19 November 2013

Victor Hugo in Bièvres, Essonne (91)

The Château des Roches, or Maison littéraire de Victor Hugo as it is now better known in Vauboyen, Bièvres, was the property of Louis-François Bertin (1766–1841) – also known as Bertin l'Aîné (the Elder) – who was a journalist, the founder of the Journal des débats and a patron of the arts.

He acquired the property in 1804 and from 1815 until his death in 1841 held a literary salon to which many people from the world of the arts came, such as Berlioz, Ingres, Liszt, his neighbour Chateaubriand, and above all Victor Hugo. Hugo stayed here on a number of occasions.

Hugo's statue stands in the entrance hall. The Maison littéraire de Victor Hugo was founded by Daisaku Ikeda in 1991 and contains many original manuscripts, first editions, etc, of Hugo's work.

Louis-François Bertin's statue is opposite Hugo's.
The medallion inscribed 'A mon célèbre ami Victor Hugo | P. J. David', by David d'Angers.
The bust is also by David d'Angers.
The plaque at the side of the tower was inscribed in the same year as the Maison littéraire was founded, and fittingly the verse is an extract from Hugo's 'Bièvre' [sic], written in 1831, dedicated to 'Mademoiselle Louise B[ertin]', and published in Les Feuilles d'automne:

'Oui, c'est un de ces lieux où notre cœur sent vivre
Quelque chose des cieux qui flotte et qui s'enivre;
Un de ces lieux qu'enfant j'aimais et je rêvais,
Dont la beauté sereine, inépuisable, intime,
Verse à l'âme un oubli sérieux et sublime
De tout ce que la terre et l'homme ont de mauvais

Hugo's ecstasy is understandable. This is a hidden gem, a superb place, you get a fascinating guided tour, but of course no photography beyond the entrance hall. Photos in the garden are allowed, although I was unaware of Hugo's bust at the side of the lake. This will have to do:
Somewhere on the Maison Littéraire's website – and I can't remember who said it or how recently – there is a claim that Hugo is the most famous and the most read French writer in the world. Well, certainly he can't be anywhere near the most read French writer these days – how many people have actually read (as opposed to watched a dire distortion of) Les Misérables, for instance? But most famous? The mind almost automatically leaps to Balzac or Zola, but are there really no other serious contenders? There must be, surely? Voltaire!

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