Arc de Triomphe – Champs Elysées – Place de la Concorde
Rue de Rivoli – Palais-Royal
Tuileries – Carrousel – Louvre
Île de la Cité
Quartier latin
Dreams of the Right Bank

It is interesting to note that many of the Parisian scenes in Balzac’s novels take place along an axis that comprises the major circuit for today’s tourist: from the Arc de Triomphe to the Concorde, the Rue de Rivoli and Palais Royal, the Louvre, and on to the Ile de la Cité and Latin Quarter. This axis was the scene of (to use Balzac’s own terms) of the greatest « splendors » and « miseries » of Parisian life at the time. Let us retrace this axis, comparing contemporary drawings of places and sites with descriptions taken from Balzac’s novels and stories.

Quatre Jours à Paris : Map from the Paris Guide Vert Michelin (2002)

The Guide Vert Michelin, which is in the hands of every tourist visiting Paris today, proposes to the visitor the same itinerary that was traced by Napoléon and Louis-Philippe in Balzac’s time. Indeed, the late 18th century, marked by land development and the flourishing of industries and the arts, gave Paris the reputation of being “capital of the world” and prepared the way for a tourist industry. Howard C. Rice, Jr. in Thomas Jefferson’s Paris (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1974) details Jefferson’s admiration for what were already the monumental aspirations of Paris, with its Place Louis XVI (later the Place de la Concorde). Jefferson served shortly after American independence as U.S. Minister in France from 1784 to 1788. He was closely allied with moderate revolutionary forces.

There is already mention of visiting the monuments of Paris in Balzac’s early novel Le Centenaire, ou les deux Beringheld (published under the pseudonym Horace de Saint-Aubin [Paris: Pollet, Libraire Éditeur, 1822]). Tullius Beringheld is one of Napoléon’s best generals. In 1811, before Tullius leaves for the ill-fated Russian campaign, he takes his fiancée Marianine, who has followed him to Paris with her father, on a tour of the capital:

Elle visita les monumens de notre capitale, s’appuyant sur le bras chéri qu’elle avait tant souhaité.
(III, 198)

[She visited the monuments of our capital, on the dear arm of the one she had so long wished for.]

Marianine visits the Louvre and enters the courtyard of the Château des Tuileries, where General Beringheld is lodged along with his Emperor. We shall now take a tour of this same monumental circuit as it was in Balzac’s time. Again, if the names are familiar, we shall find the physical reality of these monuments and their location very different.



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