Le Père Goriot By Honor de Balzac Summary and Analysis Part 1: Section 4

Summary

This section opens with a discussion between the two servants, Christophe and Sylvie, about Vautrin's strange and secretive habit of receiving men late at night in his room and of bribing Christophe to keep it concealed. Moreover, says the handyman, someone has been asking about Vautrin and whether or not he dyes his whiskers. In addition, Christophe tells of meeting Old Goriot on his way out with a mysterious parcel and recalls the merchant's connections with the pretty girls he calls his daughters.

Mme. Vauquer and Vautrin enter the room. The former has seen Goriot taking his silver to a moneylender, Gobseck, and draws the obvious conclusion that the old man is ruining himself to support his mistresses. At that moment, Christophe returns with a message from Goriot addressed to "Madame la Comtesse Anastasie de Restaud." Vautrin half opens the envelope and discovers a receipted bill, which, of course, confirms his deduction about Goriot and his mistresses.

Victorine and Mme. Couture are next to make their appearance. The latter complains about the young girl's misfortune and says that they will attempt to see the girl's father, M. Taillefer and try to soften his heart. Vautrin, in a rather curious and ironic tone, offers to help in this matter.

At ten o'clock, Goriot, Michonneau, and Eugène take their places at the dining room table. Eugène, thrilled by his new experience, tells everyone about his wealthy cousin, the party, and the charming woman he had met, adding that he was surprised to see her on foot, at nine o'clock in the morning, in a street near the pension, the Rue des Grès. Vautrin then explains that she most certainly went to the moneylender, adding that the name of the pretty person is Anastasie de Restaud and that Goriot is well acquainted with and seems deeply interested in her. This is a bombshell for Rastignac, who has not mentioned any names.

Vautrin takes this occasion to develop his theories about society women and Goriot's affair: To him, Anastasie is the old man's mistress. One can imagine how shocked Eugène is at learning that "this Paris . . . is a slough."

After lunch, Eugène retires to his room resolved to get the truth from Anastasie. Mme. Couture and Victorine leave to see M. Taillefer, and Poiret, in a gallant endeavor, takes Mlle. Michonneau for a walk in the Jardin des Plantes.

At four o'clock, the lodgers are coming back for dinner. Mme. Couture tells of the fruitless and shocking meeting between Victorine and her father. M. Taillefer was extremely rude, refusing to recognize his daughter, and his son Frederic was likewise very cold toward his sister. The relations of that family drama infuriate Old Goriot: "What inhuman wretches they must be!"

The rest of the boarders are arriving now, exchanging run-of-the-mill jokes, which they mistake for wit. Vautrin, in a fit of joviality, crams Old Goriot's cap down on his head. Goriot, after an indignant reaction, draws back into silence. As everyone laughs at the old man, Rastignac tells his friend, Bianchon, that he has changed his mind about Goriot's supposed folly or stupidity and asks Bianchon to try his system of phrenology on him to prove it. "His life is so mysterious," says Eugene, "that it must be worth studying." Bianchon, taking all this lightly, refuses to feel Goriot's bump, saying, "His stupidity might perhaps be contagious."

Analysis

In the first part of the preceding section, we must admire Balzac's talent for commonplace dialog between the two servants, who tell us the inside stories of the pension in their picturesque "lingo."

At the same time that we watch a routine day at the pension, we also learn the progress of the plot: the continuation of the detective story involving Vautrin, Victorine's failure to become reconciled with her father, and the very strange way Vautrin offers his help. (In the following section, we will find out about the Machiavellian plan that he has conceived, a plan which involves Rastignac.)

It is also in this section that we find Goriot's first outburst of paternal love; his distress when he finds out that the silver he has pawned won't be of any use, as Anastasie has already gone to the moneylender; his emotion at hearing the name of the countess; and his pathetic eagerness to know how she looked at the dance.

Here, also, appear the first cynical observations of Vautrin on society: its superficiality, its corruption, the evil power of money — one very basic idea of this novel.

Furthermore, we should notice the ironic way in which Balzac shows us the boarders' daily routine: their petty conversations, their stupid jokes, their cruel attitude toward Père Goriot — their favorite scapegoat.

Here is mentioned phrenology, in which Balzac believed and which we will find introduced later.

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