November 22, 2017
Balzac - Life as FictionOn this day in 1850 Honore de Balzac died, at the age of fifty-one. Balzac's last months were as tumultuous as all the others, and as brimming with life as anything in his seventeen-volume Human Comedy. The Polish Countess with whom he had been corresponding for sixteen years had pledged to marry him, contingent upon her husband's death, and she was now, technically, available. But wary of Balzac's debts, family, deceptions and appetites -- and lied to, said Balzac, by her sister, a "two-legged bottle of vinegar" who made up stories about his liaisons -- Countess Hanska had cooled. Balzac was on his last legs by the time she had warmed again, but he rushed to her estate (this may not be the correct term: 21,000 acres, 3000 serfs (counting just males), 300 servants, its own orchestra and hospital) with a hope for more than marriage: "If I don't achieve greatness by La Comédie Humaine," he wrote his sister, "I shall at least achieve it in this if it comes off."
Balzac took with him four-dozen pairs of gloves for Countess Hanska's beautiful hands. Eugene de Rastignac, one of Balzac's most famous and recurring characters -- like Balzac at one time, Rastignac was a law student, and a provincial come to Paris with big dreams -- had learned such life-lessons in Père Goriot: "I know two pairs of his trousers," Rastignac liked to say of his tailor, "that have each made matches worth twenty thousand francs a year." "All Paris is his," writes Balzac, or is any young man's, so equipped:
He was buried on a hillside in Père Lachaise cemetery, at a spot near that upon which young Rastignac stood at the end of Père Goriot, shedding "the last tear of his youth" at old Goriot's burial:
"Henceforth there is war between us."
And by way of throwing down the glove to Society, Rastignac went to dine with Mme. de Nucingen.
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