SINCE 1842 most of Balzac's novels and stories have been published under the collective title la Comédie humaine, and the sight of all these volumes aligned on the shelf (ten in the currently most compact edition) may well daunt the reader anxious to make Balzac's acquaintance but unsure where to begin. Père Goriot was written in 1834-5, well before this vast project had taken definite shape, and even the most conscientious reader should have no qualms about approaching it as an autonomous work in its own right. It is true that Père Goriot affords an exceptionally good introduction to many of Balzac's other novels, not only because it was the first to make extensive use of recurrent characters, but also because several of the main characters in the book are actually those which reappear elsewhere with greatest frequency. That said, the reader would be well advised to forget the complexities of the Comédie humaine and enjoy Père Goriot in the quite specific terms in which Balzac presents his work. The opening paragraph refers several times to the 'drama' that is to follow (the word 'comédie' in fact corresponds more closely to the English 'drama' or 'theatre' than to any suggestion of the comic; compare Dante Divine Comedy); and claims that it is 'not fiction or romance. All is true.' Balzac also wonders at the outset whether anyone but a Parisian will really understand the drama, and concludes the first, and longest, of the book's four sections with the words: 'here ends the exposition of this obscure but appalling Parisian tragedy.' From exposition to denouement the tragedy of Père Goriot moves within clearly defined limits of time and place, focusing on the eponymous protagonist an action which is self-contained and final.