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in memory of

Ruth B. Harris
(Mrs. Seymour E. Harris)

I %s


The poor old father helped his brilliantly arrayed
daughter into a splendid carriage

Honore De Balzac

Introductions by










Le Pere Goriot perhaps deserves to be ranked as that one
of Balzac's novels which has united the greatest number of
suffrages, and which exhibits his peculiar merits, not indeed
without any of Ins faults, but with the merits in eminent,
and the faults not in glaring, degree. It was written (the
preface is dated 1834) at the time when his genius was at
its very height, when it had completely burst the strange
shell which had so long enveloped and cramped it, when the
scheme of the Comedie Humaine was not quite finally settled
(it never was that), but elaborated to a very considerable
extent, when the author had already acquired most of the
knowledge of the actual world which he possessed, and when
his physical powers were as yet unimpaired by his enormous
labor and his reckless disregard of " burning the candle at
both ends." Although it exhibits, like nearly all his work,
the complication of interest and scheme which was almost a
necessity to him, that complication is kept within reasonable
bounds, and managed with wonderful address. The history
of Goriot and his daughters, the fortunes of Eugene de
Rastignac, and the mysterious personality and operations
of Vautrin, not only all receive due and unperplexed develop-
ment, but work upon each other with that correspondence
and interdependence which form the rarest gift of the novel-
ist, and which, when present, too commonly have attached
to them the curse of over-minuteness and complexity. No
piece of Balzac's Dutch painting is worked out with such
marvelous minuteness as the Pension Vauquer, and hardly
any book of his has more lifelike studies of character.

It would, however, not be difficult to find books with an
almost, if not quite, equal accumulation of attractions, which
have somehow failed to make the mark that has been made
by Le Pere Goriot. And the practiced critic of novels
knows perfectly well why this is. It is almost invariably,
and perhaps quite invariably, because there is no sufficiently



central interest, or because that interest is not of the broadly
human kind. Had Goriot had no daughters, he would un-
doubtedly have been a happier man (or a less happy, for
it is possible to take it both ways) ; but the history of his
decadence and death never could have been such a good
novel. It is because this history of the daughters — not
exactly unnatural, not wholly without excuse, but as surely
murderesses of their father as Goneril and Regan — at once
unites and overshadows the whole, because of its intensity,
its simple and suasive appeal, that Le Pere Goriot holds the
place it does hold. That it owes something in point of
suggestion to Lear does not in the least impair its claims.
The circumstances and treatment have that entire difference
which, when genius is indebted to genius, pays all the score
there is at once. And besides, Lear has offered its motive
for three hundred years to thousands and millions of people
who have been writing plays and novels, and yet there is
only one Pere Goriot.

It is, however, a fair subject of debate for those who like
critical argument of the nicer kind, whether Balzac has or
has not made a mistake in representing the ex-dealer in floury
compounds as a sort of idiot outside his trade abilities and
his love for his daughters. That in doing so he was guided
by a sense of poetical justice and consistency — the same
sense which made Shakespeare dwell on the ungovernable
temper and the undignified haste to get rid of the cares of
sovereignty that bring on and justify the woes of Lear —
is undeniable. But it would perhaps not have been un-
natural, and it would have been even more tragic, if the
ci-devant manufacturer had been represented as more in-
tellectually capable, and as ruining himself in spite of his
better judgment. On this point, however, both sides may
be held with equal ease and cogency, and I do not decide
either way. Of the force and pathos of the actual represen-
tation, no two opinions are possible. There is hardly a
touch of the one fault which can be urged against Balzac
very often with some, and sometimes with very great, justice
— the fault of exaggeration and phantasmagoric excess.
Here at least the possibilities of actual life, as translatable


into literature, are not one whit exceeded; and the artist
has his full reward for being true to art.

