The Splendors and Miseries of Courtesans Analysis

Honoré Balzac

The Way That Girls Love, 1838, 1844

Jacques Collin

Jacques Collin (zhahk koh-LA[N]), called Dodgedeath, a cold-blooded former convict. Collin murders the Spanish priest Don Carlos Herrera and assumes his identity. He then uses the money entrusted to him by other prisoners to install his protégé Lucien in Parisian society.

Lucien Chardon de Rubempré

Lucien Chardon de Rubempré (lew-SYAH[N] shahr-DOHN deh rew-behm-PRAY), a handsome but weak young man of modest background. Rescued from despair by the supposed Don Carlos, Lucien becomes his creature, assumes a title, and, as a wealthy young dandy, sets about to marry an heiress. He falls desperately in love with Esther.

Esther Gobseck

Esther Gobseck, called The Torpedo, an illiterate, eighteen-year-old prostitute. Once she has given her heart to Lucien, she abandons her profession. After being insulted in public, Esther attempts suicide, but she is saved by Don Carlos, who sends her to a convent school. Unable to live without Lucien, she is brought back to Paris, and for four happy years, she is his mistress. when Baron Nucingen notices her, she is ordered to become his property instead.

Prudence Servien

Prudence Servien, also called Europe and Eugénie, a young former convict. Ostensibly Esther’s lady’s-maid, she is really Collin’s watchdog.

Jacqueline Collin

Jacqueline Collin (zhahk-LEEN), sometimes called Asia, Collin’s aunt, a clever, unprincipled woman who is installed as Esther’s cook. She acts for Collin in negotiations with the baron.

Baron Frédéric de Nucingen

Baron Frédéric de Nucingen (fray-day-REEK deh new-sahn-ZHAHN), an elderly banker. No matter how much it costs him, he is determined to possess Esther.

Mademoiselle Clotilde-Fréderique Grandlieu

Mademoiselle Clotilde-Fréderique Grandlieu, an unattractive heiress who is desperate to marry Lucien.


Peyrade (pay-RAHD), or Father Canquoëlle, an elderly man, formerly a high police official. He loves his illegitimate daughter Lydia dearly.


Corentin (koh-rah[n]-TAHN), a mulatto. Once Peyrade’s subordinate, he is now his confederate.


Contenson (koh[n]-teh[n]-ZOH[N]), another spy, a friend of Peyrade and Corentin. He is paid by the baron to discover Esther’s identity.

How Much Love Costs Old Men, 1844

Jacques Collin

Jacques Collin, who uses Esther as bait to extort from the baron most of the money that Lucien must have before he can marry. He refuses to be blackmailed by Corentin but instead arranges to have Lydia kidnapped. After Esther’s death, he forges a will, by which she leaves her property to Lucien. Both Collin and Lucien are accused of murdering Esther and stealing her money.

Esther Gobseck

Esther Gobseck, who is convinced by Collin that Lucien will go to the gallows if he is exposed. She accepts the baron as her lover. She is unexpectedly left a huge sum of money but kills herself before learning about her inheritance.

Lucien Chardon de Rubempré

Lucien Chardon de Rubempré, who agrees to abandon Esther but loses his chance at marriage when his financial situation is exposed, then is arrested for murder and theft.


Corentin, who, acting as the Grandlieus’ agent, discovers the truth about Lucien and tries to blackmail Collin. Corentin is responsible for the arrest of Collin and Lucien.


Peyrade, who learns that Lydia is ill because of her mistreatment. He dies of apoplexy.


Contenson, who swears revenge on Collin, whom he holds responsible for Peyrade’s death. Collin throws him off a roof to his death.

The End of Bad Roads, 1846

Jacques Collin

Jacques Collin, who calmly works to clear himself and Lucien.

Lucien Chardon de Rubempré

Lucien Chardon de Rubempré, who ignores Collin’s injunction to keep silent and betrays his master, admitting that Don Carlos is in fact Collin. As influential friends are about to have him freed, he panics and hangs himself.

Monsieur Camusot

Monsieur Camusot, the timid examining magistrate, who is pressured both by Lucien’s friends and by his enemies. He depends on his canny wife for advice.


Bibi-Lupin, the chief of detectives and a former convict. He hates Collin and seeks to have him executed.

The Last Incarnation of Vautrin, 1847

Jacques Collin

Jacques Collin, who continues to outmaneuver his enemies. When Europe (Prudence Servien) returns with the missing money and Esther’s suicide note, he is cleared of any wrongdoing in her death. Although now known to be Collin, and even by some as the respectable Vautrin (voh-TRA[N]), he still has a trump card, Lucien’s correspondence, which enables him to save himself, as well as Lucien’s predecessor in his affections, Théodore Calvi. He obtains a reward for saving a lady’s sanity, claims his inheritance from Lucien, succeeds Bibi-Lupin, and remains chief of detectives for fifteen years.


Corentin, who is forced to offer Collin a pardon and a job.


Bibi-Lipin, who is ordered to leave his old enemy alone, despite all of his crimes, and then loses his job to him.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Brooks, Peter. The Melodramatic Imagination, 1976.

Curtius, Ernst Robert. Balzac, 1933.

Festa-McCormick, Diana. Honore de Balzac, 1979.

Marceau, Felicien. Balzac and His World, 1966.

Rogers, Samuel. Balzac and the Novel, 1969.