Honoré de Balzac - Biography

Honoré de Balzac - Biography

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Short biography -Honoré de Balzac, author of the Human Comedy, a vast study of manners, is one of the greatest French novelists of the 19th century. A man of excess, a ladies' man, proud and certain of his talent, Balzac painted between romanticism and realism the upset society of his time, marked by the Restoration and the July Monarchy. His permanent financial difficulties will be at the origin of his extraordinary literary creativity, with more than 120 novels to his credit.


Honoré de Balzac, young writer

Born May 20, 1799 in Tours, Balzac studied as a boarder with the Oratorians. It was at the age of 20 that he decided to acquire fame and fortune through his pen! A prolific writer, but convinced of the poor quality of his novels, he continued to publish under pseudonyms until 1829 when he finally signed a novel of his name: The Chouans. Honoré de Balzac subsequently disavows all these early works. During this difficult period, Balzac can count on the support of Mme de Berny, twenty years old, of whom he became the lover in 1822. To cope financially, the young novelist, who took the pseudonym of Horace de Saint Aubin, embarks on publishing, but it is a failure and he accumulates debts ... His bankruptcy pushes him to resume writing and in 1829 he experiences some success with the Physiology of marriage and The Chouans.

The prolific social novelist

Balzac frequented salons, in particular that of the Duchess of Abbrantes with whom he had a relationship and of which he was the literary advisor and corrector. The French writer has become a man of the world, he writes in various reviews, rubs shoulders with good Parisian society and even allows himself to add a particle to his name in his novel in 1831. The Red Inn "De Balzac". To earn money, he dashes into the theater several times, a genre that interests him little, but his plays are relative failures that do not really manage to solve his financial problems. Finally, it is his numerous female connections that allow him to obtain some subsidies and escape his creditors.

Among all these admirers who open themselves to him, one will be truly the love of his life: Countess Hanska, a Polish woman married to a Russian prince residing in Ukraine. He maintains an epistolary correspondence with her (collected in Letters à l'Étrangère) and meets her occasionally in Switzerland, Saxony and Russia. He finally married her very late, nine years after his widowhood, in 1850.

In 1832 he was tempted by a political career, he then presented himself, under the influence of the Duchess of Castries, as a monarchist and Catholic in the legitimist newspaper. The Renovator. This political positioning will offend the great contemporary writers like Hugo, Flaubert or Zola. However, Balzac's monarchism was sometimes seen not as a conservatism, but as a rebellious act marking a rejection of bourgeois society, of its vision of the world, of its conquering capitalism and of the new careerist ambitions it induces.

Balzac also campaigned for the respect of writers, in 1838 he founded with Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Frédéric Soulié and George Sans the Société des Gens de Lettres to defend the moral rights, the patrimonial and legal interests of the authors.

The Human Comedy

Balzac organizes his works within La Comédie humaine, characterized by the return of the characters (certain characters are found from one novel to another, in a primary or secondary role, in the same way that famous people can resurface in everyday life) which later inspired Zola and Giono. Balzac's thought is truly systemic, carrying through his fictions all the social complexity of the world resulting from the Restoration and the July Monarchy (in the end, the Human Comedy brings together two thousand five hundred characters!). Not without pride, Balzac wrote to Mme Hanska on the originality of his project:

“Four men will have had an immense life: Napoleon, Cuvier, O'Connel, and I want to be the fourth. The first lived the life of Europe, he inoculated himself with armies! The second has embraced the globe! The third was embodied in a people! Me, I will have carried an entire society in my head! "

Consequently, the publications follow one another: The lily in the valley (1835-6), History of the grandeur and decadence of César Birotteau (1837), The Nucingen House (1838), The village priest (1839), Beatrix (1839) Ursule Mirouët (1841), Lost illusions (1837-1841) ... In total, the Human Comedy is made up of one hundred and thirty-three works, including ninety-five novels! All classified into three main groups: Studies of manners, Philosophical studies, Analytical studies. In 1840, he collaborated with the Parisian review, which made the heyday of the serial novel.

Balzac is generally considered to be the inventor of the modern novel, he covers all genres from the fantastic to the philosophical through the historical. Not only does he vary the genres, but he also varies the forms, including storytelling, short stories, essays, studies ... Although a partisan of a class society, Balzac turns his characters into rebels, beings of excess, outlaws who go beyond the social hierarchy! He wrote to George Sand:

« I love exceptional people, I am one. »

His work is also, sometimes, classified in the realist movement because of the many descriptions and the important role of physiognomy (the interiority of the individual being perceptible to his outward appearance).

Honoré de Balzac killed on the job

Balzac moved to Paris with the Countess Hanska. But his health deteriorated rapidly and he was swept away on August 18, 1850 by generalized edema, peritonitis and gangrene. It seems that one of the causes is his overwhelming activity and his excessive consumption of crushed coffee "Turkish" which must stimulate his imagination:

“If it is taken on an empty stomach, this coffee inflames the walls of the stomach, twists it, manhandles it. From then on, everything is agitated: ideas are shaken like the battalions of the Grand Army on the ground of a battle, and the battle takes place. The memories arrive at a rapid pace, signs unfurled; the light cavalry of the comparisons develops by a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes with its train and its gargoyles; witticisms arrive like skirmishers. "

Legend has it that, in death throes, he called for Horace Bianchon, the great fictional doctor of La Comédie humaine. He was buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery where Victor Hugo delivered his funeral oration.

Some works of Balzac

- The Skin of Sorrow (1831)

- Eugenie grandet (1833)

- Colonel Chabert (1835)

- Father Goriot (1835)

Bibliography of Honoré de Balzac

- Balzac, by Stefan Zweig. Pocket, 1996.

- Balzac, the convict of letters, by Bernard Gengembre. Perrin, 2013.

- Balzac, biography, of François Taillandier. Folio, 2005.

Video: Honoré de Balzac, ou Madame de Breugnol. TeaTime!


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