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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Saturday, 23 March 2013


Wednesday, March 23rd., Rue de Calais, Paris.

On Friday night last "Le Dedale", play in 5 acts by Paul Hervieu. I thought this one of the greatest modern plays I have ever seen, especially as to the three middle acts. Constant spiritual action of the piece, and constant drama, conflict of emotions etc. rising at times to great heights. The famous catastrophe of the precipice in the fifth act did not convince me; nor was I convinced of the necessity for any such fatal tragedy at all. On the other hand the catastrophe may have seemed ineffective because I demanded a stage effect which the stage-manager could not realise, or had failed to realise: the sense of a dizzy height etc. ... When one has been extremely pleased with a work one always tries to reason away what one fears may be faults.

Paul Hervieu (1857-1915) was born at Neuilly, near Paris. His first play, Point de Lendemain, a short adaptation of a story, was produced in 1890, and five years later The Nippers appeared, firmly establishing Hervieu's reputation. The plays of Hervieu are perhaps the nearest approach to true tragedy [of their day]; they are also what the French call "thesis plays." With his faultless logic, clear and direct methods of writing, and admirable sincerity, he comments on and criticizes those phases of life that seem to need correcting -- the law, chiefly, and its relation to man and woman in the married state. The Labyrinth (Le Dédale) proves the thesis that the child is the everlasting bond between man and wife. The best plays of Hervieu -- The Labyrinth, The Nippers, and The Passing of the Torch -- rightfully place their author as a master-psychologist of the French stage of his day. Hervieu died in Paris.

On Saturday morning I went down to Les Sablons to stay with the Davrays. We went for a walk in the forest of Fontainebleau in the afternoon. I noticed on entering this vast forest, intersected with glorious roads, a characteristically French sign-board: "General instructions for reading the signposts in the forest." The system of signposts seemed to me to be absolutely complete. I found the forest quite up to my expectation, but bigger.

Nemours - the castle and the church bordering the Loing River
On Sunday Dr. Vallee took us to Nemours, a delicious old town with a castle, ramparts, moats, and the Loing; full of wonderful views. Mme. and I went to buy cakes and we all had tea on the pavement in front of an inn; while the landlady and another woman sat and sewed nearby. Seeking the garcon to pay the bill I got into a vast kitchen full of all kinds of curious domestics and copper pans. Passing along the street we saw a tailor, old, in black, white hair, and a strangely shaped head, standing at the door of his shop. Davray and I both exclaimed at once: "Balzacian". "Ursule Mironet" is laid in Nemours, and the extraordinary veracity of Balzac's descriptions strikes one everywhere. His descriptions were not exaggerated. 

Ursule Mirouët, an often overlooked novel, belongs to Honoré de Balzac’s great series of 94 novels and short stories La Comédie humaine. First published in 1841, it forms part of his Scènes de la vie de province. The action of the novel takes place in Nemours, though with flashbacks to Paris. It is set in the years 1829-1837. The dominant tone of Ursule Mirouët is projected at the very outset of the work, when Balzac compares its Nemours setting to the beauty and simplicity of a seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting. Ursule Mirouët has that “noble simplicity, and … tranquil greatness” which, in Winckelmann’s words, were the defining characteristics of Classicism.
"Who knows Nemours," wrote Balzac, "knows that nature there is as beautiful as art,"

I was enchanted with Nemours. 

We came back to Les Sablons on the great Paris-Antibes road, passing from that to the great Paris-Marseilles road, stupendous highways both, straight, interminable, with double rows of trees on either side.

At night music, and that freedom of speech which is one of the joys of France.

On Monday Dr. Vallee took Mme. and I to Fontainebleau. The Napoleonic suites of rooms and all the others impressed me much. Napoleon's bedroom with the cradle of the Roi de Rome and its gold guardian angel (much like the angel on top of Burslem Town Hall) remains in my mind.

The Palace of Fontainebleau, is one of the largest French royal châteaux. The palace as it is today is the work of many French monarchs, building on an early 16th century structure of Francis I. The building is arranged around a series of courtyards. The commune of Fontainebleau has grown up around the remainder of the Forest of Fontainebleau, a former royal hunting park. Within a decade of the Revolution, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte began to transform the Château de Fontainebleau into a symbol of his grandeur. With modifications of the château's structure, including the cobblestone entrance wide enough for his carriage, Napoleon helped make the château the place that visitors see today.

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