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Honoré de Balzac (1799 – 1850)

Related: Realism (literature) - 1830s - 1800s literature - French literature

Honoré de Balzac is the most prominent representative of 19th century realism in fiction. His La Comédie humaine was a vast collection of nearly 100 'realist' novels. [Apr 2006]

Honoré de Balzac guided European fiction away from the overriding influence of Walter Scott (Ivanhoe) and the Gothic school, by showing that modern life could be recounted as vividly as Scott recounted his historical tales, and that mystery and intrigue did not need ghosts and crumbling castles for props. Maupassant, Flaubert and Zola were writers of the next generation who were directly influenced by him. [Apr 2006]


Honoré de Balzac (May 20, 1799 – August 18, 1850) was a French novelist. Along with Flaubert, he is generally regarded as a founding father of realism in European literature. His large output of novels and stories, collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, is a broad panorama of French society in the first half of the 19th century. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balzac [Jan 2006]

A Prince of Bohemia (1840) - Balzac

About the bohemian exploits of "La Palferine". Bohemia, Balzac tells us, is a world of young men between 20 and 30 given to frivolity and buffoonery. Holding the middle class in contempt, they conquer women and abandon them for the sake of conquest alone. They live in squalid garrets, but move socially in high society. --http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Square/3472/gossip.html [Dec 2004]

"My dear friend," said Mme. de la Baudraye, drawing a pile of manuscript from beneath her sofa cushion, "will you pardon me in our present straits for making a short story of something which you told me a few weeks ago?"

"Anything is fair in these times. Have you not seen writers serving up their own hearts to the public, or very often their mistress' hearts when invention fails? We are coming to this, dear; we shall go in quest of adventures, not so much for the pleasure of them as for the sake of having the story to tell afterwards." -- Honoré de Balzac, 1840 via http://www.classic-literature.co.uk/french-authors/19th-century/honore-de-balzac/a-prince-of-bohemia/ [Jan 2006]

Balzac and the fantastic

Many of Balzac's shorter works have elements taken from the popular "roman noir" or gothic novel, but often the fantastic elements are used for very different purposes in Balzac's work.

His use of the magical ass' skin in "La peau de chagrin" for example becomes a metaphor for diminished male potency and a key symbol of Balzac's conception of energy and will in the modern world.

In a similar way, Balzac undermines the character of Melmoth the Wanderer in his "Melmoth Reconciled": Balzac takes a character from a fantastic novel (by Charles Robert Maturin) who has sold his soul for power and long life and has him sell his own power to another man in Paris... this man then sells this gift in turn and very quickly the infernal power is traded from person to person in the Parisian stock exchange until it loses any of its original power. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Com%C3%A9die_humaine [Jan 2006]

The Unknown Masterpiece (1831) - Honoré De Balzac

The Unknown Masterpiece (1831) - Honoré De Balzac [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
One of Honore de Balzac’s most celebrated tales, “The Unknown Masterpiece” is the story of a painter who, depending on one’s perspective, is either an abject failure or a transcendental genius — or both. The story, which has served as an inspiration to artists as various as Cezanne, Henry James, Picasso, and New Wave director Jacques Rivette, is, in critic Dore Ashton’s words, a “fable of modern art.” Published here in a new translation by poet Richard Howard, “The Unknown Masterpiece” appears, as Balzac intended, with “Gambara,” a grotesque and tragic novella about a musician undone by his dreams. "The greatest novelist of the nineteenth century and perhaps of all time." -- The New York Times

Le Chef d'œuvre inconnu est une nouvelle d'Honoré de Balzac publié en 1831. Il a inspiré au cinéma le film La Belle Noiseuse de Jacques Rivette.

Incipit : « Vers la fin de l'année 1612, par une froide matinée de décembre, un jeune homme dont le vêtement était de très mince apparence, se promenait devant la porte d'une maison située rue des Grands-Augustins, à Paris. » --http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Chef_d%27%C5%93uvre_inconnu [Jan 2006]

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