Why is Balzac so careful to give a detailed description of the scene  and the background?

A) Criticism made against Balzac for his lengthy descriptions

B) Four justifications for his lengthy descriptions

(1) The background is essential in view of Balzac's deterministic approach.

(2) The background is essential to convey the full force of the drama.

  1. The full pathos of his heartless exploitation by his daughters is understood, by the detail of the insalubrious district in which Goriot spent his final years.
  2. The overwhelming ambition and moral compromises of Eugene are explained by the “misère sans poésie” of the district, in which he lived, contrasted with the glittering opulence of life in high society.

(3) The artistic justification. The descriptions have their own literary quality
Balzac is passionately interested in things. He gives them a vivid interest.

(4) Balzac wished to write the social history of his time. 

A) Balzac is famous for the very detailed descriptions in his works.  Some critics have claimed that they are unnecessarily long and hold up the action.  One critic made the cutting remark that his books read like an inventory for an auction sale.  Most critics, however recognize these descriptive passages as an essential feature of Balzac’s genius.

B) Four justifications for his lengthy descriptions
(1) Balzac's determinism.
Balzac believed that a full description of the background was essential to an explanation of why people were as they were and why events happened as they did.   Balzac was convinced by the deterministic theories of Lamarck and St Hilaire and believed that people interacted strongly with their environment. Thus the person made his or her environment and the environment shaped the person. He says of Mme Vauquer – page 13:
…..enfin toute sa personne explique la pension, comme la pension implique sa personne:

Similarly, the furniture of the house is composed of rejects and Poiret and Mlle Michonneau are human cast-offs of society in the same way as. Page 11
Il s'y rencontre de ces meubles indestruc­tibles, proscrits partout, mais placés là comme le sont les débris de la civilisation aux Incurables.

(2) The importance of the background in the preparation of the drama of the book.
 The contrast between the two worlds of Paris, i.e. the poverty of Mme. Vauquer's with the opulence of high society explains the birth of the ambition of Eugene. Page 95.

Le spectacle de ces misères et l'aspect de cette salle lui furent horribles. La transition était trop brusque, le contraste trop complet, pour ne pas développer outre mesure chez lui le sentiment de l'ambition.

The tempter Vautrin is able to rub home this contrast to Eugene. He tells Rastignac of the total impossibility of his ambitions. He won't get serious money just from working hard. This leads to a retirement like Poiret’s in Mme Vauquer's, boarding house-Page 123:
Le travail, compris comme vous le comprenez en ce moment, donne, dans les vieux jours, un appartement chez maman Vauquer, à des gars de la force de Poiret.

One can be more sympathetic to Eugene's extravagant ambition when one realises that the price of failure might be represented by a life at Mme. Vauquer's.

(ii)The detail of the squalor of Goriot’s room reveals the full pathos of the Goriot’s situation, into which he has been driven by the selfishness of hisdaughters. The long description is summed up as follows: Page 149:
L'aspect de cette chambre donnait froid et serrait le cœur, elle ressemblait au plus triste logement d'une pri­son.

Eugene is shocked at the contrast between this room and the luxurious homes of his daughters, who until recently have still been taking money from him. The contrast becomes increasingly poignant as Goriot dies in a miserable bed, in a damp unheated room, while his daughters dance amid the glamour and luxury of the highest levels of Parisian society. Rastignac feels bitter when he looks at the diamonds of the daughters and thinks of their father on his miserable deathbed -Page 281;
Il revit alors , sous les diamants des deux sœurs, le grabat sur lequel gisait le père Goriot

(3) The lengthy description found in the books of Balzac can certainly be justified artistically.  With the power of his writing, Balzac can paint a very vivid picture in the mind of the reader.  For example, the detail of the squalor of Mme. Vauquer's rooms is piled on with abandon and to give a magnificent cumulative impression of this dilapidated, insalubrious place. Of the sitting room he says:Page 11
Elle sent le renfermé, le moisi, le rance; elle donne froid, elle est humide au nez, elle pénètre les vêtements; elle a le goût d'une salle où l'on a dîné; elle pue le service,- l'office, l'hospice

Balzac, in fact, loved objects. He was a collector and saw himself as a connoisseur. He is able to communicate his love of things: houses, furniture, dress, to the reader.
(4) Balzac also had a very lofty ambition. He wished to be the historian of his age.
Le père Goriot (1834) was the first novel written after this momentous decision. In this novel for the first time he reintroduces characters from earlier novels to give the impression of a real society.

