Thursday, February 17, 2005


You are entering the home of Honoré de Balzac. He rented a few rooms in this home, in the 16th arrondissement, for some 7 years in the 1840s. Our walking tour of Balzac's home, a place where he rented some rooms, took about an hour. You can see a walking cane he used, the desk he used to write on in his writing room, and paintings that he owned, like the one of his second wife, Eveline Hanska. Ms Hanska, a rich woman from Poland, sent Balzac a letter telling him how much she loved his work. A correspondence was started, one that lasted 15 years and outlasted her spouse. In 1849, Balzac visited the widowed Ms Hanska in Poland and there were married in 1850. Three months later he died.

Balzac might best be know for his Human Comedy /La Comédie Humaine, which spanned more than 90 novels encompassing over 2,000 named characters written in 20 years. There are about three hundred printing press stamps of various characters that are displayed in one full room of the museum. The Human Comdey stories are a chronicle of life, especially bourgeois life, in France during the Restoration and reign of Louis-Philippe.

I think I liked this tour mostly because our tour guide, Claude Rocca, clearly loved Balzac's various works. He obviously read a lot of Balzac in his French high school. Later in the day I found myself near an English-language bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, and asked if they carried the Human Comedy. They didn't. I'll try again at a different store because now my interest is piqued.

At the museum there is a sculpture of Balzac by Rodin. Rodin was commissioned to create a monument to Balzac, nearly 40 years after his death. Rodin worked for 7 years on this project and created many studies, especially of Balzac's head. Rodin's finished work was met with outrage and ridicule and to this day, according to Claude, is still not accepted by the French public. The full statute is somewhere hard to find in the 14th. I thought this head was fascinating.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:43 PM



The full statue of Balzac is actually just around the corner from my old apartment, near the intersection of Boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse.

If you are standing on Boulevard Montparnasse in front of La Rotonde (with Le Dôme and La Coupole at your back across the street), take a left on Raspail and you will find the statue about half a block down - about halfway to the metro stop Notre-Dame-des-Champs (ligne 12).

# posted by chad : 6:27 AM  

You might start with something shorter, like Pere Goriot. Do you belong to the American Library?

# posted by RighteousBiche : 8:14 AM  

Chad, So what did you think of the statue? Is it worth a trek over there to see it?
RB, You think? I was really looking forward to the Human Comedy, but you are probably right. I'm bringing The Three Musketeers on my trip. I don't belong to the ALP. It's kind of out of the way and it's kind of pricey, although I know it's worth every dime. I really like the people over there too... not sure why I never joined.

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 10:44 AM  

Oh yes, it was a huge triumph for me to join that library! And I joined when pregnant...didn't realize I'd rarely make it over there once I had a baby!

There are lost of Balzac titles at www.gutenberg.org, if you don't mind reading on the computer.

By the way, I have to mention it (I'm not a grammar snob). I'm only saying it because of its interest to this blog (Frenchisms): The term, "My interest is PIQUED" comes from the French piquer.

# posted by RighteousBiche : 11:09 AM  

RB, Thanks. Knew it didn't sound right, but was too tired to check. My sisters always catch those errors I make.

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 11:13 AM  

My favorite thing about the Maison Balzac is that from the garden, you can see over the wall into the Hotel de Lamballe, the estate of the family of the Princesse de Lamballe, who was the best friend of Marie Antoinette. The estate is now the Turkish embassy.

I have copies of a few Balzac novels if you want to borrow one, like Pere Goriot and Cousin Bette. The Human Comedy is a huge series of novels that includes those two and dozens of others.

# posted by Lisa : 1:01 PM  

I took a photo of a statue of Balzac by Rodin, and the next photo is a street sign Ave de Balzac. I think it's the same as what "chad" mentions. I believe both were rt off Montparnasse in the 8th but I can't remember any significance about either, only that I really like the statue. Thanks for Balzac info - Terry

# posted by Anonymous : 6:07 PM  

The statue of Balzac is nice, but its location makes it a bit difficult to actually view it well - it's in the traffic island in the middle of the Boulevard Raspail.

If you're going to see it it's probably best to go before the leaves come back on the trees because, to me, the shade made the details quite hard to make out.

# posted by Anonymous : 6:37 PM  

Links to text file versions of all of the books in Balzac's Human Comedy can be found here.

# posted by Kevin : 9:29 PM  

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# posted by Anonymous : 10:01 PM  

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