Balzac’s House

By Kathleen Harvey

Balzac lived in many houses but one of his only remaining ones is situated not far from our New York University Campus. While walking there I felt that it was necessary to imagine the neighborhood as it might have been when he moved into the house in 1840. It was a time when Paris was expanding to create ten new arrondissements. Instead of the ritzy, fashionable neighborhood we see as students, Balzac came here to escape creditors. He had a plan if creditors came to this house by requiring all people to give him a password before seeing him and if it was indeed a creditor, he would use a different exit to avoid them. This put a very entertaining image in my head; he is a character perfect for a slapstick humor, or a silent film in my head. Mainly because I could picture the stout, overweight man trying to quickly and quietly run away. For what an amazing writer he became and from all the great works he produced it is amusing to recount all of his struggling and the failures he encountered in his life time. After learning more about Balzac, I couldn’t help but want to read more of his works, particularly his La Comédie Humaine which apparently reflects some of him many failed attempts at making money as a business man. Unfortunately for him, he only acquired a lot of debt but luckily for his readers he produced some greatly entertaining works.

The museum that was once Balzac’s home to escape his mass amounts of debt would in no way be a cheap place for students to live today. Not only because one of France’s greatest writers lived there but because it seemed rather spacious and, again, it is in an extremely more developed neighborhood. It doesn’t looks like many of the French buildings that you would see because it is small and unimpressive. I tried to picture it without the much taller and modern buildings that border it today, which wasn’t too difficult because it is situated down in a hill surrounded by a courtyard. I could imagine how this would be conducive to writing and avoiding creditors.

Past the blue door and gate and inside the museum, I finally got a glimpse of where the writer spent some of his last years and where he finished many great works that led to the development of realism. One of the most famous processions of Balzac that was left in the room was his famous tea kettle that he would use while staying up to finish his novels. I couldn’t help but relate to that. I have passed many nights alone trying to drink as much tea to keep my eyes open and the creative juices flowing. Unfortunately for me, I have not, and will never create what Balzac did in his home. Some of his writings that he edited by hand were on display and all his busy pen marks show his mind at work.

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One Response to Balzac’s House

  1. Thanks for telling us what the area is like today.

    On the Reading Schedule page of the La Comedie Humaine by Balzac blog is a photo of some of his hand corrected proofs.

    The Yahoo Book group Balzac began reading the complete Comedie in 2006 and are now coming down the home stretch. All are welcome to join us for the home stretch.

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