Discussion Post: Le Père Goriot
Welcome back to the LT Classics Challenge discussion! This week we are exploring the world of 19th-century Paris with the aid of Balzac’s Le Père Goriot. The next and final book in this cycle of the Challenge (over already?!) is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (for all you John Cusack or Latin American literature fans out there).
But for now, let’s focus on Balzac! Remember that all participants in the discussion (via comments or on your own blog) will be entered to win either a Penguin Clothbound Classic or a special limited edition World Book Night 2011 book, winner’s choice! These questions are only starters, so if you have anything particular you’d like to bring up, please do so!
What do you make of the fact that Rastignac’s two main choices for female companionship (Goriot’s daughter and his fellow resident) are both tainted?
I found it really interesting that Balzac re-imagined the classic “good innocent girl vs. the spoiled rich woman of the world” conflict by tainting the former with her (albeit unwitting) connection to “Cheat-Death” and actually making Delphine rather sympathetic.
That said, I was also rather disappointed Balzac didn’t explore this more fully as Victorine was basically packed off to her father’s once she regained her fortune and was never heard from again while Delphine teetered between selfishness and sweetness for the entire story, culminating in her failing to go to her father on his death-bed. Perhaps Balzac was trying to make the point that Rastignac was beyond even getting to make the choice between good and evil (as the choice between two women so often personifies) since he has gone too far into the glittering, but seedy, world of the Parisian social elite already or perhaps it meant nothing, but I think the choice between women is so often hugely important to these coming-of-age stories (see: Great Expectations or even The Three Musketeers) that it can’t be ignored completely.
What point is Balzac trying to make in Le Père Goriot? Is it a critique of male rapaciousness and female selfishness or is the novel trying to make other non-gendered, and perhaps generational or location-focused, points?
I think it is largely an indictment of the Parisian aristocracy/social elite during this era. The only wholly untainted people are Rastignac’s country relatives who just seem like such dear, trusting people that they could almost use a Parisian whap upside the head.
Everyone in Paris is in some way a little bad, and those at the top are portrayed as the worst. All the same, those at the bottom are hardly good, with even Goriot’s doctor being only interested in him for his possible interest to the larger medicine community because of the severity of his symptoms! Dreadful, dreadful.
Favorite and Least Favorite Parts: I really didn’t have any, but I must say I found the book pretty depressing when taken as a whole. It just made me want to call up my father and promise that I wouldn’t abandon him after marrying a German banker! (Full disclosure, I may have actually done that. He was confused, but glad to hear it.)
What did you all think of Le Père Goriot? Sound off below!