Le Père Goriot is set in Paris in 1819. Three principal characters are the elderly Goriot who dotes on her two daughters. The latter, although they married extremely wee, yet still demand more and more of him. The other two principal characters are a criminal called Vautrin, and a naive law student named Eugène de Rastignac.
Le Père Goriot is considered by many to be Balzac's most important novel. It marks the first serious use by the author of characters who had appeared in other books, a technique that distinguishes Balzac's fiction (which came back to frequent use recently).
Both the description of the historical setting, and character development are great novelistic achievements. The struggle by individuals to secure a higher social status is a major theme in the book. The city of Paris also impresses itself on the characters – especially young Rastignac, who grew up in the provinces of southern France. Balzac, through Goriot and other novels, provides pessimistic view of family and marriage.
A favorite of Balzac's, Le Père Goriot quickly won widespread popularity and has often been adapted for film and the stage. It gave rise to the French word Rastignac, which means a social climber willing to use any means to better his situation.