By 1819, when Balzac's novel opens, old Goriot is reduced to living in a mean forty-five franc room on the third floor, his fine cambric shirts and diamond pin long sold. Moon-faced, unhappy and unkempt, his only visitors are two glamorous Parisian women, "too pretty to be good", who call infrequently and surreptitiously, leaving their carriages on the corner of the boulevard. They are his daughters, Goriot claims, but the only lodger generous enough to believe him is Eugene Rastignac, an impoverished law student, ambitious to plant a foot in the glittering society of Faubourg Saint-Germain. In Old Goriot, Balzac turns the excessive paternal love of a retired vermicelli merchant into a tragedy as devastating as King Lear. It is a key novel in his Comedie humaine, typical in its marvelous vitality and wit, and in its profound treatment of two consuming obsessions, money and love.
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