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Honor de Balzac
Honor de Balzac (May 20, 1799August 18, 1850) was a French novelist. He was born in Tours, Indre-et-Loire, France in the rue de l'Arme Italienne.


As a young man Balzac travelled to Paris where he mingled with the "children of the new century" who saw around them the ruins of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic empire, and who embraced creativity and personal excess with equal measures of disillusionment and idealism. In a long series of interconnected novels, Balzac set out to describe the society around him, where the social and political hierarchy of the static but stable Ancien Rgime had been replaced by what was viewed as a false and corrupt aristocratic regime based on privilege. Under this new order, organised religion, which had formed part of the old hierarchy, was gone and a "new priesthood" of financiers had arisen.

In 1831 Balzac wrote, "There is nothing left for literature but mockery in a world that has collapsed", but the view of humanity which emerges from his novels is not as weary or cynical as this phrase suggests. Rather, he displays a moral and analytical view, and as a result his works continue to be widely read.

Balzac was first published after writing potboiler historical novels in the style of Walter Scott, however it soon occurred to him that the contemporary age was as vivid and full of intrigue as any account of the past, and perhaps more deserving of treatment.

Bust of Balzac by , in the .
Bust of Balzac by Auguste Rodin, in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In 1849, as Balzac's health was failing, he travelled to Poland to visit Eveline Hanska, a wealthy Polish lady, with whom he had corresponded for more than 15 years. They married in 1850, and three months later, Balzac died.

Balzac lies buried in Le Pre Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, and is commemorated by a monumental statue commissioned from Auguste Rodin, which is located near the intersection of Boulevard Raspail with Boulevard Montparnasse.


After his death he became recognised as one of the fathers of Realism in literature, although his work still falls largely within the tradition of French Literary Romanticism. His Human Comedy (La Comdie humaine) spanned more than 90 novels and short stories in an attempt to comprehend and depict the realities of life in contemporary bourgeois France.

Balzac's work habits were legendary — he wrote for up to 15 hours a day, fuelled by innumerable cups of black coffee. As a consequence of the prodigious output which resulted, many of his novels display minor imperfections, and some cases reflect outright careless writing.

However, Balzac's realistic prose and his strength as an encyclopedic recorder of his age tend to outshine any inconsistency in quality, and several of his works are widely regarded as masterpieces, making him the Charles Dickens of French literature.

The Human Comedy

Balzac's works have fallen into the public domain, and a number of them are available online from Project Gutenberg. Balzac undertook a huge project: The Human Comedy, which is a collection of about 100 linked stories and novels. The title of the series is a reference to Dante's "Divine Comedy." While Balzac sought the comprehensive scope of Dante, his title indicates the wordly, human concerns of a realist novelist. The stories are placed in a variety of settings, with characters reappearing in multiple stories. The Balzac Plan of the Comdie Humaine comprises:

Scenes From Provincial Life

  • Ursule Mirouet
  • Eugenie Grandet
  • The Celibates:
    • Pierrette
    • The Vicar of Tours
  • A Bachelor's Establishment
  • The Two Brothers
  • The Black Sheep
  • Parisians in the Country:
    • Gaudissart the Great or The Illustrious Gaudissart
    • The Muse of the Department
  • The Jealousies of a Country Town:
    • The Old Maid
    • The Collection of Antiquities
  • The Lily of the Valley
  • Lost Illusions:--I.
    • The Two Poets
    • A Distinguished Provincial at Paris, Part 1
  • Lost Illusions:--II.
    • A Distinguished Provincial at Paris, Part 2
    • Eve and David

Scenes From Parisian Life

  • Scenes from a Courtesan's Life:
    • Esther Happy
    • What Love Costs an Old Man
    • The End of Evil Ways
    • Vautrin's Last Avatar
  • A Prince of Bohemia
  • A Man of Business
  • Gaudissart II.
  • The Unwitting Actors or The Unwitting Comedians
  • The Thirteen:
    • Ferragus
    • The Duchesse de Langeais
    • The Girl with the Golden Eyes
  • Father Goriot (Le pre Goriot)
  • The Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau
  • The Firm of Nucingen
  • The Secrets of a Princess or The Secrets of the Princess Cadignan
  • The Government Clerks
  • Bureaucracy
  • Sarrasine
  • Facine Cane
  • Poor Relations:--I.
    • Cousin Betty
  • Poor Relations:--II.
    • Cousin Pons
  • The Middle Classes or The Lesser Bourgeoise

Scenes From Political Life

  • The Gondreville Mystery or An Historical Mystery
  • An Episode Under the Terror
  • The Seamy Side of History: or The Brotherhood of Consolation:
    • Madame de la Chanterie
    • Initiated or The Initiate
  • Z. Marcas
  • The Member for Arcis or The Deputy for Arcis

Scenes From Military Life

  • The Chouans
  • A Passion in the Desert

Scenes From Country Life

  • The Country Doctor
  • The Country Parson or The Village Rector
  • The Peasantry or Sons of the Soil

Philosophical Studies

  • The Magic Skin
  • The Quest of the Absolute or The Alkahest
  • Christ in Flanders
  • Melmoth Reconciled
  • The Unknown Masterpiece or The Hidden Masterpiece
  • The Hated Son
  • Gambara
  • Massimilla Doni
  • The Maranas or Juana
  • Farewell
  • The Conscript or The Recruit
  • El Verdugo
  • A Seaside Tragedy or A Drama on the Seashore
  • The Red Inn
  • The Elixir of Life
  • Maitre Cornelius
  • About Catherine de' Medici
    • The Calvinist Martyr
    • The Ruggieri's Secret
    • The Two Dreams
  • Louis Lambert
  • The Exiles
  • Seraphita

External links

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