Honoré de Balzac
On May 20, 1799, author Honoré de Balzac was born
in Tours, France. He studied at the Collège de Vendôme and the
Sorbonne. Despite being called the Charles
Dickens of France, his early life was haunted by failure. He worked
feverishly, often writing 14 hours a day, taking a short nap, and then
writing the rest of the night with the help of strong Parisian coffee.
From 1819 to 1830, Balzac led a life of frequent privation and constant
industry, receiving for his reward the heavy burden of debt that resulted
from several bad business ventures. His financial woes would plague
him throughout his career.
His first success as a writer came with the
publication of Les Chouans (1829, The Chouans).
Between 1830 and 1832, he published Scenes from Private Life, a series of novelettes
that brought him even more literary
next had the idea of presenting in La Comédie Humaine (The Human Comedy), a complete picture of modern civilization. Among the
masterpieces which form part of his vast scheme are Le Père Goriot (Father Goriot), Les Illusions perdues (Lost Illusions), Les
Paysans (The Peasants), La Femme de trente ans (The Thirty-Year-Old Woman), and Eugénie Grandet, in which detailed
observation and imagination are the main features.
Balzac's The Human Comedy was
a sprawling literary accomplishment. It included 85 novels
encompassing over 2,000 named characters written over a period of 20 years, but the
author's work still failed to bring him financial security. Although
of most of his books takes place in Paris, he also wrote about life in
small towns and in the country. He wrote at a time when the Industrial
Revolution was creating a sprawling middle class, and he was taken most with
people who were caught up in their newfound wealth. He wrote about
banks, offices, factories, the stock market, the media, and the first
commercial advertisements. One of his characters says, "I am of my
time; I honor money."
financial success remained aloof, Balzac had a huge influence on later
nineteenth-century French novelists such as Gustave Flaubert and Emile Zola. Henry James thought he was the
best novelist of all time, and Willa Cather once said, "If one is not a
little mad about Balzac at twenty, one will never live." Today, Balzac
is rarely studied in American schools. Even in France, his novels
are outsold by writers such as Guy de Maupassant, Jules Verne, Victor Hugo,
Marcel Proust, and Collette.
Balzac once said, "All happiness depends on courage and work. I have
had many periods of wretchedness, but with energy and above all with
illusions, I pulled through them all."
During his later years, while living mostly in his villa at Sèvres, he said,
"I am not deep, but I am very wide."
In 1849, in failing health, Balzac traveled to Poland to visit Eveline Hanska, a wealthy lady of Polish society, with whom he had
corresponded for more than 15 years. In 1850, she became his wife, and
three months later, he died.
Discover Honoré de Balzac
Yourself - Check Out Today's Best-Selling