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Honoré de Balzac

Honoré de Balzac (French pronunciation: [ɔnɔʁe də balzak]; 20 May 1799 – 18 August 1850) was a French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of short stories and novels collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the 1815 fall of Napoleon. HP Pavilion DV6500 AC Adapter/Charger

Due to his keen observation of detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature. He is renowned for his multifaceted characters, who are complex, morally ambiguous and fully human. HP Compaq nx6310 AC Adapter/Charger

His writing influenced many subsequent novelists such as Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Marie Corelli, Henry James, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino, and philosophers such asFriedrich Engels. Many of Balzac's works have been made into or have inspired films, and they are a continuing source of inspiration for writers, filmmakers and critics. Sony VAIO PCG-955A Battery - 4400mAh

An enthusiastic reader and independent thinker as a child, Balzac had trouble adapting to the teaching style of his grammar school. His willful nature caused trouble throughout his life and frustrated his ambitions to succeed in the world of business. Sony VAIO PCG-NV Battery

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When he finished school, Balzac was an apprentice in a law office, but he turned his back on the study of law after wearying of its inhumanity and banal routine. Before and during his career as a writer, he attempted to be a publisher, printer, businessman, critic, and politician; he failed in all of these efforts. La Comédie Humaine reflects his real-life difficulties, and includes scenes from his own experience. HP Pavilion ZD7300 Battery


Balzac suffered from health problems throughout his life, possibly due to his intense writing schedule. His relationship with his family was often strained by financial and personal difficulties, and he ended several friendships over critical reviews. In 1850 he married Ewelina Hańska, his longtime love; he died five months later. HP Pavilion N6195 Battery



Honoré Balzac was born into a family which had struggled nobly to achieve respectability. His father, born Bernard-François Balssa, was one of eleven children from a poor family inTarn, a region in the south of France. In 1760 the elder Balzac set off for Paris with only alouis coin in his pocket, determined to improve his social standing; Sony vaio VPCYB16KG/S Laptop Battery

by 1776 he had become Secretary to the King's Council and a Freemason. (He had also changed his name to that of an ancient noble family, and added – without any official cause – thenobiliary particle de.)[1] After the Reign of Terror (1793–94), he was sent to Tours to coordinate supplies for the Army.[2]Asus A31-K42 Laptop Battery


Balzac's mother, born Anne-Charlotte-Laure Sallambier, came from a family ofhaberdashers in Paris. Her family's wealth was a considerable factor in the match: she was eighteen at the time of the wedding, and Bernard-François fifty.[3] Sony VGN-SR45H/B Laptop Battery

As British writer and critic V. S. Pritchett explained, "She was certainly drily aware that she had been given to an old husband as a reward for his professional services to a friend of her family and that the capital was on her side. She was not in love with her husband."[4]Sony vaio VPCY11V9E Laptop Battery


Honoré (so named after Saint Honoré of Amiens, who is commemorated on 16 May, four days before Balzac's birthday) was actually the second child born to the Balzacs; exactly one year previous, Louis-Daniel had been born, but he lived for only a month. Honoré's sisters Laure and Laurence were born in 1800 and 1802, and his brother Henry-François in 1807.[5][6]Sony vaio VPCS149FJ/P Laptop Battery


As an infant Balzac was sent to a wet-nurse; the following year he was joined by his sister Laure and they spent four years away from home.[7] (Although Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's influential book Émile convinced many mothers of the time to nurse their own children, sending babies to wet-nurses was still common among the middle and upper classes.) Sony vaio VPCS139GC/B Laptop Battery

When the Balzac children returned home, they were kept at a frigid distance by their parents, which affected the author-to-be significantly. His 1835 novel Le Lys dans la Vallée features a cruel governess named Miss Caroline, modeled after his own caregiver.[8]Sony vaio VPCY115FGS Laptop Battery


At age eight Balzac was sent to the Oratorian grammar school in Vendôme, where he studied for seven years. His father, seeking to instill the same hardscrabble work ethic which had gained him the esteem of society, intentionally gave little spending money to the boy. This made him the object of ridicule among his much wealthier schoolmates.[9][10]Sony vaio VPCM13M1E/L Laptop Battery


Balzac had difficulty adapting to the rote style of learning at the school. As a result, he was frequently sent to the "alcove," a punishment cell reserved for disobedient students.[11](The janitor at the school, when asked later if he remembered Honoré, replied: "Remember M. Balzac? Sony vaio VPCYA16EC/R Laptop Battery

