I have loved stories for as long as I can remember. It’s why I named my company Story of a City. I wanted to create tours that would tell a story, not just regurgitate dry facts. But I don’t just love telling historical stories. I love reading stories, and I especially love writing stories. I often dream of one day living somewhere with a room specifically dedicated to writing. A room with a spacious desk, shelves of books, and preferably a nice view. Which is why I may or may not have let out a squeal of delight during my recent visit to the Maison de Balzac. This building truly is a writer’s paradise.
Honoré de Balzac
Honoré de Balzac was one of the most famous European writers of the 19th century. He was a failed businessman, critic, publisher, and politician, who finally found success as a writer. Balzac became renowned for his portrayal of settings and characters, often creating such detailed descriptions that the characters seemed to be real life people. People who were incredibly morally complex. They were neither good nor bad. Just human. Today, Balzac is considered to be one of the founders of both the realism and naturalism literary movements of the 19th century.
Balzac was also way ahead of his time when it came to shared universes. Long before there were Marvel movies, there was Balzac’s La Comédie Humaine, or The Human Comedy. La Comédie Humaine consists of nearly 100 interconnected works that tell the story of French society during the first half of the 19th century. And all of these works are linked through characters and settings that constantly reappear throughout. La Comédie Humaine is considered to be Balzac’s magnum opus, despite the fact that it remains unfinished. That’s right. Unfinished. At the time of his death, Balzac left behind 46 unfinished works that were destined to be part of this epic story.
The Life of a Writer
In addition to La Comédie Humaine, Balzac wrote dozens of other works during his lifetime. It was an extraordinary creative output that was the result of his legendary work habits. Balzac was renowned for his dedication to writing, often neglecting his health in the process. He would write every day from 1am until about 8am in the morning. But he was also prone to go on writing binges for up to 15 hours at a time. Balzac was also famous for his many extensive revisions to his works, even during and after publication, and his obsessive editing was a well known part of his creative process.
The Maison de Balzac
Balzac lived in many places, but from 1840 to 1847, he lived in the top floors of a house in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. He had to rent the apartment under the name of his housekeeper in a bid to escape his creditors at the time. But it was here where he wrote some of his finest novels, as well as edited La Comédie Humaine. Today, the building is one of the City of Paris museums, and it is open to the public year round. It is also a true writer’s paradise.
As can be expected, the Maison de Balzac is filled with treasures from Balzac’s life. The walls are covered with his writings and his drafts, so you can vividly see the extent of his obsession with revision and editing. There are paintings, statues, and prints on display, all inspired by Balzac. And there is one room filled with hundreds of figurines depicting the many characters from La Comédie Humaine.
And then there is his writing room. Remember that squeal I mentioned before? That may have slipped out when I stepped over the threshold of Balzac’s writing room. Spacious writing desk? Check. Walls filled with books? Check. Room with a view? Check. It was beautiful, and I instantly wanted a room like that for myself.
A Writer’s Paradise
If you are a fan or Balzac, or even if you’re just a fan of writers and the writing process, I highly recommend a visit to the Maison de Balzac. There are temporary exhibitions on display throughout the year, and the permanent collections are a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of France’s most famous authors. The Maison de Balzac is one of the three literary museums in Paris, and it is definitely worth a visit.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.