Renée Mauperin

by Edmond de Goncourt, Jules de Goncourt

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Places Discussed

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*Paris. Capital city of France and, in French eyes, the very definition of civilization. Paris is metaphorically personified in the plot by Monsieur Denoisel, a “true Parisian” who sells the land he inherits and invests the money in the stock exchange, thus rendering his capital theoretical rather than concrete. Various artifices and compromises allow him to live well on a modest income. He lodges in a snug three-room flat close to Boulevard des Italiens, dining at clubs and restaurants. Whenever his income is exhausted, he disappears from Paris and lives more cheaply in a country inn, where tobacco is his only indulgence, or even more cheaply in Florence, Italy.

The first Parisian setting featured in the story is the tastefully decorated house on the rue de Madelaine, where Madame Mauperin visits the fashionable Abbé Blampoix. She moves on from there to Henri’s flat in the rue Taitbout, with its ominous pair of swords set atop the bookcase, where he holds solemn parties that are more like academic conferences. It is close to the rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, where Renée was taken as a child, in company with Noémi Bourjot, to the lectures that Henri still attends, sometimes dropping into the Café Bignon on the corner.

Other Parisian settings featured include the auction rooms where Madame Mauperin and Renée go to see Lord Mansbury’s art collection; the library in the rue Richelieu where Renée overhears the fateful detail that costs Henri his life: and the Ville d’Avray, beside whose frozen lake Henri exchanges pistol-shots with Boisjorand de Villacourt.


*Bourmont (bor-MOHNG). Town in the Haut-Marne in which Charles Mauperin settles on his return to France from temporary exile in America. He keeps his farm in the village of Villacourt when he moves on, unwittingly laying the groundwork for the chain of misfortunes that destroys his family.


Basigny (bah-seeg-NYEE). Estate in Morimond, not far from Maricourt, bought by Charles Mauperin after leaving Bourmont, where Renée is born and to which she returns to die. Basigny is situated in wild country, uncultivated since the French Revolution, near a ruined abbey. Charles retains the property but has to obtain a house closer to Paris when he is elected as a deputy after the Revolution of 1830.

The description of Renée’s journey from Briche to Morimond, as the story nears its conclusion, is highly charged: The landscape comes to signify lost innocence. When Renée relapses after her brief recovery, the authors sum up her life in a lavishly detailed description of the souvenir-laden bedroom in which she dies, making much of the bouquets of corn on the wallpaper, the vessel containing holy water, the mirrors framed in blue velvet, and the miniature portraits of her mother. After Renée’s death, her parents become voluntary exiles from France, roaming the world with neither home nor direction.


Briche (breesh). Site of Mauperin’s house on the outskirts of Paris, near Chantilly on the banks of the Seine, not far from the Ile Saint Denis. Several key scenes take place in the drawing room, where Renée plays the piano and Madame Bourjot sings; it is converted into the “Briche Theatre” for the fateful productions of The Caprice and Pierrot, Bigamist, which serve to reveal Henri’s love for Noémi.


*Sannois (sahn-NWAW). Village neighboring Briche in which the Bourjots’ house is located. The house is a pretentious one in which everything is calculated to intimidate visitors with ostentatious displays of wealth and strict etiquette. It contains no paintings, except for a portrait of Madame Bourjot signed by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, but Bourjot owns a fine...

(This entire section contains 717 words.)

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collection of gemstones. The house becomes an important locus of opposition politics, although Bourjot’s past political affiliations have been mixed.


Motte-Noire (moht-nwahr). Miserable collection of hovels in the Croix-du-Soldat woods, situated about nine miles from Saint-Mihiel in Lorraine. Motte-Noire is the current residence of the last of the Villacourts, who have come down in the world since the scion of the family was wounded in the head at Oberkamlach in 1796. The authors’ account of the family’s history since 1303 dovetails with other synopses of French history which contrast strongly with the depiction of the rootless “true Parisian” Denoisel.


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Baldick, Robert. The Goncourts. London: Bowes and Bowes, 1960. A very brief but excellent survey of the Goncourts’ novels. Concentrates on biographical background to the novels, but also provides some exploration of major themes in the works and aspects of literary style. Emphasizes the Goncourts’ scorn of the bourgeoisie’s lack of aesthetic sensibility.

Billy, André. The Goncourt Brothers. Translated by Margaret Shaw. London: A. Deutsch, 1960. The standard biography of the Goncourts focuses on events in the lives of the brothers from which the novels emerged. Also provides examples of contemporary reaction to their novels.

Grant, Richard B. The Goncourt Brothers. New York: Twayne, 1972. A solid survey of the life and works of Jules and Edmond de Goncourt. Integrates the lives of the authors with detailed stylistic and thematic analysis of their novels. The chapter on Renée Mauperin elaborates the brothers’ political views and traces their derogatory commentary on bourgeois taste.

Nelson, Brian, ed. Naturalism in the European Novel: New Critical Perspectives. New York: Berg, 1992. An assortment of essays by prominent scholars. Includes several important discussions of the Goncourts’ role in the development of social documentary as a literary genre.

Silverman, Debora. Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siècle France: Politics, Psychology, and Style. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. Although Silverman’s book primarily concerns itself with the collecting habits and art criticism of the brothers Goncourt, it provides some valuable insight into their fictional works from a feminist perspective.


Critical Essays