Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Maison Vauquer

Maison Vauquer (MAY-sohn voh-KAY). Run-down boardinghouse (pension) in the Latin Quarter area of Paris. The house’s parlor with its ugly decor, the dining room with its sticky furniture, and the kitchen with its nauseating smells, as well as wretched bedrooms, constitute a perfect example of bad taste and squalor. In fact, the entire house, which long ago saw better days, reflects the current low socioeconomic status of both its owner, Madame Vauquer, and its tenants. It is no wonder, therefore, that most of its boarders hope to escape to better lodgings, starting with the poor law student Eugène de Rastignac, who resolutely sets out on his climb up the ladder. Only the archcriminal Monsieur Vautrin prefers to live in such an environment, so he can better hide from the police.

The maison is the novel’s main focal point, since all the principal characters live there and have links to the highest reaches of financial and aristocratic society, through family or love connections. Their paths thus crisscross each other in a complex, but plausible, pattern.

Hôtel de Beauséant

Hôtel de Beauséant (oh-TEL deh BOH-say-ant). Elegant mansion in Paris’s upper-class Faubourg Saint-Germain des Prés district. As the home of one of the noblest families in France, this fashionable residence is the setting of brilliant balls. This explains why the nouveau riche Delphine de Nucingen, who was born a commoner, would go to any lengths to receive an invitation to at least one exclusive and sumptuous...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Bellos, David. Honoré de Balzac: “Old Goriot.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Provides a brief general overview of the relevant cultural contexts and major interpretive traditions of the work. Specifically intended as an introductory text for high school and college students.

McCarthy, Mary Susan. Balzac and His Reader: A Study of the Creation of Meaning in “La Comédie humaine.” Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982. Includes a long chapter on Père Goriot, in which McCarthy relies on reader-response theory to examine the ways in which Balzac uses his recurring characters to focus the reader’s interpretation of the novel.

Maurois, André. Prometheus: The Life of Balzac. Translated by Norman Denny. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1971. A thorough, generally objective, and highly readable account of Balzac’s life. Provides detailed context for and some commentary on all of the major works, including Père Goriot.

Prendergast, Christopher. Balzac: Fiction and Melodrama. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1978. Argues for the importance of the stock conventions and devices of melodrama for the interpretation of Balzac’s analyses of French society. Contains a detailed analysis of Père Goriot as well as an overview of previous critical work on the book.

Stowe, William W. Balzac, James, and the Realistic Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983. Discusses the solutions Balzac and Henry James adopted in solving various problems of realistic fictional representation. Includes a comparative study of issues of interpretation in Père Goriot and James’s The American.