Old Man Goriot

Old Man Goriot - Honoré de Balzac, Olivia McCannon, Graham Robb

I didn’t expect to love “Old man Goriot” as much as I ended up doing so in the end. I was afraid it would be uptight and wordy, like many people tend to say about novels of the 18th and 19th centuries. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to connect with the writing and the characters, to find something honest or provoking in the writing. I ended up being wrong on all of these accounts, and falling slightly in love with Balzac’s writing.


Beyond being a valuable book to read for anyone who enjoys French culture, “Old man Goriot” also is a vital entry point into understanding how French culture and literature rubbed off into the Russian counterpart. There were so many aspects of “Anna Karenina” that came to mind while reading “Old Man Goriot” that the two, at some point, became unmistakably linked in my mind. Society and the rich elite is the overpowering theme in both stories, each with their slight twist to it but returning to the same root, the fact that the world of elite is an underbelly that, when exposed, can be found teaming with worms and parasites that are so easy to miss when looking at the shiny pearlescent shell. I loved and hated all the characters, each for their own reason. But each had their vital role, a specific niche, to play and fill that Balzac stressed quite obviously. The writing was woven with fascinating cultural notes and references that were another delight to learn about. The story is an emotional whirlwind, one which, as my professor stated a couple days ago, can easily be seen as a ‘mirror’ of Shakespeare’s “King Lear”, with Anastasie and Delphine being the strong French counterparts of Goneril and Regan, respectively. I have a habit of writing out quotes from books I read for class in order to encapsulate ideas that I felt were very moving or relevant, but with “Goriot” I ended up getting so involved with the story that with each ‘chapter’ I wrote down less and less quotes, I was that mesmerized and desperate to know what would happen. It was a social drama of the most dreadful and fascinating kind, to paraphrase Balzac’s own words.


I’m glad this was the first book I read in university. It’s opened up a lot of doors in my mind and pushed me towards making several connections culturally and socially that I hadn’t seen before, being, like I mentioned earlier, a vital puzzle piece in understanding the very significance French culture played on other European powers, especially Russia. With a couple pages of moving quotes and an overwhelming reaction to last me a lifetime, “Old Man Goriot” truly is a treasure of a novel.