Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: Old Man Goriot

I am just tearing into my list of fifty classics lately.  Old Man Goriot, by Honore de Balzac, was written in 1835 and set in the year 1819.  It's a look at the excruciatingly competitive Paris society of the era.  Think Mean Girls to the 20th power.

Of the inhabitants of Madame Vaquer's Paris boarding house are Monsieur Goriot and Eugene de Rastignac, a young law student.  Goriot is a once-prosperous pasta dealer and Rastignac's family is of modest means, but they have high-society connections in Paris.  Rastignac becomes infatuated with Goriot's younger daughter, who is married to a rich banker, and already has a lover.  She sees Rastignac's social connections as her chance to get into the highest circle of society.  Which is really what this book is about: the machinations people perform, the debt they accumulate, and the private hell they experience simply to be accepted by the cool crowd.  Also an interesting look at the vastly different attitude about marriage in France at that time.  It was pretty much expected that all married people had extra-marital affairs.  One's husband was more like a business partner, so it was necessary to have a lover as well.

I found this to be a pretty depressing novel.  Goriot loves his daughters more than anything, but they reject him because of his humble background as a pasta dealer.  Even so, he funnels all of his money to them, which they waste on gambling and fripperies, while he lives in ever greater poverty.  Even when he is on his deathbed, neither daughter will come to see him; the older because she is negotiating her future financial arrangements with her husband, and the younger because she is hungover and needs to sleep in.  Read it if you want to wallow in your misery.

There will probably be no post next Friday because I am reading The Brothers Karamazov and there is no chance I'll be finished in time to write something.  When I first started writing these book suggestions, I would choose favorite books I'd read in the past, but I'm finding it difficult to remember enough details about these books to write a decent post about them.


  1. I'm reading Vonnegut. I like the idea of the fifty classics project, but in reality, I'd never finish it. Good for you.

    1. Vonnegut is one author I struggle with. I don't know why, as a lot of people seem to like him.

  2. I want to cheer you on in reading The Brothers. I sometimes think I should read it again - a lot was lost on me when I read it in my teens. But it never makes it into the book stack.

  3. You are so amazing doing your fifty classics project! I am glad to read your reviews. Also, I think I would love a father who sells pasta. Just saying. :-)