Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)
- Born of peasant stock in Tours, France; later added the "de" to his name.
- Studied law in Paris from 1818-1821, at his father assistance; licensed to practice, but
instead chose a literary career.
- Went from one speculation to another throughout his life, all of them ending
disastrously-- an early speculation in a printing firm accumulated enough debt to plague
him the rest of his life; later wild ventures included digging in abandoned Sardinian
mines and traffic with the Great Mogul.
- Three important women in his life: (1) Mme. de Berny, who was much older than he and the
mother of nine; (2) the Marquise de Castries, the model for his less moral ladies of
society; and (3) most important, Polish Countess Eveline Hanska, who began writing to him
in 1832 and finally married him a few months before his death.
- Died at 51, apparently of complete exhaustion and enervation (see below).
- Lived a life of unending literary composition, typically from 2 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
- Earliest plays and novels showed little promise; first important novel (and first to be
published under his own name), The Chouans (1829, originally Le Dernier
Chouan), followed quickly by The Physiology of Marriage (1829). Signaled
the advent of his maturity as a writer and initiated two incredibly productive decades in
which he produced 95 novels as well as stories, plays, and journalistic pieces.
- In the early 1830s, conceived the idea of a vast interlocking design for his novels old
and new, entitled La Comédie Humaine (The Human Comedy), intended
eventually to contain nearly 150 works and to create a panoramic view of French society.
Issued a "Plan" of the series in 1842. Had completed
more than 90 novels and novellas at his death.
- Le Père Goriot, one of his most devastatingly pathetic works, often compared
to King Lear.
The Best of the Novels and Stories
The Chouans (1829)
The Wild Ass's Skin (1830)
A Passion in the Desert (1830)
The Unknown Masterpiece (1831)
Colonel Chabert (1832)
Eugénie Grandet (1833)
Droll Stories (1833)
The Search for the Absolute (1834)
The Duchess of Langeais (1834)
Old Goriot (1834)
César Biratteau (1837)
Lost Illusions (1839)
The Village Curé (1839)
A Secret Affair (1841)
Ursule Mirouet (1841)
Modest Mignon (1844)
Cousin Bette (1846)
Cousin Pons (1847)
Biographical and Critical Information
- Balzac online
Detailed "catalogue" of The Human Comedy,
compiled by Project Gutenberg
English-language Balzac site
Books and Writers site: Honoré de Balzac
Old Goriot site (Barlteby.com,
contains links to criticism)
Classical Fiction Writers
- Selected print resources
Approaches to Teaching Balzac's Old Goriot, ed. Michal Pedel Ginsburg, 2001.
Père Goriot: A New Translation, Responses, Contemporaries and Other Novelists,
Twentieth-Century Criticism, Norton Critical Editions, ed Peter Brooks, 1997.
Balzac: A Biography, Graham Robb, 1996.
The Realists: Eight Portraits, C. P. Snow.
Honoré de Balzac, E. S. Oliver.
Honoré de Balzac: Modern Critical Views, ed. Harold Bloom.
Retired Discussion Series