Inverted bildungsroman set in Paris circa 1830. Balzac loves Paris and Parisian high society, and he does a wonderful job of creating humorous melodrama. This novel has several climactic moments, a superb villain (like a dark Rhett Butler), and shows the desperation of both wealth and poverty.
Balzac is the self-described physiologist of society. His use of the phsyiological metaphor to examine the function of the social body is an uncanny precurser to sociology. He uses scientific detail and minute examination of motives to great effect.