Although Honoré De Balzac is best known as a novelist, he was also an editor, playwright, essayist, short story and novella writer. He was one of the most productive and creative writers of the nineteenth century from France. He also has the credit of being amongst the pioneers of realism in literature. His most famous work is Comédie Humaine (The Human Comedy) which is a huge collection of short stories and novels. Balzac’s deep observation of human life and behavior reflected in his complex characters and situations which came together from diverse backgrounds in a single story.
Born in Tours, France on May 20, 1799, Balzac was the son of Anne Charlotte and Bernard François Balssa. Balzac was named after the celebration of Saint Honoré’s day which was observed on the same day as his birth. An ordinary student but an avid reader, Balzac attended a grammar school in Tours and was later a student of Collège de Vendôme before moving to Sorbonne in Paris to study law in 1816 after which he worked at several law offices. However, in 1819 Balzac decided to choose writing for a career.
Balzac used pen names such as Lord R’hoone and Horace de Saint-Aubin to write several early novels. However he was not given much attention then. He also tried to set up a business by opening a publishing company and buying a printing house. Having no luck in establishing himself as a successful writer or businessman, Balzac at the age of 29 had given up all hopes of a successful life when the hospitality of General de Pommereul allowed him to live in their house in Fougères for some time. He gained inspiration for his book Le dernier Chouan (1829) after which he started gaining recognition as a writer. Balzac married his long time pen friend Madame Hanska in March, 1850. His declining health did not allow them a long companionship and Balzac died five months later on August 18, 1850.
Some of Balzac’s prominent works such as Le Curé de Tours (1832), Eugénie Grandet (1833), La Rabouilleuse (1842) Le Lys dans la vallée (1835) and Le Cousin Pons (1847) are part of the Comédie Humaine which is the biggest achievement of Balzac’s career. In 1832 Balzac visualized the idea of a collection of all his fiction work. He very correctly imagined the success it would bring him. The stories represent the different faces of life in France after the fall of Napoleon in 1815. The collection took 20 long years to come to an end. The stories are a depiction of Balzac’s originality and vivid imagination.
A hard working writer, Balzac worked on his writing continuously for long hours without sleep. He wrote numerous notes and revised his work obsessively. The characters he wrote about carried a realistic element in them, they neither were super heroes nor completely evil, they represented the everyday person. His characters also came from an array of social states and classes. His detailed description of the location of the story entrapped the reader making the story sound as real as possible.
Honoré De Balzac enjoyed immense critical acclaim during his life, both from the ordinary reader and other literary figures such as George Saintsbury and Charles Baudelaire.