Almost equally free from the abnormal and the gigantic
is the portraiture of Rastignac. Even those who demur
to the description of Balzac as an impeccable chronicler of
society must admit the extraordinary felicity of the pictures
of the young man's introduction to the drawing-rooms of
Mmes. de Restaud and de Beauseant. Neither Fielding nor
Thackeray — that is to say, no one else in the world of letters
— could have drawn with more absolute vividness and more
absolute veracity a young man, not a parvenu in point of
birth, not devoid of native cleverness and " star," but ham-
pered by the consciousness of poverty and by utter ignorance
of the actual ways and current social fashions of the great
world when he is first thrown, to sink or swim, into this
great world itself. We may pass from the certain to the
dubious, or at least the debatable, when we pass from Ras-
tignac's first appearance to his later experiences. Here
comes in what has been said in the general introduction as
to the somewhat fantastic and imaginary, the conventional
and artificial character of Balzac's world. But it must be
remembered that for centuries the whole structure of Parisian
society has been to a very great extent fantastic and imag-
inary, conventional and artificial. Men and women have
always played parts there as they have played them nowhere
else. And it must be confessed that some of the parts here,
if planned to the stage, are played to the life — that of Mine.
i de Beauseant especially.

rv It is Vautrin on whom Balzac's decriers, if they are so
hardy as to attack this most unattackable book of his at
all, must chiefly fasten. It was long ago noticed — indeed,
sober eyes both in France and elsewhere noticed it at the
time — that the criminal, more or less virtuous, more or less
terrible, more or less superhuman, exercised a kind of sorcery
over minds in France from the greatest to the least at this
particular time, and even later. Not merely Balzac, but
Victor Hugo and George Sand succumbed to his fascina-
tions ; and after these three names it is quite unnecessary
to mention any others. And Balzac's proneness to the


enormous and gigantesque made the fascination peculiarly
dangerous in his case. Undoubtedly the Vautrin who talks
to Rastignac in the arbor is neither quite a real man nor
quite the same man who is somewhat ignominiously caught
by the treachery of his boarding-house fellows ; undoubtedly
we feel that with him we have left Shakespeare a long way
behind, and are getting rather into the society of Bouchardy
or Eugene Sue. But the genius is here likewise, and, as
usual, it saves everything.

How it extends to the minutest and even the least savory
details of Mme. Vauquer's establishment, how it irradiates the
meannesses and the sordidnesses of the inhabitants thereof,
those who have read know, and those who are about to read
this new presentation in English will find. Let it only be
repeated, that if the rarest and strangest charms which
Balzac can produce are elsewhere, nowhere else is his charm
presented in a more pervading and satisfactory manner.

Le Pere Goriot originally appeared as a book in 1835, pub-
lished by Werdet and Spahmann in two volumes. It had,
however, appeared serially in the Revue de Paris during the
previous winter. The first and some subsequent editions had
seven chapter divisions, six of them headed. These, accord-
ing to Balzac's usual practice, were swept away when the
book became, in 1843, part of the Scenes de la Vie Parisienne
and the Comedie itself. The transference to the Vie Privee
which is accomplished in the edition definitive was only
executed in accordance with notes found after Balzac's death,
and is far from happy, the book being essentially Parisian.

G. S.


To the great and illustrious Geoffroy Saint-
Hilaire, a token of admiration for his works
and genius.

De Balzac.

MME. VAUQUER (nee de Conflans) is an elderly person,
who for the past forty years has kept a lodging-house
in the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve, in the district that lies
between the Latin Quarter and the Faubourg Saint-Marcel.
Her house (known in the neighborhood as the Maison Vau-
quer) receives men and women, old and young, and no word
has ever been breathed against her respectable establishment ;
but, at the same time, it must be said that as a matter of fact
no young woman has been under her roof for thirty years,
and that if a young man stays there for any length of time it
is a sure sign that his allowance must be of the slenderest.
In 1819, however, the time when this drama opens, there was an
almost penniless young girl among Mme. Vauquer's boarders.

That word drama has been somewhat discredited of late ;
it has been overworked and twisted to strange uses in these
days of dolorous literature ; but it must do service again here,
not because this story is dramatic in the restricted sense of
the word, but because some tears may perhaps be shed intra
et extra muros before it is over.