 I should think I do! I had the honour of escorting him to the dungeon more than a hundred times!")[12] Still, his time alone gave the boy ample freedom to read every book which came his way. HP 506066-721 Battery


Balzac worked these scenes from his boyhood – as he did many aspects of his life and the lives of those around him – into La Comédie Humaine. His time at Vendôme is reflected in Louis Lambert, his 1832 novel about a young boy studying at an Oratorian grammar school at Vendôme. HP 506781-001 Battery

The narrator says : "He devoured books of every kind, feeding indiscriminately on religious works, history and literature, philosophy and physics. He had told me that he found indescribable delight in reading dictionaries for lack of other books."[13]HP HSTNN-CB86 Battery


Although his mind was receiving nourishment, the same could not be said for Balzac's body. He often fell ill, finally causing the headmaster to contact his family with news of a "sort of a coma".[14] When he returned home, his grandmother said: "Voilà donc comme le collège nous renvoie les jolis que nous lui envoyons!" ("Look how the academy returns the pretty ones we send them!")[15]HP HSTNN-E01C Battery

 Balzac himself attributed his condition to "intellectual congestion", but his extended confinement in the "alcove" was surely a factor. (Meanwhile, his father had been writing a treatise on "the means of preventing thefts and murders, and of restoring the men who commit them to a useful role in society", in which he heaped disdain on prison as a form of crime prevention.)[16]HP HSTNN-XB87 Battery


In 1814 the Balzac family moved to Paris, and Honoré was sent to private tutors and schools for the next two and a half years. This was an unhappy time in his life, during which he attempted suicide on a bridge over the Loire River.[17]HP 586006-761 Battery


In 1816 Balzac entered the Sorbonne, where he studied under three famous professors.François Guizot, who later became Prime Minister, was Professor of Modern History.Abel-François Villemain, a recent arrival from the Collège Charlemagne, lectured on French and classical literature. And – most influential of all – Victor Cousin's courses on philosophy encouraged his students to think independently.[18]HP 586007-121 Battery


Once his studies were completed, Balzac was persuaded by his father to follow him into the law; for three years he trained and worked at the office of Victor Passez, a family friend. During this time Balzac began to understand the vagaries of human nature. HP 586007-141 Battery

In his 1840 novel Le Notaire, he wrote that a young person in the legal profession sees "the oily wheels of every fortune, the hideous wrangling of heirs over corpses not yet cold, the human heart grappling with the Penal Code."[19HP 586007-541 Battery


In 1819 Passez offered to make Balzac his successor, but his apprentice had had enough of the law. He despaired of being "a clerk, a machine, a riding-school hack, eating and drinking and sleeping at fixed hours. I should be like everyone else. HP 586007-851 Battery

And that's what they call living, that life at the grindstone, doing the same thing over and over again…. I am hungry and nothing is offered to appease my appetite."[20] He announced his intention to be a writer. HP 586028-321 Battery


The loss of this opportunity caused serious discord in the Balzac household, although Honoré was not turned away entirely. Instead, in April 1819 he was allowed to live in the French capital – as English critic George Saintsbury describes it – "in a garret furnished in the most Spartan fashion, with a starvation allowance and an old woman to look after him", while the rest of the family moved to a house twenty miles [32 km] outside Paris.[21]HP 586028-341 Battery



Balzac's first project was a libretto for a comic opera called Le Corsaire, based on Lord Byron's The Corsair. Realizing he would have trouble finding a composer, however, he turned to other pursuits. HP 588178-141 Battery


In 1820 Balzac completed the five-act verse tragedy Cromwell. Although it pales in comparison to later works, some critics consider it a quality text.[22][23] When he finished, Balzac went to Villeparisis and read the entire work to his family; they were unimpressed.[24] He followed this effort by starting (but never finishing) three novels:SténieFalthurne, and Corsino. HP 593550-001 Battery


In 1821 Balzac met the enterprising Auguste Lepoitevin, who convinced the author to write short stories, which Lepoitevin would then sell to publishers. Balzac quickly turned to longer works, and by 1826 he had written nine novels, all published under pseudonyms and often produced in collaboration with other writers.[25] HP 593553-001 Battery

For example, the scandalous novel Vicaire des Ardennes (1822) – banned for its depiction of nearly-incestuous relations and, more egregiously, of a married priest – was attributed to a 'Horace de Saint-Aubin'.[26]These books were potboiler novels, designed to sell quickly and titillate audiences. HP 593554-001 Battery