Balzac maintains that his book describes real people and situations that he has observed personally.  He recognizes that, after reading of the secret misfortunes of le Père Goriot, readers may comfort themselves that there is artistic exaggeration.  However, Balzac maintains all that he relates is true. Page 6:
Ah! sachez-le : ce drame n'est ni une fiction, ni un roman. All is true, il est si véritable, que chacun peut en reconnaître les éléments chez soi, dans son cœur peut-être.

We probably are forced to admit that there is psychological truth in the phenomenon of spoilt children mercilessly bleeding their loving parents into old age.  There is certainly an autobiographical element as he himself was a law student in Paris at the time that his fictional character, Rastignac arrived in Paris. Just as Rastignac turned to Mme de Beauséant, so also, Balzac used the patronage of rich ladies to make progress in Paris society.

Most likely he knew a Mme Vauquer, who is an archetypal landlady, enhanced by the exaggerated folklore passed on with interest by student boarders.  When some critics claimed that Vautrin was not believable, Balzac replied that he knew a Vautrin and we can now hazard a guess at the identity of this historical figure (see notes on the character of Vautrin).

Most readers will agree that Balzac has succeeded in making his masterpiece serve also as an historical record  Through this book  we are able to experience life in Paris during the Restoration.  We are privileged to have the camera of Balzac’s tireless description to complete the surrounding scene.  For the lover of Balzac’s writings, not one word is redundant.




A) Life in the poor districts of the city

  1. The description of the poverty
  2. It is a valley of real suffering
  3. The district offers some joys often false. 
  4. It is an area where people are frantically absorbed in pursuing their own interest

B) The life of the rich in Paris

  1. Gold is the God who rules Paris life
  2. The way that fortunes are made in Paris
  3. Examples of fortunes that have been made by dishonest means
  4. The culture of debt - Parisians living beyond their means.
  5. Conclusion - money is the ultima ratio mundi in Paris.


  1. Society is shallow
  2. Social success demands total ruthlessness
  3. Desperate means are used in the struggle for reputation and social status.
  4. Society is hypocritical - just a matter of keeping up appearances
  5. Society is cruel
  6. Society’s failings are mean - unrelieved by any grandeur
  7. The infidelity of spouses in the rich families of Paris
  8. To succeed in Paris, you have to forget your pride and crawl. 
  9. The damning final verdict on Paris
  10. Balzac’s equivocal attitude to Paris


Balzac intention is to write a detailed record of the France of his day. This involves a description of the physical environment: the houses, the streets, the house interiors etc.  It involves also a close study of the inhabitants.  From the author’s comment while describing the Maison Vauquer, we see that Balzac, the social historian, saw the people in his books not just as particular figures in his fiction but as representative of the social mix of contemporary France, Page 24,
Une réunion semblable devait offrir et offrait en petit les éléments d'une société -complète.

He shows us two very contrasting faces of Paris – 
A) Life in the poor districts of the city
B)Life in the opulent haunts of Paris high society.

A) Life in the poor districts of the city

1) The description of the poverty
The poor district which is described is the area around the Maison Vauquer. Balzac describes its geographic location as lying between the hills of Montmartre and Montrouge, Page 6 :                     
Les particularités de cette scène pleine d’observations et de couleurs locales 
ne peuvent être appréciées qu'entre les buttes de Montmartre et les hauteurs de Montrouge….and he goes on to give us a rapid summary of the features of this quarter :
Its squalor- Page 6-
cette illustre vallée de plâtras incessamment près de tomber et de ruisseaux noirs de boue 
In these opening pages of the book he gives relentless detail of the dismal character of this neglected backwater of Paris Page 7.
…l'herbe croît le long des murs.  L'homme le plus insouciant s'y attriste comme tous les passants, le bruit d'une voiture y devient un événement, les maisons y sont mornes, les murailles y sentent la prison.

