Literary walks around the châteaux

History and literature

All the great French poets were seduced by the châteaux of the Loire - they are the backdrop for some of the the finest pages of French literature

Play "Le Bourgeois gentilhomme" in Chambord. © Leonard de serres

Molière at Chambord

"In truth, Moliere, you have never created anything that amused me more than this, your piece is excellent." So said Louis XIV, the Sun King himself, who congratulated Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière, for his Bourgeois gentilhomme.

However, during the first performance five days earlier, the reception of the court, crammed into the tiny theatre of Chambord, had been rather cold. A satire about a bourgeois fellow - Monsieur Jourdain - wishing to become an aristocrat, the play in five acts, interspersed with ballets directed by Lully, was created on the spot and played for the first time in Chambord before the king, who loved theatre.

It played four times, until the end of October 1670. "I am quite happy with your comedy," added Louis XIV. "Here is the real comic and the good and pertinent joke - continue to work in this manner and you'll make me happy." Despite the royal approval, this is one of Molière's little-known pieces and was not played again for several centuries.

In 2001 the Compagnie Alain Germain revived it, while Denis Podalydès and Éric Ruf brought it back to the stage in 2015. The prose of Monsieur Jourdain operates with as much succulence as it did three centuries ago, and the new production was a roaring success "By my faith! It's been more than forty years since I said "prose," and I'm most obligated to you to have brought it back!"

Madame de Staël

A change of scenery a few kilometres from Chambord, where Germaine de Staël - better known as Madame de Staël, born Necker - stayed in Chaumont-sur-Loire, as did certain other prestigious historical figures such as Nostradamus, Benjamin Franklin and Nini the sculptor.

Madame de Staël stayed at the château overlooking the Loire River from April to August 1810, during her flight across Europe. having fallen out with the Emperor in 1800, she was at that time the official opposition. After having stayed in Berlin and Frankfurt, she moved to Tours to see the printing of her book De l'Allemagne, a scientific work in which she portrays a sentimental and romantic country, a book that was to have great influence on French thought throughout the nineteenth century.

De l'Allemagne ("From Germany") describes a country that innovates - thanks to its painters and philosophers - while imperial France stagnates. "The human spirit, which seems to migrate from one country to another, is today in Germany," she writes, about what isn't yet a nation, but was soon to become so.

Madame de Stael came with a small court of faithful retainers, Benjamin Constant, with whom she had a long relationship and who was to become her companion in exile, Juliette Recamier, Adalbert Von Chamisso the Franco-German poet and botanist, and Schlegel, the philosopher, critic and German writer, tutor of Augustin, his more famous son.

Germaine de Staël created a philosophical society at Chaumont, which acted as an intellectual opposition to Emperor Napoleon. Politics, love and literature were the heart of the discussions that interested this distinguished gathering of minds.

One room of the château, with prestigious furniture is dedicated to Madame de Stael. Created by the cabinetmaker of the imperial palaces and the great residences of the Napoleonic aristocracy, Pierre-Benoît Marcion, at the request of the duke of Aumont, peer of France and gentleman of the House under Louis XVIII, the style, and quality of the fabrics and the woodwork recall these few months during which this great woman of letters stayed at the château of Chaumont-sur-Loire. The set of two sofas, eight chairs, an armchair, a footstool and a fireplace screen were all classified as a Historic Monument in 2008.

The Court of Honour at the Château de Talcy where Pierre and Cassandre met © OTBC

Ronsard, from La Possonnière to Talcy

"Mignonne, allons voir si la rose, qui ce matin avoit desclose, sa robe de pourpre au soleil, a point perdu ceste vesprée, les plis de sa robe pourprée et son teint au vostre pareil"… "My dear, Let us see if the rose, which this morning bloomed its purple robe in the sun, has lost before vespers her folds and her complexion, equal of your own" ... This classic of French poetry is by Pierre de Ronsard, born in 1524 in Couture-sur-Loir, at the manor house of La Possonnière, in the Loir-et-Cher, where he passed his first twelve years and whose charm marked him throughout his life.

Pierre de Ronsard composed the 182 sonnets of the Loves of Cassandra for Cassandre Salviati. They appeared in "First Book of Loves" of which the poem of the rose is the most famous.

During a visit to the Château de Talcy, property of the Salviati family where lovers Pierre and Cassandre met, visitors can admire the roses known as "de Ronsard" which grow in the grounds. A young poet, Theodore Aubigné refers to it in his book The Tragics, probably inspired by his muse Diane, who was none other than the niece of Pierre de Ronsard.

Under the pen of Alfred de Musset, direct descendant of the Romantic poet, Diane becomes a veiled form, as evanescent as a dream In the nineteenth century, Albert Stapfer (1766-1840), one of the last owners of the Château de Talcy was the first translator of the German poet Goethe. His translation of the famous Faust was illustrated by the painter Eugene Delacroix, who created 18 lithographs and 60 illustrations for the work.