Père Goriot, by Honoré de Balzac – Quick Book Summary



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“Love is the poetry of the senses.”

– Honoré de Balzac, Père Goriot.


This brief summary navigates through Honoré de Balzac’s ‘Père Goriot’, providing an efficient exploration of its plot, characters, and themes. Ideal for readers seeking a digestible understanding of this classic, it presents a well-rounded view of Balzac’s portrayal of 19th-century Parisian society and the haunting tragedy of its central characters. Dive in for an enriching literary journey.

Book Information:

  • Title: Père Goriot
  • Author: Honoré de Balzac
  • Genre: Realism, Novel
  • Publication Year: 1835

Brief Overview:

Père Goriot is a tragic tale exploring themes of social climbing, greed, and familial disillusionment in early 19th century Parisian society.


Author’s Background:

Honoré de Balzac was a French novelist and playwright who greatly influenced French literature. His most famous work is the series ‘La Comédie Humaine’, of which Père Goriot is a part.

Publication Context:

Père Goriot is a key novel in Balzac’s ‘La Comédie Humaine’, which sought to depict the entirety of French society and has been viewed as groundbreaking for its comprehensive and detailed nature.

Character Summary

Main Characters:

  • Père Goriot: A retired vermicelli manufacturer, he impoverishes himself to support his ungrateful daughters.
  • Rastignac: A law student from a poor family who becomes corrupted by Parisian high society.

Character Development:

Throughout the novel, Père Goriot’s unconditional love for his daughters leads to his downfall, while Rastignac evolves from a naïve student to a cynical social climber.

Plot Summary

The story unfolds in a boarding house in Paris, focusing on the intertwined lives of its inhabitants, notably Père Goriot and Rastignac.


The novel is set in early 19th-century Paris, largely within the confines of the Maison Vauquer boarding house.

Themes and Motifs

Key Themes:

  • Social Climbing: Rastignac’s ambitions highlight the superficiality of the Parisian high society.
  • Familial Disillusionment: Goriot’s love for his daughters is contrasted with their cold, uncaring attitudes.

Motifs and Symbols:

The Maison Vauquer boarding house represents the social hierarchy of Paris, while Goriot’s declining health mirrors his financial downfall.

Takeaway Morals


The novel highlights the destructive effects of social ambition and the ingratitude of children towards parental sacrifices.


These morals serve as cautionary tales, emphasizing the importance of familial love and humility in the face of societal pressures.


Literary Devices:

Balzac utilizes detailed realism, foreshadowing, and irony to paint a vivid picture of Parisian society and its inhabitants.

Style and Tone:

Balzac’s writing style is meticulous and observant, with a critical tone underscoring the harsh realities of societal norms.

Critical Reception

Initial Reception:

While initially criticized for its realistic and harsh portrayal of society, Père Goriot eventually gained recognition as a significant work of French literature.

Current Standing:

Today, Père Goriot is widely regarded as a classic, studied in literature classes around the world for its profound insights into human nature and society.

Personal Response

Personal Opinion:

Who knew pasta could bring so much drama? Jokes aside, the book’s brutal depiction of societal pressure had me pondering the nature of ambition and the price of success. It’s not a light read, but it’s definitely an enlightening one.


If you’re into realism and aren’t afraid of a dash of cynicism, then this book is definitely for you.

About the Author


Honoré de Balzac was a French novelist and playwright, known for his series ‘La Comédie Humaine’. He lived from 1799 to 1850.

Literary Career:

Balzac’s literary career was defined by his ambitious project ‘La Comédie Humaine’, which comprises over ninety individual works, including Père Goriot.

Book Details

Publication Details:

Originally published in 1835 by the publisher Revue de Paris.

Structural Details:

The book is divided into three parts and contains approximately 400 pages.



Père Goriot is a haunting tale of ambition, societal pressures, and the often-ignored sacrifices of parental love.

Final Thoughts:

The book offers a cynical, yet insightful look into human nature, providing readers with much to reflect on even after its conclusion.


“The secret of great fortunes without apparent cause is a crime that has been forgotten because it was properly executed.” – Père Goriot, Honoré de Balzac.

“Our heart is a treasury; if you pour out all its wealth at once, you are bankrupt.” – Honoré de Balzac, ‘Père Goriot’

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