‘Father Goriot,‘ (or Balzac, Part II)

Père GoriotPère Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Recommended.

Forgive me if I think first of Rodin’s sculpture of Balzac, and not his novels. In the first place, I had not, until this week, ever read one. And in the second, I defy anyone to stumble unawares on this sculpture and resist its searing itself onto your memory. I walk into the Brooklyn Museum, where Rodin’s Merchants of Calais are the first thing you see and I think of Balzac.

Monument_to_BalzacThe sculpture, seen here, apparently depicts a slightly monstrous Honore de Balzac concealing an erection under a long cloak.

I was prepared to write in this space something of my feelings, having seen what I took to be the original at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (also recommended). Then I consulted the Internet, which disabused me of this notion: there are an unnerving number of copies of this work. In Antwerp, in D.C., at the Met in New York, in Venezuela, Australia, and so on. Myself, I saw a small study of it (so I am saying) at the tiny Rodin museum in Philadelphia (also recommended). I shudder to think of where else this icon is standing, apart from, you know, my haunted mind.

In any case, the statue was not well-received. The novel is much better.

It fits in that category (of mine) of novels that are peppered with platitudes. Mr. Balzac is, if anything, a man with something to say. To wit,

  • Paris is an ocean that no line can plumb.
  • …She lacked the two things which create woman a second time — pretty dresses and love-letters.
  • I am a great poet; I do not write my poems, I feel them and act them.
  • Happiness, old man, depends on what lies between the sole of your foot and the crown of your head.
  • [Man] is not a machine covered with a skin, but a theatre in which the greatest sentiments are displayed — great thoughts and feelings — and for these, and these only, I live.
  • …no greatness is so great that it can rise above the laws of human affection, or live beyond the jurisdiction of pain.
  • “What does he go on living for?” said Sylvie. “To suffer,” answered Rastignac.

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