In Saintsbury's view, "They are curiously, interestingly, almost enthrallingly bad."[27]Saintsbury indicates that Robert Louis Stevenson tried to dissuade him from reading these early works of Balzac.[28] American critic Samuel Rogers, however, notes that "without the training they gave Balzac, HP 593562-001 Battery

as he groped his way to his mature conception of the novel, and without the habit he formed as a young man of writing under pressure, one can hardly imagine his producing La Comédie Humaine."[29] Biographer Graham Robb suggests that as he discovered the Novel, Balzac discovered himself.[30]HP HSTNN-CB0W Battery


During this time Balzac wrote two pamphlets in support of primogeniture and the Society of Jesus. The latter, regarding the Jesuit order, illustrated his life-long admiration for the Catholic Church. In the preface to La Comédie Humaine he wrote: "Christianity, and especially Catholicism, being a complete repression of man's depraved tendencies, is the greatest element in Social Order."[31]HP HSTNN-CB0X Battery



In the late 1820s Balzac dabbled in several business ventures, a penchant his sister blamed on the temptation of an unknown neighbor.[32]HP HSTNN-F01C Battery

 His first venture was a publishing enterprise which turned out cheap one-volume editions of French classics including the works of Molière. This business failed miserably, with many of the books "sold as waste paper".[33] Balzac had better luck publishing the memoirs of Laure Junot, Duchess of Abrantès – with whom he also had an affair.[34]HP HSTNN-F02C Battery


Balzac borrowed money from his family and friends, and tried to build a printing business, then a typefounder enterprise. His inexperience and lack of capital caused his ruin in these trades. He gave the businesses to a friend (who made them successful) but carried the debts for many years.[33] As of April 1828 Balzac owed 50,000 francs to his mother.[35]HP HSTNN-I78C Battery


Balzac never lost his penchant for une bonne spéculation. It resurfaced painfully later when – as a renowned and busy author – he traveled to Sardinia in the hopes of reprocessing the slag from the Roman mines in that country. Near the end of his life Balzac was captivated by the idea of cutting 20,000 acres (81 km2) of oak wood in Ukraineand transporting it for sale in France.[33]HP HSTNN-I79C Battery



Main article: La Comédie Humaine

After writing several novels, in 1832 Balzac conceived the idea for an enormous series of books that would paint a panoramic portrait of "all aspects of society." When the idea struck, he raced to his sister's apartment and proclaimed: "I am about to become a genius."[36] HP HSTNN-I81C Battery

Although he originally called it Etudes des Mœurs (Study of Mores), it eventually became known as La Comédie Humaine, and he included in it all the fiction that he had published in his lifetime under his own name. This was to be Balzac's life work and his greatest achievement. HP HSTNN-I83C Battery


After the collapse of his businesses, Balzac traveled to Brittany and stayed with the de Pommereul family outside Fougères. There he drew inspiration for Les Chouans (1829), a tale of love gone wrong amid the Chouan royalist forces.[25] HP HSTNN-I84C Battery

Although Balzac was a supporter of the crown, Balzac paints the counter-revolutionaries in a sympathetic light – even though they are the center of the book's most brutal scenes. This was the first book Balzac released under his own nameHP HSTNN-IB0N Battery

, and it gave him what one critic called "passage into the Promised Land".[37] It established him as an author of note (even if the surface owes a debt to Walter Scott) and provided him with a name outside his past pseudonyms. HP HSTNN-IB0W Battery


Soon afterwards, around the time of his father's death, Balzac wrote El Verdugo – about a 30-year-old man who kills his father (Balzac was 30 years old at the time). This was the first work signed "Honoré de Balzac". Like his father, he added the aristocratic-sounding particle to help him fit into respected society, HP HSTNN-IB0X Battery

but it was a choice based on skill, not birthright. "The aristocracy and authority of talent are more substantial than the aristocracy of names and material power", he wrote in 1830.[38] The timing of the decision was also significant; as Robb explained: HP HSTNN-IB1E Battery

"The disappearance of the father coincides with the adoption of the nobiliary particle. A symbolic inheritance."[39] Just as his father had worked his way up from poverty into respectable society, Balzac considered toil and effort his real mark of nobility. HP HSTNN-LB10 Battery


