‘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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Balzac, Part I

Quote

He had treated her badly, had left her nothing but her eyes to cry over his cruelty, the house she lived in, and the privilege of pitying nobody, because, so she was wont to say, she herself had been through every possible misfortune.”

 

“Who shall say which is more ghastly, the sight of the bleached skulls or of dried-up human hearts.”

 

“The human heart may find here and there a resting-place short of the highest height of affection, but we seldom stop in the steep, downward slope of hatred.”

Father Goriot”, by Honoré de Balzac.