Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Father Goriot

Father Goriot (goh-RYOH), a lonely old lodger at the pension of Madame Vauquer in Paris. Known to the other boarders as Old Goriot, he is a retired manufacturer of vermicelli who sold his prosperous business in order to provide handsome dowries for his two daughters. During his first year at the Maison Vauquer, he occupied the best rooms in the house; in the second year, he asked for less expensive quarters on the floor above; and at the end of the third year he moved into a cheap, dingy room on the third story. Because two fashionably dressed young women have visited him from time to time in the past, the old man has become an object of curiosity and suspicion; the belief is that he has ruined himself by keeping two mistresses. Actually, Old Goriot is a man in whom parental love has become an obsession, a love unappreciated and misused by his two selfish, heartless daughters, who make constant demands on his meager resources. After a life of hard work, careful saving, and fond indulgence of his children, he has outlived his usefulness and is now in his dotage. Happy in the friendship of Eugène de Rastignac, the law student who becomes the lover of one of the daughters, he uses the last of his money to provide an apartment for the young man, a place where Old Goriot will also have his own room. Before the change can be made, however, the daughters drive their father to desperation by fresh demands for money to pay their bills. He dies attended only by Eugène and Bianchon, a poor medical student; in his last moments he speaks lovingly of the daughters who have ruined him and made him the victim of their ingratitude. The daughters send their empty carriages to follow his coffin to the grave.

Countess Anastasie de Restaud

Countess Anastasie de Restaud (ah-nah-stah-ZEE deh rehs-TOH), the more fashionable of Old Goriot’s daughters, constantly in need of money to indulge her extravagant tastes and to provide for her lover. Meeting her at a ball given by his distant relative, Madame de Beauséant, Eugène de Rastignac immediately falls in love with Anastasie. When he calls on her, he finds Old Goriot just leaving. His mention of his fellow lodger causes Anastasie and her husband to treat the young law student with great coldness, and he realizes that he is no longer welcome in their house. Later, Madame de Beauséant explains the mystery, saying that Anastasie is ashamed of her humble origins and her tradesman father.

Baroness Delphine de Nucingen

Baroness Delphine de Nucingen (dehl-FEEN deh new-sahn-ZHAHN), Old Goriot’s second daughter, the wife of a German banker. Like her sister Anastasie, she married for position and money, but her place in society is not as exalted as that of the Countess de Restaud, who has been received at court. As a result, the sisters are not on speaking terms. Madame de Beauséant, amused by Eugène de Rastignac’s youthful ardor, suggests that he introduce her to the Baroness de Nucingen in order to win Delphine’s gratitude and a place for himself in Parisian society. Delphine accepts the young man as her lover. Though self-centered and snobbish, she is less demanding than her sister; she has asked for less, given more of...

(The entire section is 1385 words.)