BY: ADRIAN SMITH
It wasn’t until after Honoré de Balzac gave up his banal work routine that he became the pioneer of realism—a major genre in literature—and one of the greatest novelists and playwrights of all time. Under traditional work routines, Balzac found he was unsuccessful in his pursuit of a literary career. Not only was he unsuccessful in his creative writing ambitions, Balzac also failed in his attempts as a publisher, a printer, a businessman, a critic and a politician. After three years of practicing law as an apprentice, he turned his back on the industry completely, finding it inhumane and unoriginal in its working schedule. The French novelist decided instead to work on his writing from home; developing insane, irregular work habits that exemplify the importance of having a true dedication to your craft over adhering to conventional work routines.
Balzac would sit at his desk and write for 15-hour long stretches, with nothing but countless cups of black coffee to keep him fuelled and focused on his work.
Balzac became a bit of a recluse, and a vagrant after giving up the practice of law. He felt it was not his place to frequent society, but instead to create one through his own writing. In the afternoon, he would eat a small, light meal around 5 or 6 pm, and then sleep until around midnight. When he woke up, Balzac would sit at his desk and write for 15-hour long stretches, with nothing but countless cups of black coffee to keep him fuelled and focused on his work. Although he was never concerned with working quickly, he kept an incredible level of focus and commitment to his craft. At one point, Balzac wrote for a stretch of 48 hours with only 3 hours of sleep for the entire duration.
He felt it was not his place to frequent society, but instead to create one through his own writing.
Within this insane work structure, Balzac put together a series of novels and novellas that collectively became the first modern novel. He named his work La Comédie Humaine (The Human Comedy in English). The novel detailed a great number of aspects in French society and illustrated the human condition in a simple and natural way. He wrote with great detail and observation of objects to showcase and explain the lives of his characters. La Comédie Humaine reflected the real life difficulties he had succeeding within his society. That said, Balzac strived to present characters as real people with real triumphs and frequent failures. His characters were never fully good nor fully evil—but entirely human in their desires, their behaviours, and the consequences of those things. This attention to detail and his unfiltered representation of humans in society had never been seen before in literary writing, and Balzac became recognized in literature as the founder of realism as a genre and one of the pioneers of this style of writing.
Today he is considered one of the greatest novelists and playwrights in history and has influenced a wide range of philosophical and literary writers, and their works. Balzac’s nocturnal working schedule and heavy reliance on black coffee have become the stuff of legend in our culture today. There is now a Canadian coffee company, Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, named after the French novelist’s insane habits. Balzac’s prominence in the literary world is a testament to the fact that a dedication to your craft holds far more importance than following a conventional, structured work routine.
Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, named after the French novelist’s insane habits.