There follows a description of a typical house, the Vauquer boarding house. First the outside, then the gardens and then he moves on to give a detailed description of the inside of the house. He piles on the details to give a picture which is magnificent in its cumulative effect..- for example, the sitting room and its “odeur de pension”- Page 11. 
Elle sent le renfermé, le moisi, le rance; elle donne froid, elle est humide au nez, elle pénètre les vêtements; elle a le goût d'une salle où l'on a dîné; elle pue le service,- l'office, l'hospice.

But this is an elegant scented boudoir in comparison with the dining room with its greasy furniture and chipped crockery. The furniture is composed of the things other people have thrown away. Page 11.
Il s'y rencontre de ces meubles indestructibles, proscrits partout, mais placés là comme le sont les débris de la civilisation aux Incurables.

He sums up the room as follows--
Enfin, là règne la misère sans poésie; une misère économe, concentrée, râpée. Si elle n'a pas de fange encore, elle a des taches; si elle n'a ni trous ni haillons, elle va tomber en pourriture.

The deterministic Balzac goes on to say that the soul destroying features of the area and the buildings were reflected in the inhabitants, page 18:
Aussi le spectacle désolant que présentait l'intérieur de cette maison se répétait-il dans le costume de ses habitués, également délabrés.
He gives a picture of Mlle. Michonneau  with detail of her dress - her shawl with its fringes. She is now skinny like a skeleton and invites the question what acid had eaten her away- Page 18:                        
Quel acide avait dépouillé cette créature de ses formes féminines?

Another typical denizen was the retired man Poiret, with his skinny legs, shaky walk, and shrivelled neck. He was a kind of automaton - Page 19:
Monsieur Poiret était une espèce de mécanique
Poiret had spent his life in some miserable menial job of state - perhaps checking the public executioner's expense forms - a dirty job someone has got to do.

Vautrin uses Poiret as a symbol  of the meagre rewards for a life of hard work in a mediocre career.  He tells Eugène page 123:  
Le travail, compris comme vous le comprenez en ce moment, donne, dans les vieux jours, un appartement chez maman Vauquer, à des gars de la force de Poiret  
2) It is a valley of real suffering

In his initial summary, Balzac tells us this poor district of Paris is a « vallée remplie de souffrances réelles ».  The tragic story of Goriot, impoverished and destroyed by the selfish extravagances of two daughters whom he loved to distraction is sufficient .o illustrate this

vallée remplie de souffrances réelles, de joies souvent fausses, et si terriblement agitée qu'il faut je ne sais quoi d'exorbitant pour y produire une sensation de quelque durée

3) The district offers some joys often false.  
In his brief initial summay, Balzacsays tat in this poor district, one encounters  “joies souvent fausses”.  The dinners at Mme Vauquer’swere very convivial occasions with a lot of joking laughter and singing led by Vautrin as self-appointed master of ceremonies.  However the pastimes were often merely silly such as adding “ama” onto every word possible to mock fashionable artistic jargon.  Often the sport of the guests was cruel, picking on one of their number for the butt of their jokes.  Mocking Rastignac in his pretentious dandy outfit could be justified, but to pick on old Goriot , absorbed in his personal sorrows, making play of his alleged senility , was callous.

4) It is an area where people are frantically absorbed in pursuing their own interest 
As the previous description had made the area appear to be a backwater, it comes as a surprise that as the final feature in his initial summary, Balzac describes it as : si terriblement agitée qu'il faut je ne sais quoi d'exorbitant pour y produire une sensation de quelque durée.  The book shows this to be true however.  The people are so involved with their own mean struggles for survival that they have little time to think about anyone else or spend much time thinking of their sufferings. 

After the huge turmoil of Vautrin’s arrest, the selfish routine of  Paris life soon resumes.   Those not affected in the Vauquer boarding hose go to table and the events of the day start to be drowned in the turmoil of Paris life. -Page 232:
L'insouciance habituelle de ce monde égoïste qui, le lendemain, devait avoir dans les événements quotidiens de Paris une autre proie à dévorer, reprit le dessus, et madame Vauquer elle-même se laissa calmer par l'espérance, qui emprunta la voix de la grosse Sylvie.

