The Tragedy of Gobsek - Honore de Balzac

Essays on literary works - 2023

The Tragedy of Gobsek
Honore de Balzac

As in his other works, Balzac narrates in "Gobsek" at the same time about many people who are very different from each other. In the background of the story, as if in the shadows, are the daughter of the Viscountess de Granlier - Camille and the impoverished aristocrat Ernest de Resto. Lawyer Derville sympathizes with their love. Sitting in Madame de Grandlier's living room, Derville tells the girl's mother unknown details about the sad history of the Comte de Restaud's family and the role that the usurer Gobsek played in this story.

Ernest's father, Count de Resto, at one time married the daughter of Papa Goriot, Anastasi. A woman from a bourgeois environment, a beauty with a strong character, Anastasi, having married an aristocrat during the years of the Restoration (Balzac told more about this later in the novel "Father Goriot"), ruined her husband, blowing away all his fortune for the sake of the secular dandy and adventurer Maxim de Tray. Derville, at the same time just beginning his legal practice, managed with difficulty to save part of the property of the Comte de Resto for his son.

Such, it would seem, is the plot of the story. But in fact, her story is not limited to this. The main character of Balzac in this work, Gobsek, is a living personification of the power of gold over people.

The usurer, who by the time Derville met him was already seventy-six years old, rented two poorly furnished rooms in one of the gloomy, damp houses in Paris. He was a "man-automaton", concerned only with collecting high interest on the bills of his victims who borrowed money from him in time, or, since the "cases" ended that way, appropriate their property and jewelry.

Gobsek, imbued with confidence in Derville, shared his thoughts with him. He had a consistent system of views, but frightening in its frankness and cynicism, in which readers can easily discover the worldly philosophy of the entire bourgeois world.

"Of all earthly blessings," said Gobsek, "there is only one that is reliable enough to make it worth chasing a man. It is ... gold." "Money is a commodity that can be sold dearly or cheaply, as the case may be, with a clear conscience."

Gobsek did not believe in the morality of people, in their decency. "A person is the same everywhere: everywhere there is a struggle between the poor and the rich, everywhere. And it is inevitable. So it's better to push yourself than to allow others to push you."

To Derville, who at that time was naive in many matters, Robsec's words seemed blasphemy. He believed in human nobility, he himself recently fell in love with the seamstress Fanny Malvo, by the way, one of Gobsek's random "clients". From Gobsek, Derville learned the truth about the cruel struggle of interests that determines the life of bourgeois society, just as the young Rastignac learns the truth in the novel "Father Goriot" from the convict Vautrin. All the more tragic seemed to Derville the scenes connected with the ruin of the Resto family, which he witnessed.

The moral fall of a person, selfish interests, predatory habits - that's what Derville learned when he met Anastasi de Resto, Maxime de Tray and Gobsek himself. Watching Crookshanks (Dutch name "Gobsek" - French for "Zhivoglot") - with cynical frankness robbing his clients, Derville understood the sinister reason for the domination of Gobsek over many people, as well as the true reason for their tragedies, which always had a common basis: one took away money from another. "Does it really all come down to the days!" he exclaims.

This is what Balzac wanted to say with his work. The "nerve of life" of his time, "the spiritual essence of the whole of today's society," at the same time, Balzac saw the Evil and the Deity of the bourgeois world in monetary relations that dominated everything. A new deity, a fetish, an idol, they distorted human lives, took away children from their parents, wives from their husbands. Behind the individual episodes of the story "Gobsek" are all these problems. Anastasi, who pushed the body of her dead husband out of bed in order to find his business papers, was for Balzac the living embodiment of the destructive passions generated by monetary interests.

But even more remarkable in this respect is the ending of the story: the death of Gobsek. Crookshanks, in his maniacal attachment to money, which turned "on the threshold of Gobsek's death into some kind of madness," did not want to "part with the smallest particle of his wealth." His house became a warehouse of rotting products... The old man knew how to weigh everything, take into account, he never compromised his own benefit, but he "did not take into account" only one thing, that hoarding cannot be the goal of a reasonable human life.

Balzac will return to this important problem many more times in the novel Eugene Grande, in The History of the Greatness and Fall of Caesar Borrito (1837), and in the novel The Peasants (1844). Following Balzac, writers of the 20th century will develop this theme. Portraying a financier, money tycoon, US writers - Theodore Dreiser ("The Financier", "Titan", "Stoic") and William Faulkner ("Village") will repeat in their novels many collisions of "Gobsek", telling about how, stuffing his pocket , a person robs his soul, loses true friends, remains alone, able only to sit in his jar and "chew the void." But it is noteworthy that Balzac was the first to condemn bourgeois society at the time of its heyday.

Attentive readers of "Gobsek" will also note other features of this outstanding work: the variety of characters, the individualization of Balzac's speech and the magnificent Balzac painting.

When Balzac says that in the evenings, satisfied with the day, Gobsek "rubbed his hands, and from the deep wrinkles that furrowed his face, as if a haze of gaiety rose," he reaches such a picturesque expressiveness that can only be compared with the paintings of the old masters. The same can be said about the descriptions of Anastasi's bedroom, about the dramatic scenes in Gobsek's "cell", examining the jewels before taking them away from their owners for a pittance, and, finally, about the room "torn", "gutted" by the wife of the deceased Comte de Resto. These pages are remembered for a long time, although they are written,

The diversity, humanistic pathos of Balzac's works, deep generalizations, clarity and visibility of the image continue to attract the attention of readers, although the era described by Balzac has long since passed.

Historian and everyday writer of his time, philosopher and artist, founder of the realistic school in French literature, Balzac is still able to excite hearts, captivating with the flight of his thoughts.