Places: Memoirs of a Physician

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Mémoires d’un médecin, 1846-1848 (English translation, 1846)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 1770-1774

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedMont Tonnerre

Mont Memoirs of a PhysicianTonnerre (toh-NAYR). Also known as Mount Thunder, a mountain on the left bank of the Rhine River near Worms, topped by a ruined feudal castle, where Balsamo receives his commission after confronting three hundred sword-bearing phantoms and revealing himself to their chiefs as their long-awaited messiah, the Great Copt.

Taverney château

Taverney château (ta-ver-NAY). Comparatively humble abode reflecting the reduced circumstances of the Taverney family, whose grander castle of Maison-Rouge lies in ruins nearby. It is situated between Saint Mihiel and Bar-le-Duc on the road from Strasbourg to Paris. There, the narrative begins to take shape, as a fateful storm interrupts Balsamo’s progress, forcing him to seek shelter in the château.


Lachaussée (lah-koh-SAY). Village farther along the road, between Vitry and Chalons, where Philip fights Jean Dubarry after Chon attempts to commandeer Marie Antoinette’s horses.


*Paris. Principal locations within the city featured in the plot are philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s house in the rue de Plâtrière, where Gilbert finds refuge after meeting the philosopher in the woods at Meudon; the Hôtel d’Armenonville, the Taverney family’s town-house in the rue Coq-Heron, where the family is lodged in Paris; and Balsamo’s exotically furnished house in a cul-de-sac off the rue St. Claude. Other key scenes are enacted at the Carmelite convent of St. Denis, where Lorenza seeks refuge with Princess Louise before Balsamo reclaims her, and the various locations in which the Comtesse de Bearn is duped and manipulated: the house of the lawyer Flageot in the rue du Petit-Lion-Saint-Sauveur; the Coq Chantant inn in the rue de Saint-Germain-de-Prés; and Comtesse Dubarry’s house in the rue de Valois.

At the Place Louis XV, the celebration of the marriage of the Dauphin to Marie-Antoinette turns to disaster during the fireworks display. This scene is a crucial turning point in the plot, offering the first glimpse of the surgeon and revolutionary-to-be Jean-Paul Marat–who subsequently accompanies Balsamo to the Hôtel Dieu, where the magician demonstrates his medical skills. The house of the lieutenant of police, Monsieur de Sartines, in the Faubourg St. Germain and the Hôtel d’Aiguillon, residence of the duc de Richelieu’s nephew, also serve as significant settings.

As in many romans feuilletons–novels serialized in the Paris newspapers–the effect of this range of settings is to forge a strong link between contemporary readers’ knowledge of the city and the supposed secrets of its pre-Revolutionary past. The novel trades heavily on presumed hindsight, not merely on the fate of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette after the French Revolution but on the scandalous appearance in their court of the self-advertised magician Cagliostro (whose real name, Giuseppe Balsamo, Alexandre Dumas appropriated for his oft-reincarnated villain).


*Versailles (ver-SI). Royal palace west-southwest of Paris built in the mid-seventeenth century. Of the various royal residences featured in Memoirs of a Physician, the most celebrated is Versailles, whose splendor and luxury in the era of Louis XIV were legendary. Although several key scenes take place there–notably a symbolically loaded scene in a salon full of clocks, one of which the future Louis XVI restarts–the narrative continually emphasizes the fact that Louis XV prefers humbler surroundings.

Although Comtesse Dubarry has a suite at Versailles, Louis prefers to see her at Luciennes, near the woods of Chatou, where he is quite content to feed the carp in its lake when she keeps him waiting. It is there that de Sartines presents him with lettres de cachet for Rousseau and Voltaire. He holds his court at Marly, where he plays cards in the blue drawing room and hunts in the surrounding forest; it is there that Richelieu is introduced into the plot. The most important royal residence in the story is, however, Trianon, great pains being taken to point out that while Louis XIV had built Grand Trianon as a miniature of Versailles, Louis XV had commissioned Gabriel to build him a Petit Trianon–a mere pavilion, sixty feet square–connected to it by a path over a wooden bridge; it is here that the key events of the story’s climax take place.

BibliographyBell, A. Craig. Alexandre Dumas: A Biography and Study. London: Cassell, 1950. One of the better studies of the works of Dumas, this volume places some emphasis on The Memoirs of a Physician. The biography chronicles Dumas’ social circle.Dumas, Alexandre, père. The Road to Monte Cristo: A Condensation from “The Memoirs of Alexandre Dumas.” Translated by Jules Eckert Goodman. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1956. An excellent, abridged translation of Dumas’ memoirs that relate to his source material for his novels, including The Memoirs of a Physician.Maurois, André. The Titans, a Three-Generation Biography of the Dumas. Translated by Gerard Hopkins. New York: Harper & Row, 1957. Considered the authoritative biography of Dumas père, his father, and his son. Includes an excellent bibliography. Discusses The Memoirs of a Physician in a cursory fashion.Schopp, Claude. Alexandre Dumas: Genius of Life. Translated by A. J. Koch. New York: Franklin Watts, 1988. A biographical and critical approach to the life and works of Alexandre Dumas, père. Contains a discussion on Dumas’ problems with the serialization of The Memoirs of a Physician.Stowe, Richard S. Alexandre Dumas (père). Boston: Twayne, 1976. An excellent starting point for an analysis of the life and works of Alexandre Dumas, père, probably the best source in English. The Memoirs of a Physician is analyzed in the chapter entitled “The Marie-Antoinette Romances,” of which the novel is the first of five installments.
Categories: Places