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“Pere Goriot” by Honoré de Balzac

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This classic piece was my introduction to Balzac. This canny Frenchman is a close and knowing observer of human nature. The hopes, desperation, greed, and cynicism so rampant every day in our world, are fully on display here.

The tale is told through the viewpoint of Rastignac, a 21-year-old law student and newcomer to Paris. Rastignac's ambitions are the common ones, to be rich, fashionable, and carefree, and to take a mistress. These ambitions shift over the course of the story. He becomes enamored of Pere Goriot, understanding what a virtuous man he is. Balzac shows us the destructiveness of 19th-century Paris society: Goriot's two worldly daughters waste his means over time and leave him impoverished. Goriot himself, however, is as much a supporter of worldly amibitions as anyone, but it bankrupts him and at length, at least indirectly, kills him.

Here is post-Napoleon Paris, described closely if not lovingly by Balzac. This author's fame as a canny observer of human nature and human folly is richly deserved. If you haven't yet taken up Balzac, this is an outstanding place to start. Go for it!
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