Honoré de Balzac is considered one of the great French literary figures of the 19th century. He was a playwright and novelist who captured the raw essence of post-Napoleonic society in Paris. Balzac was also a force of nature, and a man who was driven by his passions, yet extremely dedicated to his art form. The only surviving Parisian residence of Balzac’s was converted into a Museum honouring the writer. In this article, we’ll explore the life of the author, the history of the Museum and its collection, as well as its library and archives. Join us as we take a look at Balzac’s House in Paris!
To start, Balzac (1799-1850) is possibly one of the prime examples of the saying, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. He was a rebel from a young age, and any kind of conformity stifled him. For example, he was not a model student, had great difficulties at school, and was by no means a child prodigy of letters. In fact, he dropped out of law school, had many failed business ventures, and made several disastrous investment decisions. Owing to this strength of character and maybe even , Balzac carried on.
At the age of 21, he completed his first work, a tragic play entitled,’Cromwell’. After reading the play to his family, their reaction was anything but supportive. In addition, a family friend even tried to dissuade him from embarking upon a literary career. Luckily for us all, he didn’t listen and persevered. A lesson we could all benefit from..At first, he composed short novellas using various pseudonyms, publishing novels at a rapid rate.
Considered as his great masterpiece, the Comédie Humaine is comprised of a whopping 91 works and took many years to complete. Interestingly, the characters and themes are interwoven. In it, the author gives an honest portrayal of all aspects of society. Balzac employed realism when depicting his characters, which departed from the Romantic Movement sentiment of, ‘seeing the world through rose coloured glasses’, which was en vogue at the time. His honesty, frankness, and creativity were, and still are compelling to readers.
However, that’s not to say that he was unfeeling. On the contrary, would it surprise you to learn that he was a romantic? Yes, he was certainly a man ruled by many passions, his work being his main obsession. Balzac would write until all hours with adverse consequences to his health. His great love was a Polish Countess named, Eveline Hańska. The only complication? It was a long distance love affair, and the Countess was already married. After 16 years of correspondence, and the death of her husband, they finally married in Russia. Unfortunately for the devoted couple, Balzac passed away after only 5 months after their marriage.
Balzac died of an infection that lead to gangrene, resulting in heart failure at the age of 51. Unfortunately, the high intensity lifestyle had a big part to play in his demise. Balzac worked hard, played hard, and enjoyed the finer things in life to great excess. The who’s who of the Paris literatis attended the funeral. Celebrated writer, Victor Hugo, of Les Miserables fame, gave a eulogy at Balzac’s burial at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Also, Auguste Rodin sculpted a bronze statue in honour of the writer, which can be found at Place Pablo Picasso in the capital.
Located in what once was the small village of Passy, before it became part of Paris, Balzac rented the home under the name of his housekeeper, as he was once again on the run from debt collectors. It was in this house that he composed volumes of the Comédie Humaine from 1840-1847. The City of Paris purchased the property in 1948, with the designs of turning it into a public museum. Currently, it is now part of the City of Paris Museums, of which there are 14 in total.
Notably, the Museum’s collection includes furniture that once belonged to the writer, including his writing desk and chair, portraits, manuscripts, photographs, art that was inspired by his works, as well as personal possessions and mementos. In addition, the Museum often hosts temporary exhibitions and readings of the writer’s novels and essays.
In 2012, while the house was in the midst of much needed renovations and restorations, they discovered pottery shards in the foundation dating from the late Middle Ages.
Located in the basement of the Museum, the library contains over 15,000 documents all pertaining to Balzac. The collection includes: original manuscripts, drafts, first edition prints of his work, as well as news papers and periodicals of the time. The library welcomes people of all backgrounds, students, researchers, and those that appreciate the work of the writer. However, should you wish to consult the archives, they do ask to be contacted in advance.
In conclusion, Balzac lived his life to the very fullest. Certainly, the Comédie Humaine attests to his trials and tribulations, as well as his lust for life and art. His legacy is indisputable, many artists and writers site Balzac as an influence on their own creations. If you want to learn more about the writer and the fictional world he created, we highly recommend visiting Balzac’s House on the quiet Parisian hill top!
Address: 47 rue Raynouard, 75016, PARIS
Hours of Operation:
Tuesday – Sunday- 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Ticket price: Admission is free of charge