Oscar Wilde liked to say that Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) invented the 19th century. The Human Comedy (La Comédie Humaine) comprises approximately 3,000 characters in a total of 92 novels, sketches, stories, and philosophical tales. For the first time in the history of the novel, characters recur—a star of one book may reappear as a minor figure in the intricate social background of another. “Real life is the life of causes,” wrote this giant of world literature. What does Balzac mean by a cause? It is an idea, a dream, an obsession, a project demanding strategies and conspiracies, lingos and lies, histories and myths. Balzac has been called “a nocturnal Homer,” haunting the theatres, bars, streets, shops, and businesses in the Paris and provinces of his day. “I have learnt more from Balzac than from all the professional historians, economists and statisticians put together,” wrote Marxist theoriest Friedrich Engels. A master at rendering the visible world, Balzac was also obsessed with portraying the hidden desires, ambitions, and yearnings of a society in the throes of tectonic change. The Comedy, though full of fact, is not chronological, causing contemporary critics to liken it to a “mobile,” pre-figuring the narrative experiments of the 20th century.