Cover image for Père Goriot
Père Goriot
Balzac, Honoré de, 1799-1850.
Uniform Title:
Père Goriot. English
Publication Information:
Oxford [England] ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.

Physical Description:
xxiv, 274 pages : map ; 20 cm.
Reading Level:
1180 Lexile.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
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Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Specially commissioned for the World's Classics, this translation includes a full editorial apparatus.

Author Notes

Born on May 20, 1799, Honore de Balzac is considered one of the greatest French writers of all time. Balzac studied in Paris and worked as a law clerk while pursuing an unsuccessful career as an author. He soon accumulated enormous debts that haunted him most of his life.

A prolific writer, Balzac would often write for 14 to-16 hours at a time. His writing is marked by realistic portrayals of ordinary, but exaggerated characters and intricate detail. In 1834, Balzac began organizing his works into a collection called The Human Comedy, an attempt to group his novels to present a complete social history of France. Characters in this project reappeared throughout various volumes, which ultimately consisted of approximately 90 works. Some of his works include Cesar Birotteau, Le Cousin Pons, Seraphita, and Le Cousine Bette.

Balzac wed his lifelong love, Eveline Hanska in March 1850 although he was gravely ill at the time. Balzac died in August of that year.

(Bowker Author Biography)



From Peter Connor's Introduction to Pere Goriot Père Goriot is also the perfect novel to start with if one has read none of the roughly ninety novels and stories that make up La Comédie humaine ( The Human Comedy ), the title Balzac gave to his collected oeuvre. It is probably with Père Goriot that Balzac consciously set about perfecting the technique of recurring characters that marks his signal contribution to literary history; in it, he introduces a number of people who reappear in later novels, and brings back a few who have been introduced already in earlier ones. Indeed, Rastignac stands out as an exemplary figure in this new way of envisioning the novel. Avid readers of Balzac at the time had encountered him already in La Peau de chagrin ( The Wild Ass's Skin , 1831), a novel published before Père Goriot (1835) but in which Rastignac appears as a mature man, older than the young student living at the Maison Vauquer in Père Goriot . Père Goriot gives us the story of Rastignac's beginnings in society; a prequel to The Wild Ass's Skin , it provides the backstory (as they say in Hollywood), just as other novels in La Comédie humaine will inform us about Rastignac's adventures later in life. Explaining his system of composition in the preface to Illusions perdues ( Lost Illusions , 1843), Balzac writes: "When one of these characters finds himself, like M. de Rastignac in Père Goriot , arrested in mid-career, you should seek him out again in Profil de Marquise ( Profile of a Marquesa ), in The Interdiction [ L'Interdiction ], in The Firm of Nucingen [ La Maison Nucingen] , and finally in The Wild Ass's Skin , acting in each epoch according to the rank he has then reached." This explains the occasional reference in Père Goriot to the future life of one of its characters, as for example when Balzac writes of Rastignac that "the self-possession which pre-eminently distinguished him in later life already stood him in good stead." Rastignac appears in more than twenty of the novels in La Comédie humaine , a vast tapestry of characters whose lives are interwoven in different ways at different periods. (When one considers the incidence of recurrence of other characters from Père Goriot --the Baron de Nucingen appears or is mentioned in thirty-one stories, Bianchon in twenty-nine, Delphine in seventeen, Gobseck in thirteen, Madame de Beauséant in ten, etc.--one begins to get an idea of the complexity of the social tableau Balzac painted.) The interweaving is crucial: Balzac is less interested in individual characters than in the relations that bind them together at different moments in their lives. Fascinated by the social bond in its manifold forms, Balzac wrote novels and stories that abound in the representation of alliances, friendships, associations, groups, gangs, families (and pseudofamilies, such as the boarders at the Maison Vauquer). Although he is known as the creator of some of the most compelling characters of nineteenth-century fiction (including Rastignac and Vautrin from Goriot ), and in spite of the fact that he wrote in an era of unprecedented individualism--the era of individual rights and bourgeois liberalism that came fast upon the revolutionary turmoil of the late eighteenth century--one could perhaps argue that Balzac's work demonstrates that there is no such entity as the individual; there is only the collective, shared existence of humanity (the boardinghouse in Père Goriot is a fine example of this commonality), along with a thoroughly modern sense of the precariousness of the very categories of individual, self, and identity, which Balzac approaches with skepticism. The method of recurring characters is designed precisely to allow for the representation of a vast social panorama in all its multiplicity as well as the successive and different selves (or "incarnations," as he liked to say; see La Dernière incarnation de Vautrin [1847; The Last Incarnation of Vautrin ]) for a single character who is anything but an individual. "From being individual," wrote writer and critic Barbey d'Aurevilly of Balzac's fiction, "the novel became social. Where there had been a man, there was a whole society." In order to represent the whole of society--"the whole hotchpotch of civilization," as he writes in his second preface to Père Goriot --Balzac needed a more elastic form than the novel as it was then conceived. For if the novel at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century excelled in depicting the psychology of an individual character (classic examples would be Étienne Pivert de Senancour's Oberman or Benjamin Constant's Adolphe ), it was not capacious enough to inscribe the social heterogeneity--the multiple and increasingly interconnected strata of society--that for Balzac formed the essence of the modern, post-Revolutionary experience. Balzac's method freed him from the formal limitations of the novel and allowed him to represent the vicissitudes of a large group of characters considered over a long period of time. The technique could moreover be applied retrospectively, as it were, since with each new edition of his works, Balzac had the opportunity to alter the names of characters, selecting a known name from the ever-expanding community of La Comédie humaine . Hence, in the original edition of La Comédie humaine there are twenty-three recurring characters; in subsequent editions, there are as many as fifty.1 The vastness of the scale on which he was working (there are upwards of 2,500 characters) led him into numerous errors, confusions, and contradictions among the novels: contradictions in physical appearance; inconsistencies in civil status, character traits, or behavior (the cynical gambler Rastignac of The Wild Ass's Skin is for some readers difficult to reconcile with the Rastignac of Père Goriot , who in the manuscript is named Massiac until his meeting with Madame de Beauséant and the Duchesse de Langeais; uncertainty of place or date of birth (Rastignac is from Gascony in The Wild Ass's Skin and from the Charente in Père Goriot and Lost Illusions ); differences in the spelling of proper names; characters who come back from the dead; posthumous children, etc. (Lotte, "Le 'retour des personnages' dans La Comédie humaine "; see "For Further Reading"). Excerpted from Pere Goriot by Honoré de Balzac All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. vii
Note On The Textp. xix
Select Bibliographyp. xxi
1 A Family Boarding Housep. 1
2 Entry on the Social Scenep. 83
3 Death-Dodgerp. 150
4 The Father's Deathp. 207
Explanatory Notesp. 267