Honore de Balzac was born on May 20, 1799 in Tours, France. His father had risen from a modest background to work as a civil servant, and his mother came from the family of a prosperous shop-owner. Balzac was given a good education, but he was a difficult student who often fell ill or got in trouble for misbehaving. He also felt somewhat alienated from his family, since the experience of studying at boarding school meant he seldom saw them. In 1814, he moved with his parents and siblings to Paris where he continued to study with private tutors, and eventually began university studies at the Sorbonne. However, as his education continued, Balzac became more and more unhappy with the prospect of working as a lawyer, which was his father's plan for him. Between 1816 and 1819, Balzac studied law while also working as a clerk for a family friend. He eventually caused a rift with his family by announcing that he was abandoning the law in hopes of becoming a writer. In 1819, the rest of his family moved away from Paris, and twenty-year-old Balzac stayed on alone.
Faced with the prospect of having to earn a living through writing, Balzac experimented with forms including a libretto for a comic opera, drama, short stories, and eventually, novels. By 1826, he had written 9 novels, all of which were published under pseudonyms and designed to sell quickly. He also occasionally worked as a journalist, and attempted to dabble in printing and publishing business ventures. However, these ventures ended up driving him deeper and deeper into debt. In 1829, Balzac's career turned a corner when he published Les Chouans, the first novel he published under his own name, and one which he wrote in a much more literary style. The novel attracted some positive critical attention, and his reputation continued to build with his subsequent publications. Around 1832, Balzac also came up with the idea of uniting his literary output into a series of books designed to portray realistic representations of all aspects of society. This series would eventually become known as La Comedie Humaine.
Once he launched his writing career in earnest, Balzac became highly productive and worked extremely hard, even though his health was often poor. Nonetheless, he was still haunted by debts from his early life, and he never became a savvy businessman, often getting involved in poor investments or attempting to found periodicals which collapsed quickly. In 1833, Balzac became the father of an illegitimate daughter, born to Maria du Fresnay, a married woman with whom he was having an affair. Around this time, in 1832, Balzac also began corresponding with a Polish woman named Ewelina Hanska who wrote to him after she read some of his novels. The couple gradually fell in love as a result of their correspondence, although they were only able to see each other infrequently. Even after Hanska’s husband died in 1841, further complications delayed their marriage until 1850.
Only five months after his long delayed marriage, Balzac died on August 18, 1850. He was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery after a funeral attended by many important writers and public figures. At the time of his death, the Comedie Humaine series was unfinished, since Balzac had planned to write many more novels as part of the series.