Explore la Maison de Balzac in the 16th Arrondissement

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Explore la Maison de Balzac in the 16th Arrondissement
The 19th-century author Honoré de Balzac chronicled Parisian life in extraordinary detail, bringing a vast array of characters from every section of society to life through his elegant prose. He also fascinated the public because of his eccentric working habits, his tendency to get into debt despite being a best-selling author and – not unconnected! – his legendary flamboyance. The house where he lived between 1840 and 1847, La Maison de Balzac, is a recently renovated museum at 46, Rue Raynouard in Passy, a chic district in the 16th arrondissement, across the river and a little southwest of the Eiffel Tower. The highlight of the visit is the study where he spent his most prolific years. The dark red wallpaper, the bookcase containing some of his collection of 5000 books and, especially, his writing desk all contribute to the writerly feel. Imagine him settling down at one o’clock in the morning, preparing to spend all night writing and revising one of the 90 novels which make up the all-encompassing view of 19th-century Parisian society known as La Comédie Humaine. In this context, Comédie translates best as “drama” and the 2,400 characters he created seemed to represent everyone: the rich and the struggling, lovers, scoundrels, lawyers, young provincials trying to make their way in the capital, controlling parents and ungrateful offspring. It was here, in the room the guidebook describes as “le refuge de Balzac,” that he teased them all into life and described the dramas between them. Honoré de Balzac in 1842. (C) Louis-Auguste Bisson, Public Domain His writing desk, bought when he was dreaming of becoming a well-known author, was his most precious possession. Imagine it, advises the museum’s website description, “with its inkwell, sheets of paper, candlestick and coffee pot” and picture Balzac settling down for a night of writing with his goose-quill pen. His cafetière was very important, sitting on his desk atop a little warming stove and in constant use. He is said to have drunk up to 50 cups a day, and wrote frequently about how it stimulated his brain: “Coffee descends into the stomach ….. ideas begin to move, things remembered arrive at full gallop …. similes arise, the paper is covered with ink.” Balzac exchanged a whole series of letters with the manufacturer of this elegant little porcelain pot, and he agreed to pay extra for the three firings which would be needed to get the exact color he desired! Quil pen (C) Pierre Bamin, Unsplash
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Lead photo credit : Maison de Balzac, rue Raynouard (Paris, 16e). (C) Polymagou, CC BY-SA 4.0

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.