French Language Blog

Rastignac Posted by on Jul 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

In French culture, intellectualism runs deep. It’s not uncommon to have feuds by contemporary philosophers or scholars followed by the media and even become front page news.

Recently, I was reading about a feud between two French scholars engaged in a public feud. They threw insults at each other through opinion pieces printed in newspapers, including the insult “Rastignac.”

For those who haven’t heard of Rastignac, this is a somewhat common insult in France. Once again its origin shows the deep culture of intellectualism in the country, as Eugène de Rastignac is the name of a character in Honoré de Balzac’s La Comedie Humaine. To be called “Rastignac” is to be called a social climber or an opportunist. (Another word for such an opportunist in French is arriviste.)

Many of Rastignac’s sayings from La Comedie Humaine are well known, perhaps most famously: La vie humaine se compose de deux parties : on tue le temps, le temps vous tue. (“Human life is composed of two parts: you kill time, then time kills you.”)

Here’s a description of the character from Le Père Goriot:

Eugène de Rastignac avait un visage tout méridional, le teint blanc, des cheveux noirs, des yeux bleus. Sa tournure, ses manières, sa pose habituelle dénotaient le fils d’une famille noble, où l’éducation première n’avait comporté que des traditions de bon goût. S’il était ménager de ses habits, si les jours ordinaires il achevait d’user les vêtements de l’an passé, néanmoins il pouvait sortir quelquefois mis comme l’est un jeune homme élégant.

“Eugène de Rastignac had a completely southern face, white skin, black hair, and blue eyes. His appearance, his manners, his usual bearing marked him as belong to a noble family, where his earliest training must have been in accordance with high-class traditions. If he was thrifty in his dress, wearing on ordinary days last year’s clothing, nevertheless when he could go out from time to time dressed as an elegant young man.”

Can you think of any other characters who have become so well known (either in English or French literature) that they have become insults?

Tags: , ,
Keep learning French with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!


  1. Barbara Ann:

    Scrooge, of course.