Thursday, May 20, 2010


The chubby fellow above is one Honore de Balzac born this day 1799, in Tours, France. His father was a poor fellow who moved to Paris with one gold coin to his name, and achieved a middling amount of success. The "de" he added to his name, was added to make him look the aristocrat, and was not sanctioned by the people that handle that sort of thing. At the age of eight, he was shipped off to a grammar school, where he apparently spent more time in the "alcove" (a place of punishment where the "bad" children were sent) over 100 times during his years there. After he finished his schooling, he was persuaded by his father to study law (a cruel man he must have been), he trained, and worked at the office of a lawyer for three years before he decided it was not for him. He wrote two lovely quotes (which I shamelessly steal) about why the law was not for him. The first was written in his 1840 novel "Le Notaire" and it explains what a young person sees in the legal profession, "the oily wheels of every fortune, the hideous wrangling of heirs over corpses not yet cold, the human heart grappling with the Penal Code." The other quote was written after he declined to become his employer's successor, he wrote that he did not want to be "a clerk, a machine, a riding-school hack, eating and drinking and sleeping at fixed hours. I should be like everyone else. And that's what they call living, that life at the grindstone, doing the same thing over and over again…. I am hungry and nothing is offered to appease my appetite." Now you might begin to understand why a lot of lawyers are miserable bastards. I happen to be one, and I agree with both of those quotes wholeheartedly. He moved to a small apartment in Paris, and launched his literary career. Like most beginners, he started slowly, but in 1832 he came up with his brilliant idea. A massive series of novels which he entitled "La Com├ędie humaine." A series that would eventually grow to include 95 published works. Its goal was to paint a panoramic picture of all the aspects of human life, and there are some wonderful novels contained within the series. His works habits were the stuff of legend, and he would work all sorts of odd hours, drinking massive amounts of coffee to sustain himself. He was an obsessive reviser (is that a word?), that constantly corrected printer's proofs with additions and changes. I am sure it drove his publisher mad. I clearly have not read all 95 of his works, and probably won't manage to get around to it during my lifetime, but I can highly recommend him. Although he was a deeply conservative Royalist, he was, it is claimed, the favourite author of Fredrich Engles. That little fact shows what kind of ability he possessed. To be as right wing as you can get, and still show such insight into the lower, and working class that you get the co-author of "The Communist Manifesto" to claim you as a hero takes talent. So, it is for that enormous talent that Honore de Balzac (May 20th, 1799-August 18th, 1850, at the age of 51), you are my (267th) hero of the day.

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