When Goriot is in the agony of death, Mme Vauquer’s major concern is to look after her sheets on the deathbed and to make sure she does not lose any rent.  She would pefer the dying man to be taken from her house; Page 300
Ca frappe mes pensionnaires. Pour un rien, je le ferais porter à l'hôpital.  Enfin, mettez-vous à ma place. Mon établissement avant tout, c'est ma vie, à moi.

Many of the other boarders think that Rastignac are making too much fuss over Goriot.  They tell him page 305:
Un des privilèges de la bonne ville de Paris, c'est qu'on peut y naître, y vivre, y mourir sans que personne fasse attention à vous. Profitons donc des avantages de la civilisation

B) The life of the rich in Paris

The people in the rich districts of Paris show the same indifference to the plight of their neighbours, as in seen among the inhabitants of the poor quarters and with them the cause is the same.  They, as well, are too preoccupied with their own personal interests to worry about others  and their wealth, instead of cushioning them, merely commits them to a frantic struggle to maintain their lifestyle and social prestige.As in the society of the Maison Vauquer, people here are also too concerned with their personal interests. When Goriot lay dying and needed their affection, his daughters were too absorbed in their own lives to be at their father’s death bed and to attend his funeral.


(1) Gold is the God who rules Paris life
In Paris it is unforgivable to be poor.  Mme de Langeais says -Page 92 :
Nous ne pardonnons pas plus à un sentiment de s'être montré tout entier qu’à un homme de ne pas avoir un sou à lui

 a) The colossal extravagance. In the top ranks of society, we see vast expenditure to achieve the great luxury.  When Vautrin overhears Rastignac describing to Goriot his wonderful experience of the previous night, in the company of Delphine, at the highly prestigious ball given by the Duchesse de Carigliano, he brings the young man down to earth by describing the fabulous wealth required to live in high society.   Vautrin says it is impossible to live in society and board at Mme. Vauquer’s.  He lists the requirements of the rich gentleman of Paris: coaches, horses, clothes, perfumer, hatter, laundry = 40,000 francs.
Bets and gambling = 2,000 francs.  He includes a house and food and totals up all of this-Page 172:
Allez, mon enfant, nous en avons pour nos petits vingt-cinq mille par an dans les flancs, ou nous tombons dans la crotte, nous nous faisons moquer de nous, et nous sommes destitués de notre avenir, de nos succès, de nos maîtresses!

b) Wealth gives power in Paris 
Wealth builds wealth. Goriot's business prospered once he had the capital).
Goriot had been a simple workman in the trade of gold/silver metals, until he had bought his boss's business when the latter fell victim of the Revolution in 1789. By wisely becoming President of the Revolutionary Section, he was able to get protection and amassed capital by speculation in the period of food shortage that followed the overthrow of the monarchy. (Note the importance of money)- Page 102:
Pendant cette année, le citoyen Goriot amassa les capitaux qui plus tard lui servirent à faire son commerce avec toute la supériorité que donne une grande masse d'argent à celui qui la possède.

c) Wealth gives social prestige in Paris
To catch the eye of a woman in Paris, a man needed piles of money.
A man without money is treated with contempt.  We see the humiliation of Eugene when he pays his first afternoon visit to Anastasie and Mme. de Beauséant.  During the events of that day, it was impressed on Eugène that wealth is needed to have a lady of society as one's mistress -Page 82:
— Voilà, se dit-il l’homme au coupé !  Mais il faut donc avoir des chevaux fringants, des livrées et de l'or à  flots pour obtenir le regard d'une femme de Paris? Le démon du luxe le mordit au cœur, la fièvre du gain le prit, la soif de l'or lui sécha la gorge. Il avait cent trente francs pour son trimestre.

Goriot was welcome at the homes of his daughters and his rich sons-in-law as long as he had money.  He bitterly recognises this truth on his deathbed.  He describes how loving his daughters were to him in the first years of marriage when he was still rich. -Page 290:
Un homme qui donne huit cent mille francs à ses filles était un homme à soigner. Et l'on était aux petits soins, mais c'était pour mon argent. Le monde n'est pas beau. J'ai vu cela, moi!

 d) Wealth buys justice.   Vautrin says that in the slough of Paris – Page 60
. Ceux qui s'y crottent en voiture sont d'honnêtes gens, ceux qui s'y crottent à pied sort des fripons. Ayez le malheur d'y décrocher n'importe quoi, vous êtes montré sur la place du Palais-de-justice comme une curiosité. Volez un million, vous êtes marqué dans les salons comme une vertu. Vous payez trente millions à la Gendar­merie et à la Justice pour maintenir cette morale-là. joli!

