The Maison de Balzac is the (admission-free) Paris home and museum of Honoré de Balzac

Most people outside France, if they recognize the name of Honoré de Balzac at all, know him merely as that portly fellow with the luxuriant moustache and penchant for posing dramatically, his arms crossed above an expansive belly, in order to be sculpted by Rodin over and over again—sometimes wearing a greatcoat, sometimes (rather more disturbingly) in the nude, Balzac's distended potbelly leading the way.

In France, Balzac is better known as one of those guys they always made you read in high school. The man behind the bronze was the revered French writer Honoré de Balzac. One of the first great realists, Balzac wrote 90 novels and novellas. In sheer volume of literary output, that would be impressive enough. What makes Balzac a literary giant, though, is that all those works were connected by interlinking narratives and a cast that grew to more than 2,000 characters.

Collectively referred to as La Comédie Humaine ("The Human Comedy"—a play on Dante's The Divine Comedy), the works reflected all aspects of French society, and in the process Balzac literally created his own alternate reality version of early 19th-century France.

(Note that, although the house-museum is technically free, during some exhibitions there is an admission charge.)

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