Birthday: May 20, 1799
Died At Age: 51
Sun Sign: Taurus
Born in: Tours, France
Famous as: Novelist and Playwright
Spouse/Ex-: Ewelina Hańska
father: Bernard-François Balssa
mother: Anne-Charlotte-Laure Sallambier
siblings: Henry-François Balzac, Laure Balzac, Laurence Balzac, Louis-Daniel Balzac
Died on: August 18, 1850
place of death: Paris, France
education: University of Paris
Who was Honoré de Balzac?
Honoré de Balzac, the French novelist and playwright is best known for his magnum opus titled, ‘La Comédie humaine’, a sequence of short stories and novels which offers an insight into French life in the years after the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. His independent thinking and willful nature ensured that his life was a permanent struggle. He was a law intern but rejected the profession, while his attempts to succeed as publisher, printer, businessman, critic, and politician failed. La Comédie humaine reflects his real-life difficulties, and includes incidences from his personal experience. He wanted his characters to be real, a mix of good and bad and very human. They came from every conceivable background. He painted places in a natural way which heightened realism. Balzac is, thus, regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature. His writing influenced many subsequent novelists such as Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino, and philosophers such as Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. 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.
Childhood & Early Life
Balzac was born on 20th May 1799 to Bernard-François who struggled to achieve respectability and later became the Secretary to the King's Council and a Freemason, and Anne-Charlotte-Laure Sallambier who hailed from a family of wealthy haberdashers in Paris.
Honoré, named after Saint Honoré of Amiens, was the second child born to the Balzacs. His elder brother was Louis-Daniel who survived only a month and his other siblings were Laure, Laurence and Henry-François.
At ten, he was sent to the Oratorio grammar school in Vendôme, where he studied for seven years. He found learning by rote difficult but was interested in reading books.
In1816 at Sorbonne, he studied under three famous professors. François Guizot, a later Prime Minister, taught Modern History, Abel-François Villemain taught French and classical literature, while Victor Cousin's encouraged his students to think independently.
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Balzac’s father persuaded him to follow him into the law. For three years he was an apprentice in family-friend, Victor Passez’s office but turned down Passez’s offer to make him his successor in 1819.
His first literary venture 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.
In 1820, Balzac completed the five-act verse tragedy, Cromwell. It was reviewed by Andrieux, his sister’s tutor. On the manuscript, Andrieux wrote: "The author should do anything he likes, but not literature”.
He wrote short stories which were sold to publishers by Auguste Lepoitevin in 1821. In the next five years later, he wrote nine novels, all published under pseudonyms often in collaboration with other writers.
His 1822 novel, Vicaire des Ardennes caused an outrage and was banned for its depiction of nearly-incestuous relations of a married priest—attributed to a 'Horace de Saint-Aubin'.
He wrote two pamphlets in support of primogeniture, the right, of the firstborn child to inherit the family estate, and the Society of Jesus, a male religious congregation of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the late 1820s, he tried several business ventures .His first venture, a publishing enterprise failed miserably, while his attempt to build a printing business failed due to lack of capital.
Les Chouans, published in 1829, established him as an author. It was a tale of love gone wrong amid the Chouan royalist forces. Although a crown loyalist, he portrayed counter-revolutionaries in a sympathetic light.
He wrote El Verdugo in 1829 about a 30-year-old man who kills his father. This was the first work signed "Honoré de Balzac", a symbolic inheritance as his father had died around that time.
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La Peau de chagrin, his 1831 novel tells the story of a young man who finds a magic piece of shagreen. It uses fantastic elements to portray the excesses of bourgeois materialism.
Following the July Revolution, supporting Charles' House of Bourbon, he wanted to become a mediator between the king and the insurgents. But after a near-fatal accident in 1832, he decided not to stand for election.
Le PèreGoriot or Old Father Goriot, in1835, his next success, transposes the story of King Lear to Paris. The centrality of a father in this novel has autobiographical overtones.
Illusions Perdues or Lost Illusions is an 1843 novel that has Lucien de Rubempré, a young aspiring poet, trapped in a mire of social contradictions reflective of the writer’s own failure as a journalist.
Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes or The Harlot High and Low, in 1847, continues Lucien's story. He is trapped by the Abbé Herrera (Vautrin) in an intricate and ruinous plan to regain social status.
Le Cousin Pons of 1847, one of the last of the 94 works Comédie humaine, is set entirely in Paris, where according to Balzac, “the extremes of good and evil are to be found”.
La Cousine Bette or Cousin Bette is an 1846 novel about an unmarried vengeful and bitter middle-aged woman. Considered his last great work, he uses realist details with a panorama of characters.
In 1832, Balzac conceived his greatest work, ‘La Comédie humaine’ or The Human Comedy, a multi-volume collection of interlinked novels and stories depicting French society, published in his lifetime under his own name.
Eugénie Grandet, his first best-selling 1833 novel was about a tale of a young lady who inherits her father's miserliness. It was critically acclaimed for its simple writing, but dynamic and complex individuals.
Personal Life & Legacy
Balzac corresponded with Ewelina Hariska, a Polish noblewoman who was already married. Balzac married Ewelina in 1850 but died five months after the wedding.
He was buried at the Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris. Writer Victor Hugo served as pallbearer and eulogist at his funeral which was attended by "almost every writer in Paris”
He became the subject of a monumental statue by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, which stands near the intersection of Boulevard Raspail and Boulevard Montparnasse and also featured in several of his smaller sculptures.
This French writer was described by one critic as "the French Dickens" as both novelists' works were often serialized, appearing in installments before publication in book form.
This writer’s prolific output included short stories and journalistic essays and were published both under his own name and using a series of pseudonyms such as Horacio of Saint Aubin, Lord R'hoone and Villague.