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    Honore de Balzac

    French realist novelist
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    Honore de Balzac (May 20, 1799 – August 18, 1850) was a French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of almost 100 novels and plays collectively entitled La Comedie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. 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. More ...

    Books by Honore de Balzac

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    Quotes by Honore de Balzac

    • Behind every great fortune there is a crime.
    • First love is a kind of vaccination which saves a man from catching the complaint a second time.
    • I am a galley slave to pen and ink.
    • Laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.
    • Nothing so fortifies a friendship as a belief on the part of one friend that he is superior to the other.
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    Biography of Honore de Balzac

    Honore de Balzac (1799-1850) was born in Tours. His father, Bernard-FranA§ois Balssa, named his son after St Honore whose day had just been celebrated. He had risen to the middle class, and married in 1797 the daughter of his Parisian superior, Anne-Charlotte-Laure Sallambier; she was 31 years his junior. Bernard-FranA§ois had worked as a state prosecutor and Secretary to the King's Council in Paris. During the French Revolution, he was a member of the Commune, but was transferred to Tours in 1795 because of helping his former royalistic protectors. Bernard-FranA§ois felt at home in the land of Rabelais, and started energetically to run the local hospital. In 1814 the family moved back to Paris.

    Balzac spent the first four years of life in foster care, not so uncommon practice in France even in the 20th century. His first years he spent in the village of Saint-Cyr, and returned to his parents at the age of four. At school Balzac was an ordinary pupil. He studied at the CollA¨ge de VendA'me and the Sorbonne, and then worked in law offices. In 1819, when his family moved for financial reasons to the small town of Villeparisis, Balzac announced that he wanted to be a writer. He returned to Paris and was installed in a shabby room at 9 rue Lediguieres, near the Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal. A few years later he described the place in LA PEAU DE CHARGIN (1931), a fantastic tale owing much to E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822). Balzac's first work was CROMWELL. The tragedy in verse made the whole family dispirited.

    By 1822 Balzac had produced several novels under pseudonyms, but he was ignored as a writer. Against his family's hopes, Balzac continued his career in literature, believing that the simplest road to success was writing. Unfortunately, he also tried his skills in business. Balzac ran a publishing company and he bought a printing house, which did not have much to print. When these commercial activities failed, Balzac was left with a heavy burden of debt. It plagued him to the end of his career. "All happiness depends on courage and work," Balzac once said. "I have had many periods of wretchedness, but with energy and above all with illusions, I pulled through them all."

    After the period of failures, Balzac was 29 years old, and his efforts had been fruitless. Accepting the hospitality of General de Pommereul, he spent a short time at their home in FougA¨res in Brittany in search of a local color for his new novel. In 1829 appeared LA DERNIER CHOUAN (later called LES CHOUANS), a historical work in the manner of Sir Walter Scott, which he published under his own name. Gradually Balzac began to gain notice as an author. Between the years 1830 and 1832 he published six novelettes titled SCAˆNES DE LA VIE PRIVEE. The work, addressed more or less to a female readership, was first published in La Presse. His father had died in 1829. When Balzac's mother miraculously recovered from an illness, he started to study the works of Jacob Boehme, Swedenborg, and followed Anton Mesmer's lectures about 'animal magnetism' at Sorbonne. These influences are seen in LA PEAU DE CHARGRIN (1831).

    In 1833 Balzac conceived the idea of linking together his old novels so that they would comprehend the whole society in a series of books. This plan eventually led to 90 novels and novellas, which included more than 2,000 characters. Balzac's huge and ambitious plan drew a picture of the customs, atmosphere, and habits of the bourgeois France. Balzac got down to the work with great energy, but also found time to pile up huge debts and fail in hopeless financial operations."I am not deep," the author once said, "but very wide." Once he developed a plan to gain success in raising pineapples at his home at Ville d'Avray (Sevres). After two two years, he had to flee from his creditors and conceal his identity under the name of his housekeeper, Madamede Brugnolle.