Will anyone without the walls of Paris understand it?
It is open to doubt. The only audience who could appre-
ciate the results of close observation, the careful reproduc-
tion of minute detail and local color, are dwellers between
the heights of Montrouge and Montmartre, in a vale of crum-
bling stucco watered by streams of black, and a vale of sor-
rows which are real and of joys too often hollow; but this
audience is so accustomed to terrible sensations, that only
some unimaginable and well-nigh impossible woe could pro-


duce any lasting impression there. Now and again there
are tragedies so awful and so grand by reason of the compli-
cation of virtues and vices that bring them about, that egoism
and selfishness are forced to pause and are moved to pity ; but
the impression that they receive is like a luscious fruit, soon
consumed. Civilization, like the car of Juggernaut, is
scarcely stayed perceptibly in its progress by a heart less
easy to break than the others that lie in its course ; this also
is broken, and Civilization continues on her course trium-
phant. And you, too, will do the like ; you who with this book
in your white hand will sink back among the cushions of
your armchair, and say to yourself, " Perhaps this may
amuse me." You will read the story of Old Goriot's secret
woes, and, dining thereafter with an unspoiled appetite, will
lay the blame of your insensibility upon the writer, and ac-
cuse him of exaggeration, of writing romances. Ah ! once for
all, this drama is neither a fiction nor a romance! All is true,
— so true, that everyone can discern the elements of the
tragedy in his own house, perhaps in his own heart.

The lodging-house is Mme. Vauquer's own property. It is
still standing at the lower end of the Rue Neuve-Sainte-
Genevieve, just where the road slopes so sharply down to the
Rue de PArbalete, that wheeled traffic seldom passes that
way, because it is so stony and steep. This position is suffi-
cient to account for the silence prevalent in the streets shut
in between the dome of the Pantheon and the dome of the
Val-de-Gra.ce, two conspicuous public buildings which give a
yellowish tone to the landscape and darken the whole dis-
trict that lies beneath the shadow of their leaden-hued cupolas.

In that district the pavements are clean and dry, there is
neither mud nor water in the gutters, grass grows in the
chinks of the walls. The most heedless passer-by feels the
depressing influences of a place where the sound of wheels
creates a sensation ; there is a grim look about the houses,
a suggestion of a jail about those high garden walls. A
Parisian straying into a suburb apparently composed of
lodging-houses and public institutions would see poverty and
dullness, old age lying down to die, and joyous youth con-
demned to drudgery. It is the ugliest quarter of Paris, and,


it may be added, the least known. But, before all things, the
Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve is like a bronze frame for a pic-
ture for which the mind cannot be too well prepared by the
contemplation of sad hues and sober images. Even so, step
by step the daylight decreases, and the cicerone's droning
voice grows hollower as the traveler descends into the Cata-
combs. The comparison holds good ! Who shall say which is
more ghastly, the sight of the bleached skulls or of dried-up
human hearts?

The front of the lodging-house is at right angles to the
road, and looks out upon a little garden, so that you see the
side of the house in section, as it were, from the Rue Neuve-
Sainte-Genevieve. Beneath the wall of the house front there
lies a channel, a fathom wide, paved with cobble-stones, and
beside it runs a graveled walk bordered by geraniums and
oleanders and pomegranates set in great blue and white
glazed earthenware pots. Access into the graveled walk is
afforded by a door, above which the words Maison Vauquer
may be read, and beneath, in rather smaller letters, " Lodg-
ings for both sexes, etc."

During the day a glimpse into the garden is easily ob-
tained through a wicket to which a bell is attached. On the
opposite wall, at the further end of the graveled walk, a
green marble arch was painted once upon a time by a local
artist, and in this semblance of a shrine a statue represent-
ing Cupid is installed ; a Parisian Cupid, so blistered and dis-
figured that he looks like a candidate for one of the adjacent
hospitals, and might suggest an allegory to lovers of sym-
bolism. The half-obliterated inscription on the pedestal be-
neath determines the date of this work of art, for it bears
witness to the widespread enthusiasm felt for Voltaire on his
return to Paris in 1777 —

"Whoe'er thou art, thy master see;
He is, or was, or ought to be."