2) The way that fortunes are made in Paris

a) Corruption.  Vautrin says that great wealth is accumulated by corruption and dishonesty.  He tells Rastignac that 50,000 young men in Paris are devouring each other to make a fortune. -Page 124:
Savez-vous comment on fait son chemin ici? Par l'éclat du génie ou  par l’adresse de la corruption.

Corruption is found in abundance, talent is rare.  It is demonstrated by the number of people in Paris, who are able mysteriously to live beyond their means- Page 124:
Vous verrez des employés à douze cents francs acheter des terres. Vous verrez des femmes se prostituer pour aller dans la voiture du fils d'un pair de France, qui peut courir à Longchamp sur la chaussée du milieu.

b)  Total ruthlessness.  According to Vautrin some would kill to gain wealth.  He had earlier described the ruthless quest for wealth of the Parisian woman Page 57
…….voilà les Parisiennes. Si leurs maris ne peuvent entretenir leur luxe effréné, elles se vendent.  Si elles ne savent pas se vendre, elles éventreraient leurs mères pour y chercher de quoi briller. Enfin elles font les cent mille coups. Connu, connu!

It is the mercenary demands of his daughters that lead to Goriot’s illness and death.  Delphine had previously admitted to Rastignac that she and her sister had taken all Goriot’s money. After their relationship broke up, Delphine urgently needed money to repay De Marsay the money she had previously accepted from him. Her pride now demanded this, to show that she was never his kept woman.  However she cannot ask help from her father -Page 165:
Anastasie et moi nous l’avons égorgé;  mon pauvre père se serait vendu s'il pouvait valoir six mille francs. J'aurais été le désespérer en vain.

Fortunes made by exploiting one’s contacts
In one of his less honourable moments, Rastignac muses over the idea of using Delphine’s husband to achieve the wealth he desires.  Although he did not think this in so many words, he had this in the back of his mind- Page 147:
Ce mari fait des affaires d'or, il pourra m'aider à ramasser tout d'un coup une fortune. Il ne se disait pas cela crument, il n'était pas encore assez politique pour chiffrer une situation, l'apprécier et la calculer;

Fortunes made by marrying into wealth:  Vautrin warns of the disadvantages of this dishonourable option - Page 123:
Voulez-vous vous marier? Ce sera vous mettre une pierre au cou; puis, Si vous vous mariez pour de l'argent, que deviennent nos sentiments d'honneur, notre noblesse!  There is a moment in the book when Rastignac begins to see this as the only course and briefly turns his attention to Victorine, while totally in love with Delphine.

Vautrin says that men who steal fortunes from a family by love intrigues are not regarded as thieves. - Page 132:
Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu'il a été proprement fait.

Eugene recognises that Vautrin is preaching the same lesson on corruption that Mme. de Beauséant had given him - Page 132:
Il m'a dit crûment ce que madame de Beauséant me disait en y mettant des formes. Il me déchirait le cœur avec des grilles d'acier.

3 Examples of fortunes that have been made by dishonest means
The very rich people of Paris have often built heir fortunes on dishonesty. Page 129 Vautrin says Victorine’s father, M. Taillefer is a rogue, who had amassed his wealth by dishonest means- Page 129

At the end of the book we are told that the banker, Nucingen, intends to make his fortune by cheating and ruining the builders who develop his land.

During the turmoil of the French revolution many poor working class people had massed great wealth. Out of self-interest, Goriot had become president of his revolutionary section and, in corrupt league with other revolutionaries, he had exploited the food shortage by selling flour at exorbitant rates and had made his fortune.

4 The culture of debt -  Parisians living beyond their means.

Rastignac had been surprised to see the rich young lady Anastasie in one of the shady districts of Paris. Vautrin understands immediately what she was up to.  Yesterday she was dancing at a ball in the mansion of a Duchess, today she needs to go to the premises of a money lender - Page 57:
Hier en haut de la roue, chez une duchesse, dit Vautrin; ce matin en bas de l'échelle, chez un escompteur; voilà les Parisiennes.