    In the 'Avant-propos' to The Human Comedy from 1842 Balzac compares under the influence of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire's theories of the animal kingdom and human society. "Does not Society make of man, according to the milieu in which his activity takes places, as many different men as there are varieties in zoology?" However, Balzac sees that human life and human customs are more multifarious and there are dramatic conflicts in love which seldom occur among animals.

    Among the masterpieces of The Human Comedy are LE PERE GORIOT, LES ILLUSIONS PERDUES, LES PAYSANS, LA FEMME DE TRENTE ANS, and EUGENIE GRANDET. In these books Balzac covered a world from Paris to Provinces. The primary landscape is Paris, with its old aristocracy, new financial wealth, middle-class trade, demi-monde, professionals, servants, young intellectuals, clerks, criminals... In this social mosaic Balzac had recurrent characters, such as EugA¨ne Rastignac, who comes from an impoverished provincial family to Paris, mixes with the nobility, pursues wealth, has many mistresses, gambled, and has a successful politician. Henry de Marsay appeared in twenty-five different novels. There are many anecdotes about Balzac's relationship to his characters, who also lived in the author's imagination outside the novels. Once Balzac interrupted one of his friends, who was telling about his sister's illness, by saying: "That's all very well, but let's get back to reality: to whom are we going to marry Eugenie Grandet?"

    Balzac worked often in SachA©, near Tours, although a great part of his work was done in Paris. From 1828-36 he lived at 1 rue Cassini, near the Observatory, on the edge of the city. In 1847 he moved to the Rue FortunA©e. Balzac used to energetically write 14 to 16 hours daily, drinking large amounts of specially blended Parisian coffee. After supper he slept some hours, woke up at midnight and wrote until morning. Despite his devotion to his art, Balzac had time for affairs and he enjoyed life. It is told that Balzac once devoured first 100 oysters, and then 12 lamb chops with vegetables and fruits.

    LA COUSIN BETTE (1846) contained thinly veiled autobiographical elements of the author's love affairs. In the story a spinster, Cousin Bette, tries to gain revenge for all her disappointments against her family and the beautiful courtesan Valerie Marneffe. The aristocratic Baron Hulot d'Evry, whom Bette had wanted to marry, had married her cousin, Adeline. She also loses her new love, Count Wenceslas Steinbock, to Baron Hulot's daughter. Valerie seduces Hulot, who has several mistresses, and Steinbock. After some financial troubles Hulot escapes into the slums, where Adeline finds him. Bette falls ill with pneumonia and dies. Hulot continues his affairs with a cook, and finally marries the cook's apprentice.

    Gervais Charpentier published the best novels of Balzac in a new format, the octodecimo "jA©sus" - it was much cheaper than the traditional octavo volume. Balzac lived mostly in his villa in SA¨vres during his later years. Close to his heart was Madame de Berny, far his senior; her death came as a deep blow to the author. With Eveline Hanska, a rich Polish lady, Balzac corresponded for more than 15 years. The correspondence started in 1832. Eveline Hanska posed as a model for some of his feminine portraits (Madame Hulot in LA COUSINE BETTE, 1847). "I cannot put two ideas together that you don't come between them," Balzac wrote in a letter to her.

    In the spring of 1837, Balzac went to Italy to recuperate, and to see the bust of Madame Hanska, made by Bartolini. He also asked her permission to have a copy of it, half size, made for himself. In October 1848 Balzac travelled to Ukraine. Madame Hanska's husband had died in 1841 and Balzac could now stay with her a longer time. His health had already broken down, but they were married in March 1850. "Three days ago I married the only woman I have ever loved," Balzac wrote in a letter to a friend, forgeting other women in his life. He returned with his newly wed wife to Paris, where he died on August 18, 1850. At his funeral Victor Hugo delivered an address, saying: "Today we see him at peace. He has escaped from controversies and enmities..... Henceforward he will shine far above all those clouds which float over our heads, among the brightest stars of his native land."

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