From Mariquise de La Tour du Pin to Anatole France: XIX Century Versailles.


The nineteenth century authors still enjoyed a privileged relationship with Chateau Versailles; to them the palace could not be antique, it was simply old. For those who under the Ancient Regime used to be in residence there to see it in any other way would risk admitting their own seniority; and as we all know, age is valued far less than wisdom; so, what could there be new about anyone’s attempt to sell one as the other. We can certainly hear all sorts of echoes in that superannuated discourse, and I am the first to admit that the narrative has its charm: “it became fashionable to complain about everything. People seemed to be sick and tired of performing their duties at the Court. The officers of the King’s Guard lamented wearing their uniform all day long. The ladies in waiting wanted to go to Paris three times a week. Everyone was whining  while profiting from their situation and abusing their position the best they could.” Marquise de La Tour du Pin practically describes to us revolutionary situation as defined by Lenin almost a century later.Next generation, for example Emile Zola, noticed that the building became populated by shadows and this is just under Louis-Philippe. In one of Zola’s short stories a female character stubbornly plucks out weeds that attack Versailles’ pavement, until the plants, in a style resembling magic realism, strangle the poor woman. Our Chateau tends to inspire imagination. Karl Marx introduces at his palace a crowd of political vampires; whereas Anatole France works with the features of the curator, Pierre de Nolhac: the fact that this book-worm has an entire wing of Chateau to himself and his spectacles happen to give out a blue tinge creates a certain atmospheric effect, perhaps more common to Bram Stoker; indeed there is something self-destructive in Nolhac’s revelations at the Small Trianon, where the first curator casually drops by the queen’s bed that the queen has never slept in this room. Nolhac’s generation can afford shrugging off the creative anachronism that the later generations would dread to admit. “Is this the hovel where the guardian hermit used to live?” asks him Anatole France. “No! We never had any hermits here!” “You mean Trianon was not a hermitage?” “Never! Here it was more of a chicken coup!”

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