Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Harpagon’s house

Harpagon’s house (AR-pa-gon). Parisian home of the miser Harpagon, a widower without a wife to restrain his obsession with accumulating money while spending as little as possible on his two adult children and his house. He tells others that he has transformed his house into a makeshift hiding place for his money. Fearful of being robbed and killed for his wealth, he buries his money in his garden and suspects even his own children of planning to rob him. He believes that anyone who seeks entry to his house must be a thief, and this makes life so miserable for the children, Cléante and Elise, that they both wish to marry as quickly as possible in order to get away from him.

With its tacky furniture, Harpagon’s house is an entirely inappropriate home for a wealthy businessman. As a member of the upper class, Harpagon is expected to maintain a comfortable house in which he and his children enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. However, his children are humiliated whenever friends visit their house, and guests are shocked to see Harpagon beat his cook, Master Jacques, for spending too much money on food. Harpagon thinks that he can impress guests by serving them sparse and unappetizing meals. The shabbiness of his house, with its extremely old and dilapidated furnishings, exemplifies his moral insensitivity and his complete indifference to his children’s feelings.

The Miser Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bermel, Albert. Molière’s Theatrical Bounty: A New View of the Plays. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. Original interpretations of the plays, partly designed to help actors think about the characters’ motivations, such as why Harpagon seeks a new wife. Sees The Miser as a rich and complicated work.

Hall, H. Gaston. Comedy in Context: Essays on Molière. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984. Analyzes Molière’s work thematically. Sees Molière’s use of comic images as implying both laughter and moral judgment, using the example of Harpagon’s soliloquy in Act IV of The Miser.

Lewis, D. B. Wyndham. Molière: The Comic Mask. New York: Coward-McCann, 1959. Provides a rich description of Molière’s life and works, immersing readers in seventeenth century French society. Sees The Miser as basically depressing because Harpagon represents a case of clinical obsession totally devoid of normal human feelings.

Mander, Gertrud. Molière. Translated by Diana Stone Peters. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1973. Discusses The Miser, particularly in terms of its focus on bourgeois family life, seeing the conflicts there as the most bitter in Molière’s works. Sets forth the opinion that Harpagon’s avarice makes him a monster, forcing others into unnatural or uncharacteristic actions, but he is not a tragic figure.

Walker, Hallam. Molière. Boston: Twayne, 1971. Sees The Miser as combining issues of sex and power with those of money and greed and, thus, being as much a moral drama as it is a comedy, explaining the ambivalent response of most audiences. Sees the play as satisfying because of the artistic inevitability of the ending and the fitness of all the parts.