At the end of the book we see Anastasie frantically trying to settle the debts of her lover, De Trailles,  by secretly selling her husband's family's diamonds

Delphine says her own desperate financial situation is typical of that of half the women of Paris- Pages 165/166:
Voilà la vie de la moitié des femmes de Paris : un luxe extérieur, des soucis cruels dans l’âme. Je connais de pauvres créatures encore plus malheureuses que je ne le suis.

The typical dandy lived on credit.  Rastignac possessed everything that could be purchased on credit, but to find ready cash he was in a fix and he could not pay a month’s notice to Mme. Vauquer. This was the lifestyle of most young dandies of Paris- Page 173;
Si le jeune homme assis au balcon d'un théâtre offre à la lorgnette des jolies femmes d'étourdissants gilets, il est douteux qu'il ait des chaussettes

Indulgence in gambling meant that debts could total immense sums. We learn that the debts of De Trailles amount to 100,000 francs and he faces the debtor’s prison

5 Conclusion - money is the ultima ratio mundi in Paris.
Rastignac is filled with anger by Mme. de Beauséant’s certainty that Anastasie has closed her door to him after his clumsy faux pas.  He wants revenge but he realises he needs money to continue in society.
His outlook begins to change and he sees money as the ultimate rationality of the world - Page 95.
II vit le monde comme il est : les lois et la Morale impuissantes chez les riches, et vit dans la fortune l'ultima ratio mundi. “Vautrin a raison, la fortune est la vertu! » se dit-il .


1) Society is shallow
Mme de Beauséant is contemptuous of High society. She tells him to remain aloof of this throng of fools and knaves- Page 94:
Vous saurez alors ce qu'est le monde, une réunion de dupes et de fripons. Ne soyez ni parmi les uns ni parmi les autres.

2) Social success demands total ruthlessness
 Mme. de Beauséant, hurt by the cruelty of her friend, tells Eugène to treat Paris society in the way it deserves and she offers to help him succeed. Her first advice to him is to be ruthless - Page 93.
Quoique j'aie bien lu dans ce livre du monde, il y avait des pages qui cependant m'étaient inconnues. Maintenant je sais tout. Plus froidement vous calculerez, plus avant vous irez.

3) Desperate means are used in the struggle for reputation and social status. 
One route to success is to find a rich lover in French high society and to cash in on that.  Vautrin puts it bluntly. He recognises that Eugène is trying to make his fortune through a woman and so his aim is not so virtuous- Page 131:
Vous irez coqueter chez quelque jolie femme et vous recevrez de l'argent. Vous y avez pense! dit Vautrin; car comment réussirez-vous, si vous n'escomptez pas votre amour? La vertu, mon cher étudiant, ne se scinde pas : elle est ou n’est pas.

Mme de Beauséant  knows that one way for a man to gain immediate prestige is to be seen accompanied by a rich and elegant mistress.  For this purpose, she recommends Delphine de Nucingen to Eugène.  She knows that Delphine is consumed with jealousy because her elder sister, Anastasie is received in high society but she is not.  Mme de Beauséant judges that Delphine will stoop to anything to achieve social success.  She tells Eugene that if he offers to introduce Delphine into Mme. de Beauséant’s company, he can become her lover.  With such a beautiful woman as his mistress, he will have the reputation necessary in Paris.
Page 94
A Paris, le succès est tout, c'est la clef du pouvoir. Si les femmes vous trouvent de l'esprit, du talent, les hommes le croiront, Si vous ne les détrompez pas. Vous pourrez alors tout vouloir, vous aurez le pied partout.

Her plan works. Eugene finds success when he has Delphine on his arm Page 22.  At the highly prestigious ball of the Duchesse de Carigliano's, he is  with Delphine again and she meticulously prepared herself to ensure that she is at her most glamorous for the eyes of all present, but mainly for Eugène’s.  As he moves around the circles of guests, Rastignac is aware of his own standing in society and this forms a brilliant debut for him.