At night the wicket gate is replaced by a solid door. The
little garden is no wider than the front of the house; it is
shut in between the wall of the street and the partition wall
of the neighboring house. A mantle of ivy conceals the bricks


and attracts the eyes of passers-by to an effect which is
picturesque in Paris, for each of the walls is covered with
trellised vines that yield a scanty dusty crop of fruit, and
furnish besides a subject of conversation for Mme. Vauquer
and her lodgers ; every year the widow trembles for her vin-

A straight path beneath the walls on either side of the
garden leads to a clump of lime-trees at the further end of it ;
line-trees, as Mme. Vauquer persists in calling them, in
spite of the fact that she was a de Conflans, and regardless of
repeated corrections from her lodgers.

The central space between the walks is filled with arti-
chokes and rows of pyramid fruit-trees, and surrounded by
a border of lettuce, pot-herbs, and parsley. Under the lime-
trees there are a few green-painted garden seats and a wooden
table, and thither, during the dog-days, such of the lodgers
as are rich enough to indulge in a cup of coffee come to take
their pleasure, though it is hot enough to roast eggs even in
the shade.

The house itself is three stories high, without counting the
attics under the roof. It is built of rough stone, and cov-
ered with the yellowish stucco that gives a mean appearance
to almost every house in Paris. There are five windows in
each story in the front of the house; all the blinds visible
through the small square panes are drawn up awry, so that
the lines are all at cross purposes. At the side of the house
there are but two windows on each floor, and the lowest of
all are adorned with a heavy iron grating.

Behind the house a yard extends for some twenty feet, a
space inhabited by a happy family of pigs, poultry, and rab-
bits ; the wood-shed is situated on the further side, and on the
wall between the wood-shed and the kitchen window hangs
the meat-safe, just above the place where the sink discharges
its greasy streams. The cook sweeps all the refuse out
through a little door into the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve,
and frequently cleanses the yard with copious supplies of
water, under pain of pestilence.

The house might have been built on purpose for its present
uses. Access is given by a French window to the first room


on the ground floor, a sitting-room which looks out upon the
street through the two-barred windows already mentioned.
Another door opens out of it into the dining-room, which is
separated from the kitchen by the well of the staircase, the
steps being constructed partly of wood, partly of tiles, which
are colored and beeswaxed. Nothing can be more depressing
than the sight of that sitting-room. The furniture is covered
with horsehair woven in alternate dull and glossy stripes.
There is a round table in the middle, with a purplish-red
marble top, on which there stands, by way of ornament, the
inevitable white china tea-service, covered with a half-effaced
gilt network. The floor is sufficiently uneven, the wainscot
rises to elbow height, and the rest of the wall space is deco-
rated with a varnished paper, on which the principal scenes
from Telemaque are depicted, the various classical personages
being colored. The subject between the two windows is the
banquet given by Calypso to the son of Ulysses, displayed
thereon for the admiration of the boarders, and has furnished
jokes these forty years to the young men who show them-
selves superior to their position by making fun of the dinners
to which poverty condemns them. The hearth is always so
clean and neat that it is evident that a fire is only kindled
there on great occasions ; the stone chimney-piece is adorned
by a couple of vases filled with faded artificial flowers im-
prisoned under glass shades, on either side of a bluish marble
clock in the very worst taste.

The first room exhales an odor for which there is no name
in the language, and which should be called the odeur de pen-
sion. The damp atmosphere sends a chill through you as you
breathe it ; it has a stuffy, musty, and rancid quality ; it
permeates your clothing; after-dinner scents seem to be
mingled in it with smells from the kitchen and scullery and
the reek of a hospital. It might be possible to describe it if
someone should discover a process by which to distill from
the atmosphere all the nauseating elements with which it is
charged by the catarrhal exhalations of every individual
lodger, young or old. Yet, in spite of these stale horrors,
the sitting-room is as charming and as delicately perfumed as
a boudoir, when compared with the adjoining dining-room.


