In the “Père Goriot”, Balzac interrupts the description of the sad and nauseating “Vauquer's boarding house” to present the characters of his novel. He limits himself to roughly sketch extras whereas he meticulously portrays the main actors and, in particular Vautrin, one of the pillars of the “Comédie humaine”:
“Vautrin (the man of forty with the dyed whiskers) marked a transition stage between these two young people and the others. He was the kind of man that calls forth the remark: “He looks a jovial sort!” He had broad shoulders, a well-developed chest, muscular arms, and strong square-fisted hands; the joints of his fingers were covered with tufts of fiery red hair. His face was furrowed by premature wrinkles; there was a certain hardness about it in spite of his bland and insinuating manner. His bass voice was by no means unpleasant, and was in keeping with his boisterous laughter. He was always obliging, always in good spirits; if anything went wrong with one of the locks, he would soon unscrew it, take it to pieces, file it, oil and clean and set it in order, and put it back in its place again; “I am an old hand at it,” he used to say. Not only so, he knew all about ships, the sea, France, foreign countries, men, business, law, great houses and prisons...”
Honore de Balzac : “Père Goriot”, 1834. Translated by Ellen Marriage.