Short summary - Gobseck - Honoré de Balzac

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Gobseck
Honoré de Balzac

The lawyer Derville tells the story of the usurer Gobsek in the salon of the Viscountess de Granlier, one of the most noble and wealthy ladies in the aristocratic Saint-Germain suburb. Once, in the winter of 1829/30, two guests stayed at her place: the handsome young Count Ernest de Resto and Derville, who was easily received only because he helped the mistress of the house to return the property confiscated during the Revolution.

When Ernest leaves, the Viscountess reprimands her daughter Camilla: one should not show favor to the dear count so frankly, for no decent family will agree to intermarry with him because of his mother. Although she now behaves impeccably, in her youth she caused a lot of gossip. In addition, she is of low birth - her father was the grain merchant Goriot. But worst of all, she squandered her fortune on her lover, leaving the children penniless. Count Ernest de Resto is poor, and therefore not a couple of Camille de Granlier.
Derville, sympathetic to the lovers, intervenes in the conversation, wanting to explain to the Viscountess the true state of affairs. He starts from afar: in his student years he had to live in a cheap boarding house - there he met Gobsek. Even then, he was a deep old man of a very remarkable appearance - with a "moon face", yellow, like a ferret's eyes, a sharp long nose and thin lips. His victims sometimes lost their temper, cried or threatened, but the moneylender himself always remained cool - it was a "man-bill", "a golden idol". Of all the neighbors, he maintained relations only with Derville, to whom he once revealed the mechanism of his power over people - the world is ruled by gold, and the usurer owns gold. For edification, he talks about how he collected a debt from one noble lady - fearing exposure, this countess handed him a diamond without hesitation, for her lover received the money on her bill. Gobsek guessed the future of the countess by the face of a blond handsome man - this dandy, mot and player is capable of ruining the whole family.

After graduating from a law course, Derville was promoted to senior clerk in the solicitor's office. In the winter of 1818/19, he was forced to sell his patent - and asked for one hundred and fifty thousand francs. Gobsek lent money to the young neighbor, taking only thirteen percent from him "out of friendship" - usually he took no less than fifty. At the cost of hard work, Derville managed to get even with the debt in five years.
Once the brilliant dandy Count Maxime de Trail begged Derville to set him up with Gobsek, but the usurer flatly refused to give a loan to a man who had debts of three hundred thousand, and not a centime in his soul. At that moment, a carriage drove up to the house, the Comte de Tray rushed to the exit and returned with an unusually beautiful lady - according to the description, Derville immediately recognized her as the countess who had issued the promissory note four years ago. This time she pledged magnificent diamonds. Derville tried to prevent the deal, but as soon as Maxim hinted that he was going to commit suicide, the unfortunate woman agreed to the onerous terms of the loan.

After the lovers left, the countess's husband rushed in to Gobsek demanding to return the mortgage - his wife had no right to dispose of the family jewels. Derville managed to settle the matter peacefully, and the grateful usurer gave the Count advice: to transfer all his property to a reliable friend through a fictitious sale deal is the only way to save at least children from ruin. A few days later, the count came to Derville to find out what his opinion of Gobsek was. The solicitor replied that in the event of an untimely death, he would not be afraid to make Gobsek the guardian of his children, for in this curmudgeon and philosopher two creatures live - the vile and the sublime. The count immediately decided to transfer all rights to the property to Gobsek, wishing to protect him from his wife and her greedy lover.
Taking advantage of the pause in the conversation, the viscountess sends her daughter to bed - a virtuous girl need not know how far a woman who has overstepped certain boundaries can fall. After Camilla left, there is no need to hide the names - the story is about the Countess de Resto. Derville, having not received a counter receipt about the fictitiousness of the transaction, learns that Count de Resto is seriously ill. The Countess, sensing a catch, does everything to prevent the solicitor from visiting her husband. The denouement comes in December 1824. By this time, the Countess was already convinced of the meanness of Maxime de Trai and broke with him. She is so zealous in caring for her dying husband that many are inclined to forgive her previous sins - in fact, she, like a predatory beast, lies in wait for her prey. The count, unable to achieve a meeting with Derville, wants to hand over the documents to his eldest son - but his wife cuts off this path for him too, trying to influence the boy with affection. In the last terrible scene, the Countess begs for forgiveness, but the Count remains adamant. On the same night he dies, and the next day Gobsek and Derville come to the house. An eerie sight appears to their eyes: in search of the will, the countess perpetrated a real defeat in the office, not even ashamed of the dead. Hearing the footsteps of strangers, she throws papers addressed to Derville into the fire - the count's property thereby completely passes into the possession of Gobsek.

The usurer rented out the mansion, and began to spend the summer like a lord - in his new estates. To all Derville's pleas to take pity on the repentant countess and her children, he replied that misfortune is the best teacher. Let Ernest de Resto know the value of people and money - then it will be possible to return his fortune. Learning about the love of Ernest and Camilla, Derville once again went to Gobsek and found the old man dying. The old curmudgeon bequeathed all his wealth to his sister's great-granddaughter - a public girl named "Ogonyok". He instructed his executor, Derville, to dispose of the accumulated food supplies - and the solicitor really discovered huge stocks of rotten pate, moldy fish, and rotten coffee. By the end of his life, Gobsek's stinginess turned into a mania - he did not sell anything, fearing to sell too cheap. In conclusion, Derville reports that Ernest de Resto will soon regain his lost state. The Vicomtesse replies that the young count must be very rich - only in this case can he marry Mademoiselle de Granlier. However, Camilla is not at all obliged to meet with her mother-in-law, although the countess is not ordered to enter the receptions - after all, she was received at the house of Madame de Beauceant.