French writer Honore de Balzac’s play Les Ressources de Quinola opens to an empty house thanks to a failed publicity stunt on this day in 1842. Hoping to create a buzz for the play, the writer circulated a rumor that tickets were sold out. Unfortunately, most of his fans stayed home.
By this time, Balzac was already a well-known literary figure. Born in Tours, France, Balzac was educated in Paris, where he started writing plays at the age of 20 while working as a lawyer’s apprentice. His plays bombed, and he took to writing thrillers under an assumed name. Needing money, he launched disastrous ventures in printing and silver mining and went bankrupt. While struggling under his debts, he resumed writing, and by 1829 he was publishing under his own name, convinced he was a genius. By 1830, he had become a celebrated writer who frequented literary salons. Balzac drove himself ruthlessly, working 14 to 16 hours at a stretch, aided by some 50 cups of coffee a day. He completed 90 novels, all part of a single series, “La Comedie Humaine,” and died in Paris in 1850.