree, visited his home and returned to his studies. His head was full of dreams of social success, and he was armed with an introduction to a distant relative, Madame de Beauseant. She invited him to a ball; and when he returned he sat down to study, but his mind was dazzled by the recollection of the brilliant assembly, where he had met the beautiful Countess Anastasie de Restaud and fallen in love with her. She had invited him to call. While dreaming of her, he heard a sigh from Daddy Goriot's room; and, fearing that the old man was ill, looked through the keyhole. He saw Daddy Goriot crushing and twisting a piece of silver out of shape. Then he rolled it with wonderful dexterity. Tears fell from his eyes, and he blew out the dip that had served for a light, murmuring the words "Poor child!"

"He is mad!" thought Rastignac.

In the morning Vautrin told Madame Vauquer that he had seen Daddy Goriot at half-past eight selling a piece of silver to an old money-lender, Gobseck, in the Rue des Gres. While they were gossiping, Daddy Goriot called Christophe, who soon came down-stairs with a letter, which Vautrin seized, read the address, Madame la Comtesse Anastasie de Restaud, and, holding it to the light, discovered a receipted account.

The boarders gathered at the table. Eugene described the ball, the beautiful woman he had seen there, and remarked that he had seen her again that morning in the Rue des Gres.

Vautrin cut him short: "I think," he said, "she was going to call on Gobseck, an old money-lender. Her name is Anastasie de Restaud and she lives in the Rue du Helder." The student stared at Vautrin. Daddy Goriot looked uneasy. "Then Christophe was late, and she must have gone to him!" he cried in anguish. When Eugene described Madame de Restaud's appearance, Goriot's eyes brightened and he devoured every word. The boarders thought the worst of Daddy Goriot.

In the afternoon, Victorine and Madame Couture described their unhappy visit to Monsieur Taillefer, who refused to do anything for his daughter. Dinner was soon served, during which the usual jests were made at Daddy Goriot's expense and many silly jokes suggested by the newly invented diorama. Every other word had to end in aroma! They inquired for each other's health-orama and noted the soup-orama, etc.

The next day, Eugene called on Madame de Restaud. On his way to the drawing-room he heard voices and the sound of a kiss. One of the speakers was Madame de Restaud; the other, Daddy Goriot ! On entering, he found his rival, Maxime de Trailles, who was shown into the adjoining room, when Daddy Goriot was dismissed. Eugene followed. Soon Monsieur de Restaud entered, greeted Maxime and was introduced to Eugene; and when he entered into conversation M. de Restaud, the Countess, and Maxime retired to the boudoir. When Maxime had left and the Countess had joined her husband, Eugene asked about a mutual acquaintance, "Daddy Goriot, his fellow-lodger." "Sir," said the Count, "you might have called him Monsieur Goriot!" The Countess turned pale and then red, "You could not know anyone who is dearer to us both," she said, and going to the piano began to play and sing. Eugene took his leave and drove to Madame de Beauseant's, resolving to ask her to help him unravel the mystery. Madame de Beauseant, absorbed in her own troubles over the announced betrothal of her lover, the Marquis d'Ajuda-Pinto, diverted her thoughts with her naive relative. She promised to be his protector and initiate him into the ways of gay Parisian society. She told him that Madame de Restaud was the daughter of a vermicelli manufacturer named Goriot, and that her sister, Delphine, had married a German banker, Baron de Nucingen. Madame de Langeais, who was calling, joined the Vicomtesse in telling the story of the Goriots.

"The kind father," said the Vicomtesse, "gave each daughter five or six hundred thousand francs to secure her happiness by marrying her well; while he only kept eight or ten thousand livres a year for himself, thinking that his daughters would always be his daughters, thinking that in them he would live his life twice over again, that in their houses he would have two homes where he would be loved and looked up to and made much of. And in two years' time both his sons-in-law had turned him out of their houses as if he were an outcast."

Tears came into Eugene's eyes. "Daddy Goriot is sub-lime," he said to himself, as he remembered how his neighbor had worked his silver into a shapeless mass. When the Duchesse de Langeais had gone, Madame de Beauseant told Eugene more. The sisters were not on speaking terms. Restaud moved in court circles and his wife had been received. Madame de Nucingen was not yet in society. "If you like," said the Vicomtesse, "to introduce her to me, she will idolize you. I will invite her to one of my great crushes, and bow when I see her. If after that, you can love her, do so; if not, make use of her. You have shut the Comtesse de Restaud's door against you by mentioning Daddy Goriot. Now, let Daddy Goriot take you to the house of the lovely Madame de Nucingen. As soon as she singles you out, other women will lose their heads over you and you will have success. This in Paris is the key to power. You can then go everywhere, and you will find out what the world is—an assemblage of knaves and fools. I am giving you my name like Ariadne's clue of thread to take with you into this labyrinth; make no unworthy use of it."

