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Château des Trembles

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Château des Trembles (SHAH-toh day TRAHN-blay). Dominique’s birthplace at Les Trembles, close to the town of Villeneuve. (Villeneuve, meaning “new town,” is a common place-name in France; however, the town with that name in this story does not correspond to any actual example.) The surrounding landscape is suggestive of the terrain extending south from Eugène Fromentin’s birthplace, La Rochelle; it is a drab plain denuded of trees, checkered by vineyards, marshlands, and fallow fields, bordered by the sea. The château itself, however, is situated in a wooded covert whose environs are full of life.

The house is built in a Flemish style, with irregular windows, slate-covered gabled roofs, and several turrets. A farmhouse of more recent construction and its associated outbuildings are clustered around it. A long water-meadow leads directly from the house to the sea. When the narrator first meets Dominique, who is the mayor of the local commune, the château is the site of various social occasions involving the local vintners in such activities as outdoor dancing, but Dominique’s childhood memories recall it as a quieter place. The narrator is particularly fascinated by Dominique’s relic-filled study, whose walls and windows are covered in pencilled graffiti, haphazard in character but all carefully dated.

Les Trembles brackets Dominique’s story as well as the novel; as a young boy he knows every detail of the house and the garden, and is intimately familiar with the effects of the changing seasons on the surrounding farmlands. At the end of the story he fervently insists that his business is with the land—an echo of the final line of Voltaire’s Candide (1759), in which cultivation of a narrow plot becomes symbolic of a philosophical attitude of resignation. Dominique revisits his home for two months late in the novel, when he takes Madeleine and her husband to the top of the local lighthouse in bad weather—the only occasion in which Les Trembles lives up to its name, both literally and metaphorically.

Ormesson

Ormesson. Town about thirty-five miles from Villeneuve. Dominique lives there in Madame Ceyssac’s house: a large but cold and empty residence in which traditional formality holds sway. Its rooms seem airless and viewless, its stone staircase forbidding. The house is surrounded by convents, and the overall impression of the town is one of clustered steeples whose bells ring in cacophonous competition, strongly contrasted with the single authoritative chime of the church at Villeneuve.

The dismal river flowing through Ormesson adds to a general atmosphere that is squalid, if not actually fetid. Olivier, Madeleine and Julie live in the Rue des Carmélites, in a house not dissimilar to Madame Ceyssac’s but much enlivened by their presence.

There is a real French town called Ormesson-sur-Marne, near Villeneuve-le-Roi, but its local geography is radically different from the one in the story.

*Paris

*Paris. France’s capital city figures into the story as a distant prospect long before Dominique actually goes there. His tutor Augustin has correspondents in Paris, and Olivier has just come from Paris when Dominique first meets him in Ormesson. As Madame de Nièvres, Madeleine spends more time there than at Nièvres. Dominique’s arrival in the city stands in stark contrast to the enthusiasm with which first glimpses of the capital are usually greeted in French literature. The city’s endless avenues of houses seem bleak, and Dominique’s first impression is that the whole city reeks of gas. Even the torchlit convoy attending the opera-bound king, glimpsed on his very first evening, fails to impress him. Dominique persists in thinking of Paris as a sort of vast inn, an essentially temporary residence, and does his utmost to avoid any social friction that might erode his personality. He avoids the landmarks that pepper most literary descriptions of Paris, although he takes long walks along the Seine with Augustin.

Château de Nièvres

Château de Nièvres (SHAH-toh deh NYEV-ray). Country house, surrounded by woods, where Madeleine and her husband live when they are not in Paris. Dominique visits it when he hears that Julie is ill and that there is some cause to be anxious about Madeleine’s health. They walk to the village, where they find the child Julie had befriended dead—an omen of their final parting.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 221

Charvet, P. E. “The Romantic Novel.” In The Nineteenth Century, 1789-1870. Vol. 4 in A Literary History of France. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1967. A brief treatment of Fromentin’s novel that places it in the context of French Romanticism.

Cruickshank, John. “The Novel of Self-Disclosure.” In The Early Nineteenth Century. Vol. 4 in French Literature and Its Background, edited by John Cruickshank. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1969. Develops the points that the novel is autobiographical and pertinent to Fromentin’s stature as a painter. Like other critics too, Cruickshank considers the ways in which the novel is both Romantic and post-Romantic.

Howard, Richard. “From Exoticism to Homosexuality.” In A New History of French Literature, edited by Dennis Hollier with R. Howard Bloch, et al. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994. An interesting placement of Dominique in the tradition of exoticism and eroticism in French literature.

Levin, Harry. The Gates of Horn. New York: Oxford University Press, 1963. Includes a chapter on Gustave Flaubert, in which Levin draws analogies between painting and fiction.

Martin, Graham Dunstan. “Dominique” and “Fromentin.” In The New Oxford Companion to Literature in French, edited by Peter France. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955. Notes the way in which Dominique endorses passion, insofar as the resolution of the conflict between reason and morality is unsatisfactory and Augustin a cold figure.

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