Honoré de Balzac Additional Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111201516-Balzac.jpg Honoré de Balzac (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

As a young man, Balzac attended the Sorbonne, where he acquired a life-long and passionate devotion to literature. He published his first successful novel, Les Denier chouan, in 1829. This event marked the beginning of an extraordinarily prolific literary career in which he produced over ninety novels and short stories. His masterpiece was La Comédie humaine, a long series of novels that contained many of his finest works, such as Eugénie Grandet (1833) and Le Père Goriot (1834). He also wrote and produced plays, several collections of poems, and several works of literary criticism. Early in his career, Balzac produced a number of sensational novels under pen names. Although he could never be described as a subtle or delicate novelist, his heavy use of tiny details helped to portray the lives of ordinary people realistically. Attention to detail, combined with his unbounded energy and passion for life, allowed Balzac to create a vast and exciting panorama of life in early nineteenth-century France in his novels.

Embedded in this panorama was Balzac’s determination to expose the evil and venality that he believed permeated French society during the early nineteenth century. He was never troubled by censorship during his lifetime—largely because his political views did not conflict with those of the various regimes that held power—however, his realistic exposure of human foibles upset the guardians of public morality of the late nineteenth century. The Roman Catholic church placed his complete works on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, despite the fact that Balzac had never been as hostile toward organized religion as many of his French and European literary contemporaries. In fact, he regarded organized religion as necessary to hold society together, and criticized it in his work only when he believed that it failed to meet his exalted standard. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries the governments of many countries, including Russia, Canada, the United States, and Spain temporarily banned selected titles from his long list of novels. Explicit sexual content and overt political criticism in his work did not prompt these actions. It was Balzac’s frequently unflattering portrayals of the upper echelons of French society that upset his various censors.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Honoré de Balzac grew up in a bourgeois family in Tours, then moved with them to Paris, where he completed his undistinguished education—he was apparently too much of a dreamer to perform well in classes. Working as a clerk in law and financial practices and attending the Sorbonne lectures of Victor Cousin and François Guizot in the evenings led him to develop an abhorrence for the mundane existence of the salaried working class. In 1819, he suddenly announced that he intended to become a writer, and there followed years of misery as he eked out his living in rented attics, existing like a hermit by extraordinary economy and by producing a flood of anonymous cheap tracts and novels. Although his family hoped that these conditions would bring Balzac back to his senses, unyielding patterns were formed instead, traits that would continue for the rest of his life. His prodigious energy, combined with a strong will, established his daily regimen of writing—often twenty hours, nonstop—which he sustained by his own blends of coffee. His penniless existence helped whet his appetite for financial success to the degree that he was often tempted to embark on the most elaborate schemes to make his fortune. It was not that his ideas, such as forming a publishing company that would produce inexpensive copies of the classics, were unsound; in fact, his notions were far ahead of his time. His sense of management, however, as well as his choice of partners and financial...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Honoré Balzac was born in Tours, France, on May 20, 1799, of bourgeois parents. He was to acquire the predicate of nobility—the name by which he is known today—when, in 1831, in tribute to his official commitment to embark on the writing of The Human Comedy, he dubbed himself Honoré de Balzac. This change of name is symptomatic of Balzac’s lifelong craving to be an aristocrat and to enjoy the deep respect and the want-for-nothing lifestyle that accompanied that status.

The eldest of four children, Balzac was treated very coldly by his parents, who entrusted him to the care of a wet nurse for four years, then sent him to board with a family of strangers for two years, and finally had him attend...

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(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

The eldest of four children, Honoré de Balzac was born as Honoré Balzac on May 20, 1799, in Tours, France, where his father was a high government official. His mother inculcated in young Honoré a taste for the occult and for Swedenborgian metaphysics. After his early studies, distinguished only by the breadth of his reading, Balzac attended law school while auditing classes at the Sorbonne.

Although Balzac was graduated in 1819, he rejected a legal career and decided instead to write plays. His first work, a verse tragedy about Oliver Cromwell, was judged a failure by friends and family. Undaunted by their verdict, however, Balzac began writing penny dreadfuls and gothic thrillers under various pseudonyms. Furthermore, he expected to become rich by establishing a publishing company, a printing office, and a type foundry; all three, in turn, went bankrupt and saddled him with insurmountable debts.

Not until 1829 did Balzac—using his real name—enjoy a modest success, with the publication of Les Chouans (1829; The Chouans, 1890). Driven as much by a need for money as by his desire to re-create the world, between 1829 and 1848 this new Prometheus wrote some one hundred titles that make up his monumental La Comédie humaine (The Comedy of Human Life, 1885-1893, 1896; best known as The Human Comedy, 1895-1896, 1911). He also published several literary magazines, short on subscribers but long on brilliant analysis, as shown by his study of Stendhal in the September 25, 1840, issue of Revue parisienne. In addition, Balzac’s plays were usually well received by both critics and the public, as were the essays, newspaper pieces, and Les Contes drolatiques (1832-1837; Droll Stories, 1874, 1891).

In November of 1832, Balzac received a fan letter from the Ukraine signed “L’Étrangère.” Thus began his life’s greatest love affair, with the cultivated Countess Éveline Hanska. Besides pursuing a voluminous correspondence, the lovers met as often as opportunity and money allowed. Nevertheless, after her husband died in 1841, she continued to evade the marriage proposals of a financially strapped and increasingly ill Balzac (he suffered from cardiac hypertrophy), until March 14, 1850, when she finally married him. After the couple returned to Paris on May 21, Balzac’s condition quickly worsened. He died soon after, on August 18, 1850.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Honoré de Balzac (BOL-zak) was born in Tours, France, on May 20, 1799. His father, Bernard-François, was a government official of peasant origin. His mother, Anne-Charlotte-Laure Sallambier, from a family of similar background but higher status, was twenty-two years younger than her husband. Honoré, the first of their four children, felt closest to his sister Laure in his childhood and early youth. Educated at boarding schools, he was a voracious reader and showed an early interest in philosophy. In 1814, the Balzac family moved to Paris.

From 1816 to 1818, Balzac attended the Sorbonne, studying law and philosophy. He was apprenticed to a lawyer but resolved to pursue literature as his profession. For seventeen...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Honoré de Balzac is an almost pure example of the creative impulse at work. Founded in the author’s broad knowledge of society, his characters grow, interact, and pursue their trades as if they had a life of their own. Balzac acknowledged their autonomy, which he believed was limited only by the basic laws of his lifelike world. While a higher justice occasionally intervenes in Balzac’s world, it is primarily human choices that determine the ironic course of the myriad individual lives in The Human Comedy.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Honoré de Balzac (bahl-zahk) was born Honoré Balzac in Tours, France, on May 20, 1799. His father, originally from the peasant stock of the Albigeois, had risen to become director of commissariat to Napoleon’s 22d Division. In 1799, Napoleon was returning from Egypt to rule for fifteen years over half of Europe. Thus the first years of Balzac’s life passed during the glorious reign of Napoleon, and the emperor’s career had a great effect on the young Balzac’s mind.

From 1807 to 1814, Balzac was a student, first at the Collège des Oratoriens in Vendôme, then at L’Institut Lepître and L’Institut Ganser et Beuzelin, both in Paris. Balzac later spoke of these years as “brutalizing”; he found his...

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(Short Stories for Students)

Honore de Balzac Published by Gale Cengage

Born in southwestern France in 1799, Honore de Balzac was a man whose temperaments and habits were perfectly suited to the changeable and...

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