A kind-hearted and idealistic youth enters the grasping Parisian society of the 1820s, where his education in the realities and costs of city life begin among the residents of a shabby but respectable boardinghouse. Père Goriot — one of the outstanding novels in The Human Comedy, Balzac's panoramic study of Parisian life — features richly detailed settings, a skillfully related plot, and a vibrant cast of characters. Acclaimed by critic Leslie Stephen as "the modern King Lear," it offers a timeless view of the tragedies behind the prosaic details of everyday life. Translated by Ellen Marriage.
Pere Goriot is the tragic story of a father whose obsessive love for his two daughters leads to his financial and personal ruin. Interwoven with this theme is that of the impoverished young aristocrat, Rastignac, come to Paris from the provinces to make his fortune, who befriends Goriot and becomes involved with the daughters. The story is set against the background of a whole society driven by social ambition and lust for money.
En 1845, Balzac décida de réunir toute son oeuvre sous le titre: La Comédie Humaine, titre qu'il emprunta peut-être à Vigny... En 1845, quatre-vingt-sept ouvrages étaient finis sur quatre-vingt-onze, et Balzac croyait bien achever ce qui restait en cours d'exécution. Lorsqu'il mourut, on retrouva encore cinquante projets et ébauches plus ou moins avancés. Vous ne figurez pas ce que c'est que La Comédie Humaine; c'est plus vaste littérairement parlant que la cathédrale de Bourges architecturalement, écrit-il à Mme Carreaud. Dans l'Avant-Propos de la gigantesque édition, Balzac définit son oeuvre: La Comédie Humaine est la peinture de la société.
“HULLO! There is that old Box-coat again!” This exclamation was made by a lawyer’s clerk of the class called in French offices a gutter-jumper—a messenger in fact—who at this moment was eating a piece of dry bread with a hearty appetite. He pulled off a morsel of crumb to make into a bullet, and fired it gleefully through the open pane of the window against which he was leaning. The pellet, well aimed, rebounded almost as high as the window, after hitting the hat of a stranger who was crossing the courtyard of a house in the Rue Vivienne, where dwelt Maitre Derville, attorney-at-law. “Come, Simonnin, don’t play tricks on people, or I will turn you out of doors. However poor a client may be, he is still a man, hang it all!” said the head clerk, pausing in the addition of a bill of costs. The lawyer’s messenger is commonly, as was Simonnin, a lad of thirteen or fourteen, who, in every office, is under the special jurisdiction of the managing clerk, whose errands and billets-doux keep him employed on his way to carry writs to the bailiffs and petitions to the Courts. He is akin to the street boy in his habits, and to the pettifogger by fate. The boy is almost always ruthless, unbroken, unmanageable, a ribald rhymester, impudent, greedy, and idle. And yet, almost all these clerklings have an old mother lodging on some fifth floor with whom they share their pittance of thirty or forty francs a month.
During Napoleon's campaign in Egypt, one French soldier becomes separated from his regiment and finds himself wandering lost in the desert. Just when he has given up all hope, he makes an unlikely friend. This highly allegorical short story gives readers an opportunity to ponder the nature of love and human relationships.
One of those sights in which most horror is to be encountered is, surely, the general aspect of the Parisian populace—a people fearful to behold, gaunt, yellow, tawny. Is not Paris a vast field in perpetual turmoil from a storm of interests beneath which are whirled along a crop of human beings, who are, more often than not, reaped by death, only to be born again as pinched as ever, men whose twisted and contorted faces give out at every pore the instinct, the desire, the poisons with which their brains are pregnant; not faces so much as masks; masks of weakness, masks of strength, masks of misery, masks of joy, masks of hypocrisy; all alike worn and stamped with the indelible signs of a panting cupidity? What is it they want? Gold or pleasure? A few observations upon the soul of Paris may explain the causes of its cadaverous physiognomy, which has but two ages—youth and decay: youth, wan and colorless; decay, painted to seem young. In looking at this excavated people, foreigners, who are not prone to reflection, experience at first a movement of disgust towards the capital, that vast workshop of delights, from which, in a short time, they cannot even extricate themselves, and where they stay willingly to be corrupted. A few words will suffice to justify physiologically the almost infernal hue of Parisian faces, for it is not in mere sport that Paris has been called a hell.
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