Pere Goriot

Pere Goriot Summary and Analysis of A Family Boardinghouse (Part 2)


Over the course of the day, the boarders go about their various tasks. Victorine and Madame Couture make an unsuccessful appeal to her father, while Poiret and Miss Michonneau continue their awkward courtship.

The next day, Rastignac goes to visit Anastasie at her home. He arrives just as Goriot is leaving the house, but is quickly distracted by Anastasie and her other visitor, a handsome and wealthy young man named Maxime de Trailles. A short time later, they are joined by Anastasie's husband, who seems impressed by Rastignac's family connections. Maxime, who is having an affair with Anastasie, immediately takes a dislike to Rastignac. More significantly, however, Rastignac blunders when he brings up Goriot and refers to him in an insulting way. This comment clearly offends the Comte and Comtesse, and Rastignac leaves shortly thereafter, knowing he will not be welcomed back.

Frustrated, Rastignac goes to call on Madame Beauseant. Madame Beauseant has been openly having an affair with a Portuguese nobleman named Monsieur d'Ajuda for a number of years but he is now about to get married to a wealthy young woman named Madamoiselle de Rochefide. On the day Rastignac visits, d'Ajuda is trying to work up the nerve to break the news to his mistress.

Relieved when Rastignac arrives, d'Ajuda departs in haste, but not before Madame Beauseant makes him justify his inability to stay by explaining that he has business at the English Embassy. However, as the carriage pulls away, Beauseant learns that her lover is actually headed to the Rochefide household, and sends an accusatory note to meet him there. She does not believe d'Ajuda will actually follow through with the match.

Rastignac explains to Beauseant that he called on Anastasie de Restaud but before he can get to the part about offending her, they are interrupted by the Duchesse de Langeais. Although the Duchesse seems to be Beauseant's friend, she makes a series of nasty comments about d'Ajuda's impending marriage. Rastignac finally gets the chance to tell his story, and Madame Beauseant and the Duchesse explain that Goriot is Anastasie's father, hence why she was offended by him being spoken of in insulting terms.

They also illuminate more about Goriot's family: he has two daughters, Anastasie, who is married to the Comte de Restaud and having an affair with Maxime de Trailles, as well as Delphine, who is married to a German banker named Baron de Nucingen. Goriot used his wealth to provide his daughters with large dowries so that they could marry well, but now his son-in-laws are ashamed of his lowly origins. The two sisters also have a bitter rivalry, and Madame de Beauseant suggests that Delphine would be eager to be wooed by Rastignac. If he can win her, he is likely to appear much more impressive to other Parisian women.

Rastignac returns to the boarding house, where he vows to stand up for Goriot to anyone who insults him. He also writes to his mother and sisters, begging them to send him money. Over the next few days, he calls repeatedly on Anastasie, but is never allowed to see her. He also spends time with Madame de Beauseant, learning whatever he can that will help him.


Over the course of two visits with members of Parisian high society, Rastignac both blunders and expands his knowledge of how to break into society. He is naïve enough to be surprised to find that Anastasie already has a lover, and that her husband seems to calmly tolerate the arrangement. At this time, provided a wealthy woman maintained basic forms of social decorum and produced heirs for her husband, it was not necessarily surprising or unacceptable for her to also pursue lovers for her own gratification. The marriage between the de Restauds is clearly a pragmatic arrangement, which adds another layer to Balzac's portrait of Paris as a place where everyone is looking out for their own interests. As Shanyn Fisk notes, "Balzac critiques the superficiality of a Parisian society in which appearances substitute for essence and humanity is hierarchized according to wealth and title" (pg. 85). For the wealthy and titled, strategic marriage alliances functioned as the "business" of maintaining influence and money. As readers learn slightly later, Anastasie could bring a large dowry to the marriage while her husband could bring prestige and a title. Part of the reason why Anastasie reacts so strongly to hearing her father spoken about in a dismissive way is because she knows it is somewhat shameful that her father is now relatively poor and lives in a boardinghouse.

Rastignac's naivety leads him to make this strategic error because he still doesn't fully understand how social mobility works. It seems impossible to him that an elegant woman like Anastasie could be the daughter of the shabby Goriot, whereas the very reason it was so important that she marry a titled aristocrat was to cover up her origins. However, Rastignac is clever enough to know he will benefit from sage advice, so he seeks out Madame de Beauseant as a mentor figure who will be able to help educate him. His encounter with Madame de Beauseant is informative even before he brings up the subject of Anastasie. Firstly, he gets another view of a married woman interacting with her lover in a relationship that is a publicly accepted open secret. D'Ajuda, not unlike Rastignac himself, is out to serve his own interests, and even though he seems to feel some real affection for his mistress, he is pragmatic enough to see the benefits of marrying into the wealthy Rochefide family. Both D'Ajuda and Maxime de Trailles offer Rastignac valuable information about what is required to impress a sophisticated Parisian woman, and the benefits of having a wealthy mistress.

Rastignac also observes the interaction between Madame de Beauseant and the Duchesse, which makes it clear that in high society there is no such thing as true friendship. The two women snipe at each other and say hurtful things. The interaction between the two women foreshadows the news that Delphine and Anastasie are rivals and want to outshine one another. In turn, the lack of love between the two sisters hints at why they will also be cold and selfish to their father, since they only want to improve their own position and prestige.

In such a world, it is hardly surprising that Rastignac is going to have to learn to be calculating and self-interested. Madame de Beauseant's cynicism and pragmatism are clear when she offers advice to Rastignac. She tells him to be motivated by his own ambitions above all else, and she also makes it clear that women can be manipulated in order to advance his goals. Perhaps because she knows that d'Ajuda has used her, Madame de Beauseant is all too aware of how ambitious men can benefit from getting women to fall in love with them.

As his path to move ahead in society becomes more clear, Rastignac shows that he is a quick study. Having made a hasty error with Anastasie, he is careful to take his time gathering information about Delphine before approaching her. The young student also takes an alternative application of Madame de Beauseant's advice about using women's emotional vulnerability. As he prepares to win Delphine as his mistress, he taps into the emotions of his mother and sisters. These women already love him, and will be willing to do whatever it takes to help him. The innocent and trusting generosity Rastignac's family shows to him parallels the endless generosity Goriot showers on his ungrateful daughters.