4) Society is hypocritical - just a matter of keeping up appearances
The Duchesse de Langeais warns of the fatal mistake of Mme de Beauséant inbeing too open and sincere in Paris.
Notre cœur est un trésor, videz-le d’un coup, vous êtes ruinés. Nous ne pardonnons pas plus à un sentiment de s'être montré tout entier qu’à un homme de ne pas avoir un sou à lui 
All that counts is to keepup appearances. /Page 16 - 3.
Vautrin says you have to dirty your hands to get rich but must know how to clean yourself up afterwards for the sake of appearances- Page 125:
Voilà la vie telle qu'elle est. Ça n'est pas plus beau que la cuisine, ça pue tout autant, et il faut se salir les mains si l'on veut fricoter; sachez seulement vous bien débarbouiller: là est toute la morale de notre époque.

 Neither of the two daughters nor any member of their families attend Goriot’s funeral, but a public show is made as crested coaches from each family, without occupants, join the cortege.  Page 308

5) Society is cruel 
Mme de Beauséant’s final ball. 
Delphine tells Rastignac that the whole of Paris is going there to watch for any signs of the suffering of the hostess
Mme de Beauséant has now found out that d’Adjuda is leaving her. Paris is going to the ball to see her suffer. – Page 274:
Tout Paris va se porter chez elle, comme le peuple encombre la Grève quand il doit y avoir une exécution. N'est-ce pas horrible d'aller voir si cette femme cachera sa douleur, si elle saura bien mourir?

Delphine is horrified, but she is not a friend of Mme. de Beauséant, so she will go herself. She reminds Rastignac to be there

6) Society’s failings are mean - unrelieved by any grandeur - 
As Rastignac gets dressed for the final ball at Mme de Beauséant’s he muses on the squalid, mean faults of society and contrasts them with the sins of Vautrin which were on; a magnificent scale. - Page 276
Il voyait le monde comme un océan de boue dans lequel un homme se plongeait jusqu’au cou, s’il s’y trempait le pied. – Il ne s’y commet que des crimes mesquins ! se dit-il.  Vautrin est plus grand.  Il avait vu les trois grandes expressions de société : l’ Obéissance, la Lutte et la Révolte ; la Famille, le Monde et Vautrin. Et il n’osa prendre parti.   l’ Obéissance était ennuyeuse, la Révolte impossible,  et la lutte incertaine

7) The infidelity of spouses in the rich families of Paris - Wives have lovers, husbands have mistresses. This is the accepted order of things.

Nucingen has a mistress. His wife, Delphine, had previously had De Marsay as her lover.  After their break-up, Rastignac took his place in her arms.  After the final marital crisis, Nucingen agrees that their relationship can continue as long as he is free to pursue his plans for expanding his fortune. Page 252

Anastasie has De Trailles as her lover.  These arrangements seem to be largely accepted, but complications do arise when, for example Anastasie is asked about the paternity of the children and has to admit that her husband has fathered only the first child.

The totally admirable queen of high society, Mme de Beauséant,  has a glamorous rich lover, with whom she is totally in love and the whole of Paris knows.  It is the end of this affair that causes the shock- not the continuation. Her husband seems to be totally sympathetic towards her on her devastation at D’Adjuda’s betrayal.

8)To succeed in Paris, you have to forget your pride and crawl.Having received a rebuff from Mme de Beauséant – which proves to be only temporary – Rastignac asks himself if an excellent lady like Mme. de Beauséant can forget her promises of friendship, what he can expect from the rest.  He tells himself to crawl, put up with everything and decides that in this world, it is a case of every man for himself - Page 138:
Quoique touché de ce retour soudain, Eugene se dit en s'en allant : « Rampe, supporte tout. Que doivent être les autres, si, dans un moment, la meilleure des femmes efface les promesses de son amitié, te laisse comme un vieux soulier? Chacun pour soi, donc?

After seeing the realities of the Nucingen marriage, Rastignac realised that to live in society you had to have no shame. - Page 174
En s'initiant aux  secrets domestiques de monsieur et madame de Nucin­gen, il s'était aperçu que, pour convertir l'amour en instrument de fortune, il fallait avoir bu toute honte; et renoncer aux nobles idées qui sont l'absolution des fautes de la jeunesse.

