Honoré de Balzac was born 20 May 1799, the second son of a civil servant. He was brought up away from his family home, first in the care of a wet-nurse and then at a strict grammar school at Vendôme. Balzac then studied at the Sorbonne, before entering training to become a lawyer, like his father. At the age of twenty, to the consternation of his family, he announced his intention to abandon law and become a writer. His early literary works met with little success, and Balzac's various business ventures as a printer and publisher also foundered. In 1829, he began to conceive a grand design for a series of novels comprehensively portraying French society in the eighteenth century. Balzac's Comédie humaine became his life's work, comprising 91 separate works depicting private and public life in the town and country, in politics and the military. Masterpieces of the Comédie humaine include Eugénie Grandet, Père Goirot, The Wild Ass's Skin and The Black Sheep. Many of his novels were critically acclaimed on publication, and went on to profoundly influence authors from Marcel Proust and Gustave Flaubert to Charles Dickens and Henry James. At the age of fifty-one, Balzac was finally able to marry the recently widowed Evelina Hanska, whom he had loved for eighteen years. But by this time he was in very poor health and Balzac died only five months after his wedding, on 18 August 1850.