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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 769

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*Château de Chaumont

*Château de Chaumont (SHAH-toh deh shoh-MOHNG). Home of the novel’s hero, Henri d’Effiat, the marquis de Cinq-Mars, sits alone high on a hill near the Loire River, dominating what lies below, distinctly separated from a village and its commoners. Halfway up the slope of the mountain is a church, frequented by both the nobles from the château and the villagers. Alfred de Vigny’s descriptions of the châteaux in this story emphasize the fairy-tale ambience of the Loire countryside, a region famous for its many Renaissance châteaux and the romantic legends that surround them. Vigny presents the valley as the scene of peace, prosperity, health, and happiness. The Château de Chaumont is, naturally enough, the birthplace of the love between Cinq-Mars and Marie de Gonzague, an Italian princess who takes refuge there.

The ideals and values that the Château de Chaumont and its setting represent physically are clear: the grandeur of France’s hereditary feudal nobility, their traditional independence, their religious traditionalism, and their obligations to the lower classes. In the novel’s first chapter, the young, passionate, impetuous Cinq-Mars rides forth from his lofty dwelling, headed for Perpignan to fight in Louis’s war against the Spanish—but ultimately to defend the hereditary nobility and his own ambition against Richelieu.

Once Cinq-Mars leaves his mountain castle, however, he begins a physical and moral descent that will end in his execution, in a public square in Lyon beside another river—the Rhône.

Château de Chambord

Château de Chambord (SHAH-toh deh shahm-BORE). Favorite country estate of King Louis XIII, not far away from Cinq-Mars’s estate in the Loire Valley. In direct contrast to the latter, Chambord is dark, sad, and dreary—the estate of a gloomy, duplicitous king. A stunning feature of this château is a double spiral staircase. Here, in a crucial scene late in the novel, Cinq-Mars descends one stairway after attempting to gain the king’s support against Cardinal de Richelieu. As he descends, the sinister Père Joseph, Richelieu’s confidant, goes up the other spiral. The scene wonderfully illustrates several points: Louis’s weakness, indecision, and betrayal of Cinq-Mars; Cinq-Mars’s fall from grace; and the motifs of height and depth, ascent and descent, so frequently seen in the novel.


Pierre-Encise (pyehr-en-seez). Château in Lyon that serves as the prison in which Richelieu holds Cinq-Mars after the conspiracy against him has been discovered. In a bitter irony, this prison—like the Château de Chaumont, where Cinq-Mars began his career—sits high atop a peak, and Cinq-Mars is confined to a tower.

*Richelieu’s palace

*Richelieu’s palace. Château high in the city of Narbonne in southern France that is the headquarters of the most powerful man in France. The palace’s high altitude make it the third counterpart of Cinq-Mars’s Château de Chaumont.


*Perpignan (per-pee-NYA[N]). City in southern France, near the Mediterranean Sea, that is the scene of Richelieu’s exile of a sort. Here, after the siege of the city, the king recognizes the heroism of Cinq-Mars in battle by inviting him to Paris, the seat of the monarchy. Although he is lifting the siege, the king orders Richelieu to remain behind—in remote Perpignan. In seventeenth century France (and even more so during the eighteenth century reign of Louis XIV), the king’s court is the center of French culture and artistic, social, and political power. Cinq-Mars is now the king’s favorite; Richelieu is furious.


*Paris. France’s capital city appears, logically enough, at the mid-point of Cinq-Mars. During the seventeenth century, the city was France’s political, social, and cultural capital to an extent even greater than it is today. Moreover, settings in Cinq-Mars are in the epicenter of Paris, in the area around the Louvre (which was the main royal palace in the seventeenth century) and in the Ile de la Cité and the Ile Saint Louis, islands in the middle of the Seine River. It is in the very heart of Paris that the conflict between Cinq-Mars, who comes to represent personal ambition gone astray, and Richelieu, the despotic architect of central government, is played out. In the novel’s Paris episode, Vigny devotes detail to the dark, labyrinthine streets of the Ile Saint-Louis, in which a rabble of anti-Richelieu protesters demonstrate angrily. Readers see again, in another way, that the story’s critical tensions are between Paris and the provinces: the center versus the periphery, chaos versus order, and individualism versus autocracy.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 243

Denommé, Robert T. “Alfred Victor de Vigny.” In vol. 5 of European Writers: The Romantic Century, edited by Jacques Barzun and George Stade. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985. An excellent general account of Vigny and his work, including a fine discussion of Cinq-Mars.

Doolittle, James. Alfred de Vigny. New York: Twayne, 1967. Mainly a critical biography, with an acute and relatively balanced discussion of Cinq-Mars.

Jensen, Mark K. “The Relation of History to Literature in Vigny’s Thought Before the Preface to Cinq-Mars.” French Forum 18, no. 2 (May, 1993): 165-183. This investigation shows that Vigny was strongly interested in writing about historical subjects from his tragic dramas written in the period 1815-1817 (which he later destroyed) until the theoretical grounding of his position in the preface to Cinq-Mars in 1829.

Kushner, Eva. “Vigny’s Vision of History.” Bulletin of the New York Public Library 69 (1965): 609-617. A study of Vigny in the context of the historical consciousness of French Romanticism that shows him to have been “the most acutely curious inquirer” of all the Romantic writers.

Wren, Keith. “A Suitable Case for Treatment: Ideological Confusion in Vigny’s Cinq-Mars. Forum for Modern Language Studies 18, no. 4 (October, 1982): 335-350. This study takes issue with Marxist interpretations that Cinq-Mars is a “straightforward threnody for the defunct second estate” (the nobility) when, on the contrary, the romance is ideologically confused and hence fails to demonstrate its thesis that the destruction of the nobility resulted in the collapse of the whole of society.


Critical Essays