When the July Revolution overthrew Charles X in 1830, Balzac declared himself aLegitimist, supporting Charles' House of Bourbon – but with qualifications. He felt that the new July Monarchy (which claimed widespread popular support) was disorganized and unprincipled, HP HSTNN-OB0X Battery

in need of a mediator to keep the political peace between the King and insurgent forces. He called for "a young and vigorous man who belongs neither to the Directoire nor to the Empire, but who is 1830 incarnate…."[40] He planned to be such a candidate, appealing especially to the higher classes in Chinon. But after a near-fatal accident in 1832 (he slipped and cracked his head on the street), Balzac decided not to stand for election.[41]HP HSTNN-OB0Y Battery


1831 saw the success of La Peau de Chagrin (The Wild Ass's Skin or The Magic Skin), a fable-like tale about a despondent young man named Raphaël de Valentin who finds an animal skin which promises great power and wealth. HP HSTNN-Q48C Battery

He obtains these things, but loses the ability to manage them. In the end, his health fails and he is consumed by his own confusion. Balzac meant the story to bear witness to the treacherous turns of life, its "serpentine motion."[42]HP HSTNN-Q47C Battery


In 1833 Balzac released Eugénie Grandet, his first best-selling novel.[43] The tale of a young lady who inherits her father's miserliness, it also became the most critically acclaimed book of his career. The writing is simple, yet the individuals (especially the bourgeois title character) are dynamic and complex.[44]HP HSTNN-Q49C Battery


Le Père Goriot (Old Father Goriot, 1835) was his next success, in which Balzac transposes the story of King Lear to 1820s Paris in order to rage at a society bereft of all love save the love of money. The centrality of a father in this novel matches Balzac's own position – not only as mentor to his troubled young secretary, HP HSTNN-Q50C Battery

Jules Sandeau,[45] but also the fact that he had (most likely) fathered a child, Marie-Caroline, with his otherwise-married lover, Maria Du Fresnay.[46]HP HSTNN-Q51C Battery


In 1836 Balzac took the helm of the Chronique de Paris, a weekly magazine of society and politics. He tried to enforce strict impartiality in its pages and a reasoned assessment of various ideologies.[47] As Rogers notes, HP HSTNN-Q61C Battery

"Balzac was interested in any social, political, or economic theory, whether from the right or the left."[48] The magazine failed, but in July 1840 he founded another publication, the Revue Parisienne. It lasted for three issues.[49]HP HSTNN-Q60C Battery


These dismal business efforts – and his misadventures in Sardinia – provided an appropriate milieu in which to set the two-volume Illusions Perdues (Lost Illusions, 1843). The novel concerns Lucien de Rubempré, a young poet trying to make a name for himself, who becomes trapped in the morass of society's darkest contradictions. Lucien's journalism work is informed by Balzac's own failed ventures in the field.[47] HP HSTNN-Q62C Battery

Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes (The Harlot High and Low, 1847) continues Lucien's story. He is trapped by the Abbé Herrera (Vautrin) in a convoluted and disastrous plan to regain social status. The book undergoes a massive temporal rift; the first part (of four) covers a span of six years, while the final two sections focus on just three days.[50]HP HSTNN-Q63C Battery


Le Cousin Pons (1847) and La Cousine Bette (1848) tell the story of Les Parents Pauvres(The Poor Relations). The conniving and wrangling over wills and inheritances reflect the expertise gained by the author as a young law clerk. Balzac's health was deteriorating by this point, making the completion of this pair of books a significant accomplishment.[51]HP HSTNN-Q64C Battery


Many of his novels were initially serialized, like those of Dickens. Their length was not predetermined. Illusions Perdues extends to a thousand pages after starting inauspiciously in a small-town print shop, whereas La Fille aux yeux d'or (The Girl with the Golden Eyes, 1835) opens with a broad panorama of Paris but becomes a closely plottednovella of only fifty pages. HP HSTNN-UB0W Battery


Balzac's work habits are legendary – he did not work quickly, but toiled with an incredible focus and dedication. His preferred method was to eat a light meal at five or six in the afternoon, then sleep until midnight. He then rose and wrote for many hours, fueled by innumerable cups of black coffee. He would often work for fifteen hours or more at a stretch; he claimed to have once worked for 48 hours with only three hours of rest in the middle.[52]HP HSTNN-UB1G Battery


Balzac revised obsessively, covering printer's proofs with changes and additions to be reset. He sometimes repeated this process during the publication of a book, causing significant expense for both himself and the publisher.[53] As a result, the finished product was frequently quite different from the original book. HP HSTNN-YB0W Battery

While some of his books never reached a finished state, some of those – such as Les employés (The Government Clerks, 1841) – are nonetheless noted by critics.[54]HP HSTNN-YB0X Battery


