|Honor? de Balzac, son of a civil servant and a middle-class Parisienne, attended Paris schools, then earned a law degree before settling down to writing. His first work was a tragedy in verse called CROMWELL--a dismal failure. He survived on hack journalism throughout his 20s; at 30 he began to publish fiction. When he conceived of the idea (in 1833) for LA COMEDIE HUMAINE, to which he was to devote the rest of his life, he wrote: "I am in the throes of becoming a genius." His habit was to don a comfortable dressing gown and write from midnight to noon, consuming legendary numbers of cups of coffee and publishing five or six novels a year: 92 in over two decades, some of them among the greatest works of French literature. LA COMEDIE HUMAINE attempted to represent every class and profession and provide a panoramic and detailed view of French society of the period. Balzac's intense writing schedule did not prevent him from leading a flamboyant life, pursuing married women, getting involved in harebrained business deals, going into and out of debt. He traveled all over Europe with his longtime mistress, a wealthy Ukrainian named Eveline Hanska, whom he finally married in 1850. He died five months later. His friend George Sand said of him, "He searched and dared everything....Very generous, very kind, very crazy, with an inner reserve of reason which controlled all aspects of his work..., filled with inconsistencies and mysteries--that was Balzac."