The house where the novelist Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) lived for some seven years (1840-47) has recently been reopened after some restoration works. This is where he finalised a large part of his famous “La Comédie Humaine”, some 91 stories, novels, essays… How many have you read? I have only read one, “The Père Goriot” (Old Goriot).  

Balzac always lived beyond his means and, as he now and then had some unwanted visitors, he was happy to live in a house with several exits, including to the small narrow street on the back side. We are in the Passy area of Paris, in the 16th arrondissement, and this old little house is now surrounded by fashionable apartment buildings.

The story of his life can be read on the walls of this little museum and there is also explained and showed how he meticulously modified and rectified his own texts, until they were at last published.

Some of his belongings can be seen, including his working chair and table, a coffee pot (he drank a lot of coffee), a very (too) expensive cane, one of his own pocket watches and one having belonged to the lady, the countess Ewelina Hanska, who he had know for a long time and who became his wife by the end of his life.

We can see part of his library.

In 1847 he and Mme Hanska moved into a nice building (bought with her money) in the 8th arrondissement, on what now is rue Balzac. The building is gone, but the museum shows its exterior and interior on paintings and also a mantelpiece, a door… which have been saved from the building which has disappeared..  

Balzac died at the age of 51. We can see what he looked like on a daguerreotype from 1842 – he was 43. The museum shows a number of busts, medals, drawings… of him. You can find him again at the Père Lachaise cemetery (bust by David d’Angers).

His statue (by Falguière) can be found close to where his last home was situated.

Of course, there is also a (less flattering) statue by Rodin to be found in the Montparnasse area, but we must remember that Rodin was only ten when Balzac died, so Balzac obviously never posed for him.. Rodin even made a naked Balzac – to be seen in Rodin’s Meudon Museum.     


Anonymous said...

Did Balzac build that house? Or did he just rent it? Whichever way, already that house was not in such a shabby neighbourhood. Not such an absent minded idea of Monsieur Balzac's choosing it, because right behind it is the former home of the incredibly rich Princesse de Lamballe, Marie Antoinette's beloved, loyal friend.
Lovely post, Peter.
Thank you so much.

In Balzac's own words, taken from Anka Muhlstein's book "Balzac's Omelette":
It is widely known that Balzac drank large quantities of extremely strong coffee, not only to keep sleep at bay but also to sustain a state of excitement conducive to creativity.
Thanks to coffee, he claimed, "ideas swing into action like battalions in the Great Army on a battlefield...Memories enlist at the double...and flashes of inspiration join the skirmish; faces take form; the paper is soon covered in ink."

PeterParis said...

Thanks for your comments. Well, I talked about the Princeess Lamballe in a previous post: http://www.peter-pho2.com/2013/08/hotel-de-lamballe.html