I continue with some more tombs at the Montmartre Cemetery. This time it’s about poets, authors… and once more I will try to take them in a chronological order.
Known as Stendahl, Marie-Henri Beyle (1783-1842), is considered as one of the major realism writers, although his career mainly coincides with the more romantic 19th century period. His most famous works are “Le Rouge et le Noir” (“The Red and the Black”) and “La Chartreuse de Parme” (“The Charterhouse of Parma”) – written in 52 days.
While “La Chartresue…” treats on the battling Napoleonic period - Stendahl was himself one of the survivors of the retreat from Russia in 1812 - “The Red…” is about a young man, Julien Sorrel, during the after-Napoleon years, and the novel emphasizes the contradiction between feelings and behaving, hypocrisy, need of social acceptance…. Balzac and Tolstoy are among the authors who claim to have been seriously influenced by Stendahl.
Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), one of the greatest German poets, who was brought up in the then French governed Düsseldorf, spent the last 25 years of his life in Paris, basically because of his radical political views; many of his works were banned by the German authorities.
During his French years, he became less romantic and added a lot of irony, sarcasm and satire into his works. Although he loved his Fatherland, he was against nationalism and was quite in favour of the French revolutionary ideals, but also of Napoleon, the organizer – not the warrior. He even briefly flirted with communism and was a friend of Marx, who admired Heine’s works.
He married a Paris shopgirl, who was quite illiterate, knew no German and had no interest in cultural or intellectual matters, but they lived together to the end – and she is buried with him.
Some of Heine’s books were among the thousands that were burnt in Berlin in 1933. On the ground of the site, the Opernplatz, you can today read some of Heine’s lines, written some 110 years earlier: “That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also." Today, his birth town, Düsseldorf, has got its university named after him, as well as one of its main boulevards.
Much of his poetry has been set to “lieder” by composers like Robert and Clara Schumann, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Brahms, Strauss, Wagner... but the best known is perhaps the “Lorelei” (written in 1824) in a more traditional musical version by Friedrich Silcher from 1837.
Alfred de Vigny (1797-1863) was an aristocrat, meaning that his family suffered from the revolutionary ideas in strong force during his first years. He published very successfully poems and a novel, “Cinq-Mars” in 1826. One of his best friends then was Victor Hugo, who soon of course became more successful. Also, politically, their destinies were different; de Vigny remained a royalist. Some ten years later he wrote however a drama, “Chatterton”, considered as one of the best French romantic dramas, still performed regularly. (Chatterton was an English poet who committed suicide at the age of 17, preferring arsenic to starving - of course extremely “romantic”.)
De Vigny more or less retired at the age of 40.
Eugène Labiche (1815-88) is basically known for a number of comic plays. He had a lot of success during his lifetime – some even compared him to Molière – and his works are still frequently played on the Paris vaudeville stages.
The two brothers, Edmond de Goncourt (1822-96), and Jules de Goncourt (1830-70) were both novelists and very active in the Paris intellectual circles, but are most famous for having created the yearly “Prix Goncourt”, some kind of local French Nobel Prize in literature, awarded for “the best and most imaginative prose work of the year”. Jules died quite young, at the age of 39 and the real founder of the prize is rather the elder brother Edmond. Among the prize winners can be mentioned Marcel Proust, Simone de Beauvoir…
Romain Gary (married to Jean Seberg for a couple of years) got the Goncourt prize for” Roots of Heaven”, which became a film by John Huston, starring Errol Flynn, Trevor Howard, Orson Wells, Juliette Greco…
Normally you get the prize only once, but Romain Gary got it a second time under a synonym (Emile Ajar). This book also became a film under the name “Madame Rosa”, starring Simone Signoret. Several other of the prize winning books have been filmed including “The Ogre”, written by Michel Tournier and filmed by Volker Schlöndorff, starring John Malkovich, “The Lover”, written by Marguerite Duras, filmed by Jean-Jacques Annaud…
Ernest Renan (1823-92), was a philosopher, historian, scholar of religion and critical philosophy and his works are still studied and read. Many of the opinions he expressed were certainly in advance on his time and it can certainly be claimed that he has had a great influence on the progressive spirit in western culture. Not anti-religious (he studied to enter in religion), he claimed however that the life of Jesus should be analyzed as the life of any other man and the Bible should be subject to the same critical scrutiny as other historical documents. On the question “what is a nation?” he defined it as a desire of people to live together and that it must not be linked to race or ethnical issues.
Some quotes: “Our opinions become fixed at the point where we stop thinking.” “The liberty of the individual is a necessary postulate of human progress.”
He shares the tomb of Ary Scheffer (see previous post); he married to Scheffer’s niece.
He obviously took weight with the years, as we can see from the statue made by Ary Scheffer and the edging, made by Anders Zorn (see previous post).
I already wrote about Alexandre Dumas fils (1824-95) in previous posts (1 ,2) and the famous “The Lady of the Cameila”.
Emile Zola (1840-1902) has his tomb here, but his remains were transferred to the Pantheon (see previous post) in 1908. Zola is clearly one of the greatest French writers ever; he’s not at the Pantheon for nothing. But he had of course also a great political influence, is famous for his actions during the Dreyfus affair and he was also largely supporting the artists who were to create the impressionism.
Zola’s involvement in the Dreyfus affair, writing a letter to the French President, which was published on the first page of the daily newspaper “L’Aurore” (run by Georges Clemenceau), where he accused the government of anti-Semitism and judicial errors, led to his prosecution. He fled to England for a short time. Dreyfus was finally exonerated.
He wrote some 30 or 40 novels, most of which are still bestsellers. Many of them have been staged and filmed, including “La Bête Humaine” – “Human Desire” in a Hollywood version with Glenn Ford, “Thérèse Raquin” (a new version with Glenn Close under preparation); “Au Bonheur des Dames”, “Germinal”…. A film about his life was made in 1937, “The Life of Emile Zola”, which won an Oscar for Best Picture.
Zola was also one of the first and leading supporters of the impressionist painters. He was since childhood a friend of Cézanne, who painted him several times. The impressionism actually started as the “Groupe des Batignolles”, an area in Paris where most of the future impressionists - and Zola, then lived (and where I live now). I wrote about this group in one of my first posts on my previous blog. Renoir, Monet, Sisley, Pisarro, Degas… met at a café (“Guerbois”) and in different workshops. Here you can see one of Cézanne’s portraits of him – with a friend and (in a painting by Fantin-Latour) we can see Manet painting, surrounded by Monet, Renoir and Zola and in the third painting (by Bazille), we can see Bazille presenting his latest work to Manet and Monet, while Zola on the stairs has a discussion with Renoir. (Bazille was a few months later, at 29, killed in the French-Prussian war.)
Georges Feydeau (1862-1921) wrote some 60 theatre plays, which possibly can be referred to as farces and which actually by many are considered as precursors to what later became the surrealist and dada theatres, sometimes touching the absurd … there are a lot of opened and slammed doors. He’s also still regularly played, of course in France, but some twenty of his works among which “The Flea in the Ear”, “The Girl from Maxim’s”… have also been played on Broadway, in London… starring Rex Harrison, Albert Finney… “Hotel Paradiso” (“L’Hôtel du Libre Echange”) was played on stage by Angela Lansbury and was filmed with Gina Lollobrigida and Alec Guiness.
Here is again a plan which may help you to find these tombs.