by Janine Lea-Oesi,
If you love literature you should definitely add Balzac’s house to your list of things to see next time you visit the French capital.
Balzac’s house at 47 rue Raynouard, together with that of the painter Ary Scheffer which houses George Sand memorabilia, and Victor Hugo’s house in the Place des Vosges, is one of the three principal literary museums in Paris. Like the museum Monet-Marmottan, Balzac’s house is tucked away in the city’s 16th arrondissement. However, whereas the latter two museums were once elegant townhouses, Balzac’s house, in reality an apartment within a larger edifice, is far more modest. Indeed, when Balzac occupied the property – from 1840 to 1847 – Passy, as the area was then known, was a village, only being incorporated into the city of Paris in 1860. Several people have told me that the distance from the center of the city was attractive to Balzac for two reasons: it made it harder for his creditors to find him and provided him with a peaceful writing environment.
What to expect on your visit
The museum is open from 10h00-18h00 every day except Monday and public holidays. (Note that the ticket office closes at 17h30). Entry is at garden level, just below the street. I was pleasantly surprised to find I wasn’t at the end of a queue, although I did go on a Saturday morning which may have had something to do with it. The rooms on this level once served as Balzac’s kitchen, spare room, living room, bedroom and study. The latter is a well-documented room and contains his original writing desk whilst the other rooms are given over to his personal memorabilia, large numbers of manuscripts and illustrations, paintings and engravings. The rooms on the first floor house temporary exhibitions as well as sculptures of Balzac done by, amongst others, Alexandre Falguière and Rodin (these are in fact part of the permanent collection).
For the writers amongst us, the two most interesting exhibits will undoubtedly be the very large display of written manuscripts, corrected by Balzac himself, as well as the genealogies of the nearly three hundred characters he created in La Comédie humaine, his work depicting French life after the fall of Napoleon in 1815. Balzac apparently set himself a gruelling writing schedule, getting up at midnight and working through until five o’clock the following day, breaking only for lunch and dinner. Not surprisingly, this took a toll on his health, whichwas never very robust, and he died at a relatively young fifty-one.
The 16th arrondissement is on the outskirts of Paris but it is well-served by public transport Take either metro line 6 and get off at Passy or line 9 and alight at La Muette. For the bus, lines 32, 50, 70 and 72 are the best. You can also cycle using the city’s Vélib system.
Sources: Maison de Balzac