Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Château des Trembles

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...

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