The transition from the elegances of the Countess de Restaud's home and the superb Hotel de Beauseant to the Mai-son Vauquer was severe. The squalid dinner-table disgusted Eugene. He grumbled a little, told some of his experiences and championed Daddy Goriot. Vautrin was sarcastic and Madame Vauquer amazed to learn that the old man was the father of a countess and a baroness. The medical student, Bianchon, made a capital joke to Rastignac. "That's about all he is capable of," said he; "I have taken a look at his head; there is only one bump—the bump of Paternity; he must be an eternal lather."

"So you have seen my daughter?" said Goriot tremulously to Eugene. Eugene, taking his hand kindly, replied: "You are a good and noble man. We will talk about your daughters by and by." Eugene was busy with his own thoughts after his first day on the battle-ground of Parisian society. Where was he to find enough money? He wrote to his mother and also to his sisters. He counted upon the noble, generous natures buried in the lonely manor-house, and felt ashamed of his selfishness.

Eugene now neglected his studies and plunged into society. His mother and sisters sent two bags of money to him at the Maison Vauquer, which did not escape Vautrin's keen eyes. He took the "Marquis de Rastignacorama" out in the garden for a little quiet talk under the lime-trees. He astonished the somewhat haughty Eugene by an insight into his ambitions, and riveted his attention. Then he had a business proposition in which Eugene's money-bags were to play a conspicuous part. He was to go out into the wilds of America with Vautrin as business manager and he was to marry Victorine. She was not long to be penniless, because Vautrin was going to get the brother involved in a quarrel with one of his friends. A duel would follow, the boy would be killed, and the bereaved father would send for Victorine. Eugene considered Vautrin a devil incarnate. In the meantime, Eugene had found out more about Goriot. He was a workman in the employ of a vermicelli-maker, and bought his master's business after the troubles of 1789. He established himself near the Corn Exchange and made a great deal of money. When his wife died, the instinct of fatherhood developed in him till it became a mania. AU the affection in his heart turned to his daughters. He lived for them, gratified every whim, and spoiled them to excess. Each, free to marry as she pleased, got what she wanted : Anastasie de-sired social position, and became the Countess de Restaud; Delphine desired money, and married a banker. To please his daughters' ambitions, he sold out and took refuge at the Maison Vauquer, when he was banished from his daughters' rich homes.

Eugene was informed by Goriot of the houses at which Madame de Nucingen was received. The old man got the in-formation from his daughter's maid. A great friendship had sprung up between Eugene and Goriot, for the latter was thirsting for any knowledge of his daughters.

Eugene first saw Delphine at the theater, and lost his heart. She was delighted to attract the attention of Madame de Beauseant's escort. The Marquis d'Ajuda took Eugene to the Nucingen box and introduced him. He talked to her of Daddy Goriot and the Countess de Restaud, and a friendship was established. When he went home, he told Daddy Goriot all about Delphine. Eugene noted the terrible poverty of the bedroom, in which there was no fire, It was like the worst kind of a prison cell. Goriot described with passionate fervor his love for his daughters; and when Eugene told him that he had fallen in love with Delphine the old man was delighted.

Eugene had an invitation to dine at the Nucingens and go to the opera; before dinner, however the Baroness got him to drive with her to the Palais-royal and made him take her purse and go into a gaming-house. He won, and brought the seven thousand two hundred francs to her. She gave him a wild embrace, and, as they drove back to her house, she told him all of her private troubles. She made Eugene take some of the money and sent the rest to a former lover, Monsieur de Marsay.

On his return, Eugene visited old Goriot, and told him all about the evening. The grieved father determined to see a lawyer and arrange so that Delphine should have more money.

Eugene was now rushing society and fast turning into a coxcomb. He squandered time and money, and then began to gamble. He played high, and lost and won. Some of his winnings he sent home. At last he got so far down in luck and money that he accepted Vautrin's offer to cash a draft. Victorine, seeing him in trouble, grew sympathetic.