Although Balzac was "by turns a hermit and a vagrant",[55] he managed to stay connected to the social world which nourished his writing. He was friends with Théophile Gautier andPierre-Marie-Charles de Bernard du Grail de la Villette, and he knew Victor Hugo. Nevertheless, he did not spend as much time in salons and clubs as did many of his characters. HP MU06047 Battery

"In the first place he was too busy", explains Saintsbury, "in the second he would not have been at home there…. [H]e felt it was his business not to frequent society but to create it."[56] HP MU06055 Battery

Nonetheless he often spent long periods at Château de Saché, nearTours, the home of his friend Jean de Margonne, his mother's lover and father to her youngest child. Many of Balzac's tormented characters were created in the small second-floor bedroom. Today the Château is a museum dedicated to the author's life. HP MU06062 Battery



In February 1832 Balzac received a letter from Odessa – lacking a return address and signed only by "L'Étrangère" ("The Foreigner") – expressing sadness at the cynicism and atheism in La Peau de Chagrin and its negative portrayal of women. HP MU06 Battery

He responded by purchasing a classified advertisement in the Gazette de France, hoping that his secret critic would find it. Thus began a fifteen-year correspondence between Balzac and "the object of [his] sweetest dreams": Ewelina Hańska.[57]HP MU09 Battery


Hańska was married to a man twenty years her senior, Wacław Hański, a wealthy Polish landowner living near Kiev. It had been a marriage of convenience to preserve her family's fortune. In Balzac Ewelina found a kindred spirit for her emotional and social desires, with the added benefit of feeling a connection to the glamorous capital of France.[58] HP MU09XL Battery

Their correspondence reveals an intriguing balance of passion, propriety and patience; Robb says it is "like an experimental novel in which the female protagonist is always trying to pull in extraneous realities but which the hero is determined to keep on course, whatever tricks he has to use."[59]HP NBP6A174B1 Battery


Wacław Hański died in 1841, and his widow and her admirer finally had the chance to pursue their affections. Competing with the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, Balzac visited her in St. Petersburg in 1843 and impressed himself on her heart.[60]HP NBP6A174 Battery

 After a series of economic setbacks, health problems, and prohibitions from the Tsar, the couple were finally able to wed.[61] On 14 March 1850, with Balzac's health in serious decline, they drove from her estate in Wierzchownia (village of Verkhivnia) to a church in Berdyczów(city of Berdychiv, today in Ukraine) and were married. The ten-hour journey to and from the ceremony took a toll on both husband and wife: her feet were too swollen to walk, and he endured severe heart trouble.[62]HP NBP6A175B1 Battery


Although he married late in life, Balzac had already written two treatises on marriage:Physiologie du Mariage and Scènes de la Vie Conjugale. These works suffered from a lack of firsthand knowledge; Saintsbury points out that "Cœlebs cannot talk of [marriage] with much authority."[63]HP NBP6A175 Battery

 In late April the newly-weds set off for Paris. His health deteriorated on the way, and Ewelina wrote to her daughter about Balzac being "in a state of extreme weakness" and "sweating profusely".[64] They arrived in the French capital on 20 May, his fifty-first birthday.[65]HP WD548AA Battery


Five months after his wedding, on 18 August, Balzac died. His mother was the only one with him when he expired; Mme. Hańska had gone to bed.[66] He had been visited that day by Victor Hugo, who later served as pallbearer and eulogist at Balzac's funeral.[67][68]HP WD549AA Battery


Balzac was buried at the Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris. "Today", said Hugo at the ceremony, "we have a people in black because of the death of the man of talent; a nation in mourning for a man of genius."[69] The funeral was attended by "almost every writer in Paris", HP 513130-321 Battery

including Frédérick Lemaître, Gustave Courbet, Dumas père and Dumas fils.[70]Later, Balzac became the subject of a monumental statue by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, which stands near the intersection of Boulevard Raspail and Boulevard Montparnasse. Rodin featured Balzac in several of his smaller sculptures as well. HP 535808-001 Battery


The Comédie Humaine remained unfinished at the time of his death – Balzac had plans to include numerous other books, most of which he never started.[71] He frequently moved between works in progress, and "finished" works were often revised between editions. HP 591998-141 Battery

This piecemeal style is reflective of the author's own life, a possible attempt to stabilize it through fiction. "The vanishing man", writes Pritchett, "who must be pursued from the rue Cassini to … Versailles, Ville d'Avray, Italy, and Vienna can construct a settled dwelling only in his work."[36]HP 593576-001 Battery



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