The paneled walls of that apartment were once painted
some color, now a matter of conjecture, for the surface is in-
crusted with accumulated layers of grimy deposit, which
cover it with fantastic outlines. A collection of dim-ribbed
glass decanters, metal discs with a satin sheen on them, and
piles of blue-edged earthenware plates of Touraine ware cover
the sticky surfaces of the sideboards that line the room. In a
corner stands a box containing a set of numbered pigeon-
holes, in which the lodgers' table napkins, more or less soiled
and stained with wine, are kept. Here you see that inde-
structible furniture never met with elsewhere, which finds its
way into lodging-houses much as the wrecks of our civiliza-
tion drift into hospitals for incurables. You expect in such
places as these to find the weather-house whence a Capuchin
issues on wet days ; you look to find the execrable engrav-
ings which spoil your appetite, framed every one in a black
varnished frame, with a gilt beading round it ; you know the
sort of tortoise-shell clock case, inlaid with brass ; the green
stove, the Argand lamps, covered with oil and dust, have met
your eyes before. The oilcloth which covers the long table is
so greasy that a waggish externe will write his name on the
surface, using his thumb nail as a style. The chairs are
broken-down invalids; the wretched little hempen mats slip
away from under your feet without slipping away for good ;
and finally, the foot-warmers are miserable wrecks, hingeless,
charred, broken away about the holes. It would be impossi-
ble to give an idea of the old, rotten, shaky, cranky, worm-
eaten, halt, maimed, one-eyed, rickety, and ramshackle condi-
tion of the furniture without an exhaustive description, which
would delay the progress of the story to an extent that im-
patient people would not pardon. The red tiles of the floor
are full of depressions brought about by scouring and peri-
odical renewings of color. In short, there is no illusory grace
left to the poverty that reigns here, it is dire, parsimonious,
concentrated, threadbare poverty ; as yet it has not sunk into
the mire, it is only splashed by it, and though not in rags as
yet, its clothing is ready to drop to pieces.

This apartment is in all its glory at seven o'clock in the
morning, when Mme. Vauquer's cat appears, announcing the


near approach of his mistress, and jumps upon the sideboards
to sniff at the milk in the bowls, each protected by a plate,
while he purrs his morning greeting to the world. A moment
later the widow shows her face ; she is tricked out in a net
cap attached to a false front set on awry, and shuffles into the
room in her slipshod fashion. She is an oldish woman, with a
bloated countenance, and a nose like a parrot's beak set in
the middle of it; her fat little hands (she is as sleek as a
church rat) and her shapeless, slouching figure, are in keeping
with the room that reeks of misfortune, where hope is re-
duced to speculate for the meanest stakes. Mme. Vauquer
alone can breathe that tainted air without being disheartened
by it. Her face is as fresh as a frosty morning in autumn ;
there are wrinkles about the eyes that vary in their expression
from the set smile of a ballet-dancer to the dark, suspicious
scowl of a discounter of bills ; in short, she is at once the em-
bodiment and interpretation of her lodging-house, as surely
as her lodging-house implies the existence of its mistress. You
can no more imagine the one without the other, than you can
think of a jail without a turnkey. The unwholesome corpu-
lence of the little woman is produced by the life she leads, just
as typhus fever is bred in the tainted air of a hospital. The
very knitted woolen petticoat that she wears beneath a skirt
made of an old gown, with the wadding protruding through
the rents in the material, is a sort of epitome of the sitting-
room, the dining-room, and the little garden ; it discovers
the cook ; it foreshadows the lodgers — the picture of the house
is completed by the portrait of its mistress.

Mme. Vauquer at the age of fifty is like all women who
" have seen a deal of trouble." She has the glassy eyes and
innocent air of a trafficker in flesh and blood, who will wax
virtuously indignant to obtain a higher price for her services,
but who is quite ready to betray a Georges or a Pichegru,
if a Georges or a Pichegru were in hiding and still to be be-
trayed, or for any other expedient that may alleviate her lot.
Still, " she is a good woman at bottom," said the lodgers, who
believed that the widow was wholly dependent upon the money
that they paid her, and sympathized when they heard her
cough and groan like one of themselves.


What had M. Vauquer been? The lady was never very
explicit on this head. How had she lost her money?
" Through trouble," was her answer. 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, she was wont to say, she herself had been
through every possible misfortune.

Sylvie, the stout cook, hearing her mistress's shuffling foot-

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