Honoré de Balzac  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"His diagnosis of the evils of his time is as searching as it is fearless, and yet exhibiting neither the pessimism of Ibsen nor the moral squalor of Zola, with his gospel of sordid facts unrelieved by any spiritual aspiration." --The Gentleman's Magazine, 1894

"What a fine book might be written of the life and adventures of a word! It has, of course, received various stamps from the occasions on which it has served its purpose; it has conveyed different ideas in different places; but is it not still grander to think of it under the three aspects of soul, body, and motion? Merely to regard it in the abstract, apart from its functions, its effects, and its influence, is enough to cast one into an ocean of meditations? Are not most words colored by the idea they represent? Then, to whose genius are they due? If it takes great intelligence to create a word, how old may human speech be? The combination of letters, their shapes, and the look they give to the word, are the exact reflection, in accordance with the character of each nation, of the unknown beings whose traces survive in us."--Louis Lambert (1832) by Honoré de Balzac

Related e



Honoré de Balzac (20 May 1799 – 18 August 1850) was a French novelist and playwright. His work, much of which is a sequence (or Roman-fleuve) of almost 100 novels and plays collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, is a broad, often satirical panorama of French society, particularly the petite bourgeoisie.

Along with Gustave Flaubert (whose work he influenced), Balzac is generally regarded as a founding father of realism in European literature. Balzac's novels feature a large cast of well-defined characters, and descriptions in exquisite detail of the scene of action. He also presented particular characters in different novels repeatedly, sometimes as main protagonists and sometimes in the background, in order to create the effect of a consistent 'real' world across his novelistic output. He is the pioneer of this style.

His writing influenced many famous authors, including the novelists Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, Marie Corelli, Henry James, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino as well as important philosophers such as Friedrich Engels. Many of Balzac's works have been made into films, and they continue to inspire other writers.

Although he married late in life, Balzac he wrote two treatises on marriage before: Physiologie du Mariage and Scènes de la Vie Conjugale. These works suffered from a lack of first-hand knowledge; Saintsbury points out that "Cœlebs cannot talk of [marriage] with much authority."


Writing style

The Comédie Humaine remained unfinished at the time of his death – Balzac had plans to include numerous other books, most of which he never started. He frequently moved between works in progress, and "finished" works were often revised between editions. This piecemeal style is reflective of the author's own life, a possible attempt to stabilize it through fiction. "The vanishing man", writes Pritchett, "who must be pursued from the rue Cassini to … Versailles, Ville d'Avray, Italy, and Vienna can construct a settled dwelling only in his work."


Balzac's extensive use of detail, especially the detail of objects, to illustrate the lives of his characters made him an early pioneer of literary realism. While he admired and drew inspiration from the Romantic style of Scottish novelist Walter Scott, Balzac sought to depict human existence through the use of particulars.In the preface to the first edition of Scènes de la Vie privée, he writes: "The author firmly believes that details alone will henceforth determine the merit of works…." Plentiful descriptions of décor, clothing, and possessions help breathe life into the characters. For example, Balzac's friend Hyacinthe de Latouche had knowledge of hanging wallpaper. Balzac transferred this to his descriptions of the Pension Vauquer in Le Père Goriot, making the wallpaper speak of the identities of those living inside.

Some critics consider Balzac's writing exemplary of naturalism – a more pessimistic and analytical form of realism, which seeks to explain human behavior as intrinsically linked with the environment. French novelist Émile Zola declared Balzac the father of the naturalist novel ("la glorieuse place du père de notre roman naturaliste"). Elsewhere, Zola indicated that, whereas Romantics saw the world through a colored lens, the naturalist sees through a clear glass – precisely the sort of effect Balzac attempted to achieve in his works.


Stories such as La peau de chagrin and Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu belong to the genre of the fantastique.

But also Falthurne (1820), Le Centenaire [The Centenarian], L'Élixir de Longue Vie [The Elixir Of Long Life] (1830), Louis Lambert (1832), La Recherche de l'Absolu [The Search For The Absolute] (1834) and Melmoth Réconcilié [Melmoth Reconciled] (1835).

No man is complete without seven women

Honoré de Balzac said every man should have seven women:

"Een voor thuis en een voor het hart, een voor de hersenen, een voor het huishouden, een voor grillen en en gekkigheid, een om te haten en een waar je achteraan zit, maar nooit te pakken krijgt." (tr. Guus Luijters)
Il est souvent mentionné dans la Correspondance de Liszt en 1834 ; ainsi le 1er juillet, le grand musicien rapportait à Marie d'Agoult que Balzac lui avait confié que pour être heureux un homme avait besoin de sept femmes (Correspondance ...
He had once said that no man was complete without seven women, and had drawn up a list as follows: The woman at home. The woman one loves. The intellectual companion. The housekeeper (to mark the linen, run the house, and so on). The woman for passing whims and wanton nonsense. The woman one detests. The woman one has one's eye on, whom one pursues but never, never gets. (tr. Edith Alice Saunders)


Tragic verse

Incomplete at time of death

  • Le Corsaire (opera)
  • Sténie
  • Falthurne
  • Corsino

Published pseudonymously

As "Lord R'Hoone", in collaboration

  • L'Héritière de Birague (1822)
  • Jean-Louis (1822)

As "Horace de Saint-Aubin"

  • Clotilde de Lusignan (1822)
  • Le Centenaire (1822)
  • Le Vicaire des Ardennes (1822)
  • La Dernière Fée (1823)
  • Annette et le Criminal (Argon le Pirate) (1824)
  • Wann-Chlore (1826)

Published anonymously

  • Du Droit d'aînesse (1824)
  • Histoire impartiale des Jésuites (1824)
  • Code des gens honnêtes (1826)

Selected titles from La Comédie humaine


  • L'École des ménages (1839)
  • Vautrin (1839)
  • Les Ressources de Quinola (1842)
  • Paméla Figaud (1842)
  • La Marâtre (1848)
  • Mercadet ou le faiseur (1848)


See also

Realism in French literature of the 19th century, The Physiology of Marriage

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Honoré de Balzac" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools