The story “Gobsek”, written in 1830, can be considered the original grain from which the whole giant “Human comedy” of Balzac grows. The image of Gobsek is one of the brightest human types that occur not only in Balzac’s works, but also in modern life. One of the convictions of Gobsek, who had a good knowledge of life in his youth and traveled a lot of countries, is that “man is everywhere the same”: everywhere there is a struggle between the poor and the rich. And in this struggle, “it’s better to press yourself than to allow yourself to be squeezed.” 170 years after the publication of the story, you can add that a person is “the same” not only “everywhere”, but always, while gold and money are “the
Gobsek is a French money-lender, a millionaire. Son of a Dutchman and a Jew, he spent a romantically poor youth. “The wrinkles of his yellow forehead kept the secret of terrible trials, sudden terrible events, unexpected successes.” About his adventurous life, few knew. At the beginning of the story Gobsek appears before us in the guise of a silent, cautious old man, dry and imperceptible. He gives loans at interest to people in a difficult situation. In transactions with clients, he is honest, but implacable. The moneylender made a fortune – seventy million francs. But he does not spend his wealth. Gobsek lives in a small apartment with a miserable atmosphere, eats cheap soup, almost no one communicates, except for clients, nowhere else. Of all the joys of life, he chose one – the power over other people, which he is given the accumulated wealth and craft of the usurer. “I own the world, and the world does not have power over me,” he says in one of his monologues. And for him it does not matter that the world for him has long narrowed to the size of a squalid apartment, and the “ruler” himself has become a “sexless being,” a bill-man, a “golden idol.”
Without a doubt, the image of Gobsek has a grotesque character. His features: stinginess, insensitivity, a passion for accumulation – brought to the absurd. But they did not disappear with the death of Hobsak. The name of the Balzac hero became a household name alongside Plyushkin, a Mean Knight. Many people share the philosophy of Hobsek, while others, without any “philosophy”, repeat his path, dedicating his life to accumulation, forgetting not only about close people, but about his own life, where there is no place for anything but money.
Our contemporaries continue to play new dramatic roles in Balzac’s “Human Comedy.” One is enough to surpass the ability to live one’s neighbor, others need to redraw the world’s maps, kill and rob to satisfy their vainglorious ambitions. And they do it, like Gobsak, with great artistry. Today’s Gobsek can be found in the mask of the philistine, and the mask of a politician and businessman, and in the mask of a beggar in the subway crossing. And in our world, as in the times of Gobsek, great energy, a mighty mind, a taste for life, and a deadly coldness, insensitivity, cruelty and pettiness are getting along. And he becomes more and more like the world of Gobsek in his old age.