Places: The Disciple

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Le Disciple, 1889 (English translation, 1898)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Philosophical realism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Paris

*Paris. Disciple, TheCapital of France. The chief Parisian locale featured in the novel is the Rue Guy de Brosse, where Adrien Sixte lives, and its immediate environs. The Rue Guy de Brosse connects the Rue de Jussieu to Rue Linné, at the heart of a humble but respectable district bordered by the Jardin des Plantes and Hospital de la Pitié. Sixte’s fourth-floor apartment commands a good view of Père-la-Chaise, Orléans station, and the dome of La Saltpétrière, as well as the Jardin des Plantes, but the last-named is by far the most important; Sixte often takes long walks through the gardens, often as far as Notre-Dame, and his relationship with Robert Greslon is firmly grounded there.

Other Parisian locations briefly but significantly featured in the novel include the Palais de Justice, where Sixte is interrogated by Valette regarding his relationship with Robert, and the Hôtel de Sermoises in the Rue de Chanaleilles, where the Marquise de Jussat, her sister and Charlotte take up residence for a while.


*Clermont-Ferrand. Capital of the department of Puy-de-Dôme in the Auvergne mountains of central France. Robert spends his early life there, in a house built of Volvic stone, whose grey darkens with age to give the city itself a rather a forbidding aspect. Because the house is near the railway station Robert grows up haunted by the whistling of trains. Within the house, Robert’s father–an engineer–draws formulas on blackboards and writes at an architect’s table; he has a clock in the form of a geographical globe and astronomical maps–but his study looks out over the plain of the Limagne, bounded in the distance by the mountains of Forez, and he loves to walk in the surrounding countryside. Robert and his father undertake frequent long excursions, following paths to Puy de Crouël, Gergovie, Royat, Durtol, Beaumont, and Gravenoire, where the elder Greslon’s scientific knowledge illuminates the landscape, giving names to everything and explaining the natural roles of animate and inanimate entities. The meaning this landscape has for Robert changes completely after his father’s death because his mother–who has previously only taken him to mass at the Church of Capuchins–does not know the names of the flowers and thinks all insects are filthy and venomous; this is the beginning of Robert’s philosophical isolation.

Château Jussat-Randon

Château Jussat-Randon. Country house on the shore of Lake Aydat, near the former capital of Puy-de-Dôme, the town of Riom (situated nine miles north of Clermont-Ferrand). Robert goes there after obtaining a position as a tutor to the marquis’ younger son, Lucien; his manuscript describes the surrounding landscape several times, most memorably when his unrequited love for Charlotte has driven him almost to despair–at which time the lake is thinly sheeted with ice, majestically encircled by snow-capped volcanic mountains, their slopes darkened by the forest of Rouillet. The château is not far from the village of Saint-Saturnin, from which it is separated by Pradat wood, where Robert and Charlotte are briefly lost. The later scenes of the novel are mostly set in Riom, where Robert is charged with Charlotte’s murder; after his acquittal he meets his mother and Sixte in the Hôtel de Commerce, where Charlotte’s older brother André shoots and kills him.


*Nancy. City in northeastern France that is the birthplace and residence of Adrien Sixte until he moves to Paris in 1872 after death of his father, mother, and aunt. Although Nancy and the family residence are not described in any detail, the fact that Sixte’s father was a watchmaker is as crucial to the development of Sixte’s character as the fact that Robert’s father was an engineer. Fortunately or unfortunately, Sixte’s father did not have the same love of the countryside as Robert’s, thus confining him to an abstracted and thoroughly mechanical way and view of life.

BibliographyAuchincloss, Louis. “James and Bourget: The Artist and the Crank.” In Reflections of a Jacobite. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961. In this chapter, Auchincloss chides Bourget for assuming the role of France’s social and moral guide.Feuillerat, Albert. Paul Bourget. Paris: Plon, 1937. Fullest and most penetrating of studies in French on Bourget’s work, though it omits most of the details about his life. Feuillerat was Bourget’s brother-in-law and intimate friend, but he maintains critical distance.Goetz, T. H. “Paul Bourget’s Le Disciple and the Text-Reader Relationship.” French Review 52 (October, 1978): 56-61. Discusses the author’s concerns over the influence of the authority figure (that is, the writer) upon his or her audience, especially the nation’s youth.Secor, Walter Todd. Paul Bourget and the Nouvelle. New York: King’s Crown Press, 1948. The short novel (nouvelle) is the field in which many critics believe Bourget was the most outstanding.Singer, Armand E. Paul Bourget. Boston: Twayne, 1976. The only full account in English of Bourget’s life and works. The Disciple is treated on pages 65-67 and 120-121.Suleiman, Susan Rubin. Authoritarian Fictions: The Ideological Novel as a Literary Genre. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983. In this brilliant study, the author treats the thesis novel, using Bourget’s L’Étape (1902), a later version of the type of work that includes The Disciple, as her model.
Categories: Places