The human comedy characterization of the image of Jean-Esther van Gobseck - Honore de Balzac

Essays on literary works - 2023

The human comedy characterization of the image of Jean-Esther van Gobseck
Honore de Balzac

Gobsek Jean-Esther van - a character in 13 works of the Human Comedy, the title character of the story of the same name, a Parisian usurer. G. a native of Antwerp, the son of a Dutchman and a Jewess, is an old man with ash-gray hair and impassive, motionless features, like Talleyrand, with small yellow eyes and a sharp nose; twice Balzac compares his appearance, and especially his sarcastic smile, with that of Voltaire. G. is a “man-automaton”, “a man-promissory note”, he saves vital energy and suppresses all human feelings in himself, speaks quietly and never gets excited. G. stingy and ruthless to customers; he has a telling surname: "Gobsek" means "liver"; even his signature is “a hieroglyph where the first and last letters form an insatiable shark mouth,” which captures and devours everyone in a row. Fun for G. is the penetration into the lives of their debtors, into "the most secret bends of the human heart." G. is alien to their passions and enjoys the fact that he is aware of himself as the ruler of their destinies, and his mind is "the scales on which the inheritances and selfish interests of all Paris are weighed." Two creatures live in G.: a miser and a philosopher, a vile creature and a sublime creature; he willingly participates in financial speculation, but outside this sphere he is a man of the most scrupulous honesty in all of Paris. It is to the help of G. that the Count de Resto resorts to save his fortune for the children, which his wife, the Countess de Resto, squanders on her lover, Maxime de Tray: in this situation, the plebeian usurer behaves more worthy than the secular dandy. Gold for G. is not only a source of power, but also an object of manic attachment. The passion that owns G. is stinginess. The symbol of this unaccountable, senseless stinginess is the spectacle seen by Derivil in the house of G. after his death: in the room adjacent to the bedroom of the deceased, countless gifts presented to him by clients are stored, including all kinds of supplies covered with mold; all this is teeming with worms and insects. The name G. has become a household name for a miser usurer.