Pere Goriot

Reception and legacy

Le Père Goriot is widely considered Balzac's essential novel.[1] Its influence on French literature has been considerable, as shown by novelist Félicien Marceau's remark: "We are all children of Le Père Goriot."[62] Brooks refers to its "perfection of form, its economy of means and ends".[63] Martin Kanes, meanwhile, in his book Le Pére Goriot: Anatomy of a Troubled World, calls it "the keystone of the Comédie humaine".[64] It is the central text of Anthony Pugh's voluminous study Balzac's Recurring Characters, and entire chapters have been written about the detail of the Maison Vauquer.[65] Because it has become such an important novel for the study of French literature, Le Père Goriot has been translated many times into many languages. Thus, says Balzac biographer Graham Robb, "Goriot is one of the novels of La Comédie humaine that can safely be read in English for what it is."[66]

Initial reviews of the book were mixed. Some reviewers accused Balzac of plagiarism or of overwhelming the reader with detail and painting a simplistic picture of Parisian high society.[56] Others attacked the questionable morals of the characters, implying that Balzac was guilty of legitimizing their opinions. He was condemned for not including more individuals of honorable intent in the book.[67] Balzac responded with disdain; in the second preface of 1835, he wrote with regard to Goriot: "Poor man! His daughters refused to recognize him because he had lost his fortune; now the critics have rejected him with the excuse that he was immoral."[68]

Many critics of the time, though, were positive: a review in Le Journal des femmes proclaimed that Balzac's eye "penetrates everywhere, like a cunning serpent, to probe women's most intimate secrets".[69] Another review, in La Revue du théâtre, praised his "admirable technique of details".[69] The many reviews, positive and negative, were evidence of the book's popularity and success. One publisher's critique dismissed Balzac as a "boudoir writer", although it predicted for him "a brief career, but a glorious and enviable one".[69]

Balzac himself was extremely proud of the work, declaring even before the final installment was published: "Le Père Goriot is a raging success; my fiercest enemies have had to bend the knee. I have triumphed over everything, over friends as well as the envious."[70] As was his custom, he revised the novel between editions; compared to other novels, however, Le Père Goriot remained largely unchanged from its initial version.[56]

In the years following its release, the novel was often adapted for the stage. Two theatrical productions in 1835 – several months after the book's publication – sustained its popularity and increased the public's regard for Balzac.[71] In the 20th century, a number of film versions were produced, including adaptations directed by Travers Vale (1915),[72] Jacques de Baroncelli (1922),[73] and Paddy Russell (1968).[74] The name of Rastignac, meanwhile, has become an iconic sobriquet in the French language; a "Rastignac" is synonymous with a person willing to climb the social ladder at any cost.[63]

Another well known line of this book by Balzac is when Vautrin tells Eugene, "In that case I will make you an offer that no one would decline."[75] This has been reworked by Mario Puzo in the novel The Godfather (1969) and its film adaptation (1972); "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse". It was ranked as the second most significant cinematic quote in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes (2005) by the American Film Institute.


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