Hesperian student / (Lincoln [Neb.]) 1872-1885, April 15, 1887, Page 3, Image 3

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in many instances is calculated to weary his readers and to
cause them to accuse the author of tediousness and unneces
sary prolixity.
It is of course useless to discuss this point. As it appears
to me, it is merely a matter of individual taste, and whether
or no there can be applied any rule of riglit or wrong docs
not enter into the question. I have no doubt but that if we
had been able to get a personal insight into the scenes which
he describes, and would view his characters and events from
his standpoint, and with his knowledge of the subject, we
would not be ready to cciOrc his minute and exhaustive an
alyses; but would, on the contrary, be able to sec what a won
derful genius it was, which was able to take the common and
uninteresting facts of life and to make of them such vivid
pictures of humanity.
Balzac was essentially a novelist of the present. "With that
which had transpired before his time he had nothing to do
The past was not real enough for him and it therefore failed
to arouse in him any interest. Hut what was going on under
his eyes, the bustle of the streets, thq courts of justice, the
political intrigues, and the schemes of crafty speculators,
nil these had for him a living interest, inasmuch as he could
tnke part in these stirring scenes nnd actions nnd make him
self personally interested in what was going on around him.
He had lar too much to hear, to sec, to do, in his own life and
in the life around him to busy himself with what had passed
and was forgotten. The picture had no chnrin for him; he
must have the original before his eyes. Hence it is that Bal
zac's characters are so intensely life like nnd animated. One
finds himself feeling surprise thnt Balzac should have select
ed so many apparently unimportant features in the lives of
his characters as material for trcatmcnt.but that he has succeed
ed in investing these features with such wonderful charm and
interest is one of the most convincing proofs of his power as
a realistic painter of manners.
In Pere Goriot, Balzac has presented about as curious a
combination of characters as could be imagined. Can it be
possible that such misery, poverty and utter depravity as are
here depicted can really exist? One would fain believe that
such were not the case, and indeed, it requires a considerable
exercise of faith to believe that "Balzac, letting his imagina
tion have full scope in order to present the most grotesque
picture which could possibly be conceived of, has not been
guilty of willul exaggeration. Yet in his admirable preface
to the Commie Humaine, Balzac has expressly stated that he
hus described from personal observation nnd that all his char
acters have their prototypes in actual life. H such is the
case what a monster of depravity must Monsieur Vautrin have
been! What a marvel ol unselfish affection and parental love'
do we find in Goriot himself! Madame Vauquer's boarding
house is certainly an awful picture of sordid squnlor and un
lovelincss. Balzac seems to have taken a fiendish delight in
describing this unhappy place and in dwelling at length up
on each disgusting detail. Probably he had good reason to
exercise his caustic pen against such institutions, and no
doubt many of his readers will be able to heartily sympathize
with him in this antipathy.
As to the character of Monsieur Vautrin, I confess that my
'fuith was put to a very severe test. Here we have a man who
isrepresentcd as a jovial, light hearted fellow, always laugh
ing.joking, singing about the house, taking everything as it
comes, and seeming to think of nothing but his present enjoy
ment. He is on good terms with his landlady (a significant
fact, by 'the way), is pleasant and agreeable to all and is ap
parently always ready to perform a kindness or to do a favor
for his neighbor. Yet Balzac calls upon us to see in this man1
a nature capable of the lowest vices, of the blackest villainy,
of the most relentless treachery, a man who, it would not
be too much to say, could almost have served as a model for
Goethe's Faust. Balzac tells us that he is a man capable of
adapting himself to any circumstance, of assuming at a mo
ment's notice, almost any aspect of character, and yet pre
serve when he so wishes, an almost impenetrable mask of care
less good Tuimor and thouglitlcss gaiety.
Now the qucstfon is, arc we to regard this conception as a
type of a certain class of characters as possible to be met with
in actual life, or must avc regard it as an anomaly. Some
thing that, under ordinary conditions could not possibly exist?
That question is an extremely difficult one to answer, because
most people have nevci met with a type similar to this and
therefore cannot draw on their own knowledge to verify their
opinions. In Vautrin we find traits of disposition, shades of
character so entirely antithetical in their nature that it would
seem that if one were present the other could not possibly ex
ist in connection with it. Yet after all, it is well known, that
the southern character presents phases of human nature which
we, who live in the colder latitudes arc at a loss to explain.
A man may seem to be all frankness, socinbility, nnd kindness
and yet at the same time may be meditating the blackest
treating toward his unsuspecting friend, without letting him
suspect for nn instance the existence of such base treachery.
Instances of such a nature have been known to exist, but for
the sake of humanity it is to be hoped that they arc rather
anomnlous productions than natural conceptions. In a case
like this nothing enn be laid down as positive becnusc our
knowlcgc is limited, and at the mo'st all that we can say is
partly speculative.
In the character of Pere Goriot one is almost as much non
plusscd as in the case of Vautrin. Here, however it is ,possi
blc to arrive at more accurate conclusions than in the former
case, because the matter is brought home to us in a manner
in which we arc able to sec in how far the existence of such a
character may correspond to our actual experience. But it is
hard to believe that a man's love, even the love of a father
for his children, could remain so perfect and unselfish when
put to such a terrible test as was Goriot's. Nay, it waulft
seem as though a man were almost justified in withdrawing
his affection when the objects of it are so utterly insensible to
the claims of filial love and respect as was displayed by Mcs
dames Rcstaud and Nucingcn. I cannot conceive of a case
where such wonderful devotion on the one hnnd could possi.
lily lie repaid by such indifference on the other. One would
imagine that a person not utterly depraved would in common
pity, simulate mi affection, even though he felt it not, for the
sake of so easily conferring happiness upon a fellow human
being. But the failure to do this in the present instance,
shows too clearly the awful effects of the passion for wealth
and social distinction, in the attainment of which so many
lives arc wrecked, and so many natural impulses of affection
oblitprntcd. More than this, it can be traced to that whol -ly
absurd notion that one is belittled by connection with the
less fortunate. Had Goiiot occupied an elevated position in
society it is probable that his daughters would have entertain
ed for him some degree of affection. Indeed this is abun
dantly evident from the fact that they repaid his services to
them with marks of affection; but that as soon as Goriot came
down in the world, their regard (or seeming regard, if you
will) decreased in proportion. I believe thnt Goriot's daugh
ters did possess some affection for him; but that as the other
influences to which their gay and frivolous life subjected
them drew them farther and farther from him, their feelings
were swallowed up by other desires, and were eventually ov-