9) The damning final verdict on Paris
The damning general verdict on Paris is that it is a slough Page 59 - Rastignac first uses this term to describe Vautrin’s interpretation of what went on in Paris.  Vautrin’s theory was that Goriot had gone out that morning to sell his gold plate to a money lender and the money was for Anastasie, who they believed was Goriot’s mistress.
He told Rastignac that he would find Goriot at Anastasie’s house and the old man would have come to get his reward for what he has paid out for her.

Eugène is disgusted with this view of Paris. He says it is a slough. Page 59.
- Mais, dit Eugene avec un air de dégoût, votre Paris est donc un bourbier.
To which Vautrin agrees. Page 60 :
- Et un drôle de bourbier, reprit Vautrin.

The Duchesse de Langeais later use the same expression to describe Paris life.  
Mme. de Beauséant had said that society is monstrous. Page 92:
Le monde est infâme
The Duchesse agrees but says that heir task is to stay out of the mud- Page 92:
Le monde est un bourbier, tâchons de rester sur les hauteurs.

The story of the book is Rastignac’s attempt to progress in society, while keeping his feet out of the slough.

10) Balzac’s equivocal attitude to Paris

In spite of Balzac's virtuous protestations, we suspect that his feelings towards Paris were equivocal.  We know that Balzac like Eugene very much enjoyed the life of luxury.  His descriptions of the homes of the rich, the dinners, the regal ladies were the stars of Paris high society seem to betray a total admiration.

Some critics believe that Balzac was over-impressed by noble rank and at times came close to idolatry of noble women. There are suggestions of this in his description of the dignity of Mme de Beauséant’s final farewell to the Paris society , that had come to view her public sufferings -Page 278:
En cette circonstance, la dernière fille de la quasi royale maison de Bourgogne se montra supérieure à son  mal, et domina jusqu'à son dernier moment le monde dont elle n'avait accepté les vanités que pour les faire servir au triomphe de sa passion.

We know that Balzac, like Eugene, tried to be a dandy and enjoyed fine clothes-although he did not have the cut for them. 18-1.  We think of Rastignac, preparing for the ball at the house of the Maréchal de Carigliano and looking forward to shining in society and wonder whether Balzac might have treasured a similar memory  
-Page 134:
En se voyant bien mis, bien ganté, bien botté, Rastignac oublia sa vertueuse résolution.

From his biography, we learn that Balzac had enjoyed the company of the glamorous society ladies of Paris.   The personal link is revealed by details such as his situating the house of Mme de Beauséant along the same road of the Faubourg Saint Germain, where his former mistress la Marquise de Castries lived. It is apparently from such experiences that Balzac is able to assure authoritatively that one never loves any woman as much as the first woman one loves in Parisian society. - Page 244 :
C'est des émotions qui ne se rencontrent pas deux fois dans la vie des jeunes gens. La première femme réellement femme à laquelle s'attache un homme, c'est-dire celle qui se présente à lui dans la splendeur des accompagnements que veut la société parisienne, celle-là n'a jamais de rivale. L'amour à Paris ne ressemble en rien aux autres amours.

Balzac expresses his admiration for the depth of passion of these ladies of Paris:-Page 268         
Si les Parisiennes son souvent  fausses, ivres de vanité, personnelles, coquettes, froides, il est sûr que quand elles aiment réellement, elles sacrifient plus de sentiments que les autres femmes à leurs passions; elles se grandissent de toutes leurs petitesses et deviennent sublimes,

The book criticises the obsession with money. Sometimes the relish with which the author describes the financial speculations of his characters, may reveal his own preoccupation with making a fortune through the imaginative, indeed wild business ventures into which he repeatedly entered - at his cost..

We suspect that Balzac had previously found the battle with Paris an exciting challenge that he had accepted and relished just as much as the hero of his book. Page 139:
S'il était bien peint dans sa lutte avec Paris, le pauvre étudiant fournirait un des sujets les plus dramatiques de notre civilisation moderne.

Balzac has sometimes been accused of glorifying immorality at the same time as he is denouncing it. Similarly, under his condemnation of this immoral slough,  a sense of the author’s boundless fascination and affection is very evident.  Paris has a better historian in this secret guilty lover.

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