The Maison de Balzac is a house museum in the former residence of the French novelist Honoré de Balzac. There is a library of the author’s manuscripts, various editions of his books, books he owned and publications about him, and a very pleasant garden. The museum also has an 1842 daguerreotype of Balzac and many of his personal belongings.
Having fled his creditors, Balzac rented the top floor of this modest house from 1840-1847. The lease was signed in his housekeeper’s name (Mr. de Breugnol). Balzac’s five-room apartment was located on the top floor, at three levels, and as today opened into the garden. Here he edited ‘La Comedie humaine” and wrote some of his finest novels, including ‘La Rabouilleuse”, ‘Une Ténébreuse Affaire”, and ‘La Cousine Bette’.
The building was acquired by the city of Paris in 1949. It is the only of Balzac’s many residences still in existence. Although the writer’s furniture was dispersed after his widow’s Ewelina Hańska’s death, the museum now has Balzac’s writing desk and chair, his turquoise-studded cane by Lecointe (1834), and his tea kettle and a coffee pot given to him by Zulma Carraud in 1832. There is also a decent collection of drawings and prints by renowned artists of the period, including Paul Gavarni, Honoré Daumier, Grandville, and Henry Bonaventure Monnier. The museum owns a drawing of Balzac by Paul Gavarni , a pastel portrait of Balzac’s mother Laure Sallambier, and an oil portrait of his father Bernard-François Balzac.
The house is also notable for underlying cavities which have been identified by pottery shards as former troglodyte dwellings. They date to the time of the late Middle Ages and are unique in Paris. These excavations, however, are not open to the public.
Balzac was a French master of literary realism. In his most famous achievement and probably the most ambitious series in the history of literature, a collection of around 90 (however, he aimed for 130) interlinked novels and short stories entitled ‘La Comédie humaine’, he attempted to portray French society between 1815 and 1846 in all its aspects.
Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) was born to an poor family who strove to improve their circumstances. Neglected by his mother, but an enthusiastic reader as a child, Balzac had trouble adapting to the teaching style of his grammar school. He studied the law and was an apprentice in a law office, as his father wanted him to become a lawyer. However, he was inclined towards more artistic pursuits. He completed his first play, Cromwell, in 1820. He also tried his hand at business and established a publishing enterprise, which failed. In fact, for most of his life he was plagued by debt and constant financial strain, oftentimes supporting himself on advances on novels he had yet to start writing.
Balzac published a lot and wrote even more. He upheld a rigorous writing regime: he would eat a light meal at five or six in the afternoon and sleep until midnight. He then got up and wrote for many hours, fueled by innumerable cups of black coffee. Balzac would often work for fifteen hours or more at a stretch; he claimed to have once worked for 48 hours with only three hours of rest in the middle. He revised his works obsessively and kept largely to himself.
He got married in 1850, just a few months before his death. His wife was a Polish noblewoman Ewelina Hańska, with whom he had been corresponding since 1832.
He is renowned for his multifaceted characters, who are complex, morally ambiguous and fully human. His writing influenced many subsequent novelists such as Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Marie Corelli, Henry James, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino, and philosophers such as Friedrich Engels.