At this juncture a detective, Gondureau, told Poiret and Mademoiselle Michonneau that the so-called Vautrin, at the Maison Vauquer, was a notorious convict, Jacques Collin, nicknamed Trompe-la-Mort; but he wanted to make sure. He proposed that Mademoiselle Michonneau pour the contents of a small bottle, which he would send her, into Vautrin's coffee, or wine. He would fall in a fit. Then they must carry him to bed and undress him. A slap on the shoulder would reveal the letters of this branded criminal—this man of mark. Mademoiselle Michonneau, who had suffered from Vautrin's caustic tongue, agreed for a price.

Madame de Nucingen had driven Eugene to despair; and in this mood he made love to Victorine. Vautrin was delighted with the story of the betrothal that he read in their faces. He told Eugene that everything was ready for the duel; and that, by breakfast-time, Victorine would be an heiress.

Goriot entered and took Eugene away to inform him that Delphine was out of sorts because she had something in her mind. She was waiting for him—Goriot—to complete arrangements for a ' set of chambers for Eugene. Goriot had arranged with her attorney for her independent annuity; and on the fifth floor above these rooms he was going to lodge. "I shall not be in the way," he said, "but I shall be there, that is all."

The next morning, as the boarders were breakfasting, a messenger came for Victorine: her brother had been fatally wounded in a duel! She left with Madame Couture. Mademoiselle Michonneau watched Vautrin drink his coffee with interest. The drug acted : Vautrin dropped as if dead. Mademoiselle Michonneau followed the detective's orders, and found the mark on his shoulder. When Vautrin had recovered and was again in the dining-room, Bianchon facetiously referred to the noted Trompe-la-Mort, whereupon Vautrin was thunderstruck. At this moment, soldiers appeared and arrested the notorious Collin, whose black wig was snatched off and revealed a crop of red hair. The boarders forced Madame Vauquer to turn Mademoiselle Michonneau into "the streetorama" and Poiret went with her. Five lodgers were now gone! Madame Vauquer was nearly collapsed.

What now? Goriot in a cab?

Daddy Goriot had come for Eugene! "I am going to dine with my daughter in your house," he said; "do you under-stand? She expects you. Come!"

The cab stopped in the Rue d'Artois. Eugene hesitated to accept the beautiful apartment; but, to his surprise, Goriot owned it all. He had sold out all his property to rent and furnish it. A happy evening followed. When they returned, they told Madame Vauquer that they were going to move. The next day Eugene heard Delphine's voice in Daddy Goriot's room. She was in trouble. The Baron had refused to let her have her money. Madame de Restaud now arrived. She was also in despair: she needed money for Maxime; she had sold the family jewels that M. de Restaud prized so highly! Restaud had found out everything!

Daddy Goriot nearly went mad to see his daughters in trouble. Anastasie was furious with Delphine when she heard what her father had done. There was no money to meet the demands of the daughters. Eugene dashed into the room with Vautrin's old draft, which Anastasie made her father indorse, although he was ill by this time. Then she disappeared, and Delphine went home to dress for the opera. Goriot, nursed by Bianchon and Eugene, constantly talked of his daughters.

Eugene went for Delphine; but she was going to Madame de Beauseant's ball. This was this great lady's farewell to the world. She was going to bury her heart, broken by the Marquis d'Ajuda, in Courcelles. Eugene handed her into her carriage, and returned to the Maison Vauquer in the cold darkness. His education was nearly complete.

"There is no hope for Daddy Goriot," Bianchon told him on his arrival. The old man still talked of his daughters—his tender-hearted Delphine and his darling Nasie! He called for them; but they refused all summons. Eugene now went to fetch them. M. de Restaud took no interest in the matter; his wife could send only a message: she was under her husband's tyranny. Delphine was in bed, and at first doubted the seriousness of the case; but she finally consented to accompany Eugene. Daddy Goriot grew worse. In his inarticulate moaning, they found he wanted a little locket—the symbol of his heart, for it contained the childish hair of Delphine and Anastasie.

"Ah! my angels!" were the last words the old man murmured. Madame de Restaud now arrived in great distress; but too late to obtain the forgiveness she desired.

The boarding-house dinner went on as usual.

Daddy Goriot was carried to the chapel of Saint-Etienne du Mont. Christophe and Eugene were the only mourners; and "two priests, a chorister, and a beadle did as much as could be expected for seventy francs." They then went to Pere Lachaise, followed by two empty carriages with the armorial bearings of the Comte de Restaud and the Baron de Nucingen. With the tear that he dropped on Daddy Goriot's grave, Eugene de Rastignac's youth ended. He looked across the shining world of Paris in the distance that he had longed to reach, and said magniloquently :

"Henceforth, there is war between us!"

And by way of throwing down the glove to Society, he went to dine with Madame de Nucingen !

Home | More Articles | Email: