French literary history

Paris is perhaps the greatest character in Balzac’s Human Comedy

Open one of the major novels by Honoré de Balzac and you are likely to encounter a sentence such as this, from Cousin Bette: ‘Towards the middle of July, in the year 1838, one of those vehicles called milords, then appearing in the Paris squares for the first time, was driving along the rue de l’Université.’ Or this (from César Birroteau): ‘On winter nights there is no more than a momentary lull in the noise of the rue Saint-Honoré.’ It is the same story in Père Goriot (rue Neuve-Sainte-Geneviève), Cousin Pons (Boulevard des Italiens) and others. From the first words of the tale, the reader is cast into the drama

The English lieutenant’s Frenchwoman: the tragic story of Adèle Hugo

In 1882, a sneaky reporter from the Figaro managed to track down Victor Hugo’s only surviving, long-forgotten child to an expensive mental asylum on the edge of Paris. He stalked her as she was being taken for a walk in the local park. She had the ‘profile of a duchess’, ‘staring black eyes’, a perilous hopping gait and odd compulsions. According to the reporter’s inside source, ‘Mme Pinson’ had spent a month removing all the rocks from the asylum’s long driveway and then replaced them one at a time. Thirty-three years later, she could still play the piano and claimed to be writing an opera titled Venus in Exile. She