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Concerned with the choice between ruthless self-gratification and asceticism, dissipation and restraint, this novel is powerful in its symbolism and realistic depiction of decadence.
Balzac was born in 1799, the son of a civil servant. At the age of thirty - heavily in debt and with an unsucessful past behind him - he started work on the first of what were to become a total of ninety novels and short stories that make up The Human Comedy. He died in 1850.