HONORE DE BALZAC was born in 1799 in Tours, France. Balzac turned exclusively to fiction at the age of thirty and went on to write a large number of novels and short stories set amid turbulent nineteenth-century France. He entitled his collective works The Human Comedy. Along with Victor Hugo and Dumas pere and fils, Balzac was one of the pillars of French romantic literature. He died in 1850, shortly after his marriage to the Polish countess Evelina Hanska, his lover of eighteen years.OLIVIA MCCANNON is a literary translator and writer based in London and Paris. Her writing has appeared on BBC Radios 3 and 4, and her first collection of poetry is forthcoming from Carcanet (Oxford Poets).GRAHAM ROBB's books include Balzac (1994) and Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century (2003). The Discovery of France (2007), based in part on fourteen thousand miles' cycling in France, won both the Duff Cooper Prize and the 2008 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize.