This is Part Two of my Paris trip. If you’d like to read the first part, please click here.
You might be wondering, amidst all this talk of Irish, American and Argentinian writers, whether there is actually anything to see in Paris for those fans of French literature. Fear not, world literature lovers; there is plenty to keep the French lit-lover happy. You could start a little bit away from the centre of town, at the Maison de Balzac. This is the place where the author lodged for several years. It’s now a nice little monument to the writer, though if you don’t speak French you might find the signs a little difficult to read, as there is no English translation. I managed to muddle through on the basis of about five years’ worth of high school French. Here is what I managed to pick up:
- Balzac was a prolific letter-writer.
- He would sometimes work up to twenty hours a day.
- To keep himself awake so long, he became addicted to coffee. One of his old coffee pots was on display at the museum.
If anyone has been to the house, and wishes to amend any of these facts (remember, my capacity to speak French is pretty much limited to asking about the weather and requesting a croissant), please let me know. If you’ve read Pere Goriot, this place is particularly interesting as it is reputedly the place that Balzac had in mind when writing about the boarding-house in the novel.
If Balzac is not your cup of tea (or coffee, as the case may be), then another option may be Victor Hugo’s apartment on the Place des Vosges. The impressive rooms in this house tell Hugo’s life story. Many of them are also recreations of the various places he lived during his long life. Judging from the rooms, which are beautifully decorated, Hugo lived in tolerable comfort. The audioguide treated us to a description by Charles Dickens, who visited Hugo while he was in Paris. In typical Dickensian fashion he wrote that Hugo resembled “the Genius that he was”, that Hugo’s wife looked like she would poison your morning coffee, and that his daughter seemed like she could conceal a “sharp poignard in her stays”.
Hugo’s work has been in the limelight for the past few years thanks to Hugh Jackman and Les Miserables (though, if we’re honest, mostly thanks to Hugh Jackman).
But he’s also famous for his Gothic novel, Notre-Dame de Paris. And if you’re in Paris a sight that’s not to be missed on any tourist’s list (but especially not on a literary tourist’s one) is the cathedral that started it all. We visited Notre Dame as the light was starting to fade on this stunning Gothic structure. Despite the crowds of tourists, the newly-scrubbed walls of the cathedral still held a certain spooky charm. It’s easy to see why Hugo found this place such excellent inspiration for his novel; it is truly an impressive place. The sheer scale is amazing enough, but the little niches, illuminated by flickering candlelight and full of silent devotees with heads bowed, are fascinating sights to see.
We were only in Paris for two days; there are probably enough literary sights to keep a visitor occupied for years. Nevertheless, it was an interesting place to end our tour. It left us with a taste for the literary offerings of France, and I’m sure that it would take more than a few trips to experience them all. As we sat in the airport on our final morning, morose and sleepy, my sister pointed out that our trip had ended up being a little like an eighteenth-century Grand Tour in reverse. Greece, Italy, France… we had done a kind of Continental circle the likes of which most of the authors we’d learned about could only have dreamed. Tied between a desire to keep going and a desperate need not to shower in another communal bathroom, we began the long flight home. It was only once we were back on Australian soil, the stifling air making us shed our clothes as we exited the airport, that we fully realised just how lucky we’d been, and how much we had seen. And, of course, how much there still was to see.
That’s all for this edition of Lit Major Abroad! I hope you enjoyed it; if you want to see any other posts from my trip, please see this page. In the meantime, have a happy Easter and a great long weekend!