Places: Volupté

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1834 (English translation, 1995)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedLa Gastine

La VoluptéGastine (lah gas-TEEN). Isolated farmhouse in a remote part of the northern French region of Brittany; a calculatedly unostentatious one-story edifice set in a fertile plain interrupted by beech trees. It is the home of the Greneuc family, whose daughter, Amélie, Amaury might have married had he been so inclined; it symbolizes the quiet desolation of conventional rural existence.

Château de Couaën

Château de Couaën (SHAH-toh deh kwah-EH[N]). House about six miles distance from La Gastine, set in more precipitous country near a barren coast. It is equally remote, but even more ancient and forbidding, having served in bygone eras as a fortress. Its tower and ramparts survive, but only two of its floors remain in use, the upper one serving as the marquis’ study, library, and bedroom. The garret is now a rat-infested granary. The château plays host to futile secret gatherings of the antirevolutionary French nobility. Madame Couaën’s room is, however, exceptional; when Amaury first enters it, everything–polished antique furniture, porcelain, Irish crystal–seems to be shining.

Saint-Pierre-de-Mer

Saint-Pierre-de-Mer (sahn-pyehr-de-mer). Mountain chapel overlooking a boulder-strewn bay, maintained by Madame Couaën–who contrasts the wild landscape in which it is set with her native Ireland. The ruins of a stone watch tower stand on the edge of the cliff, where the marquis decides to raise and keep a lighthouse after his wife’s death. Amaury’s obsession with the imagery of water begins at Saint-Pierre; once he has been there he continually thinks of human emotions in terms of their analogy with bodies of water, afflicted by tides and waves. When Amaury imagines the souls of the Couaëns as an allegorical painting whose centerpiece is a calm but misty lake fed by streams overflowing into waterfalls, he is echoing Madame Couaën’s contradictory response to Saint-Pierre. It is significant that when Amaury first sets out for America, the tempestuous ocean drives his ship back to the Portuguese shore.

Madame de Couaën’s childhood home

Madame de Couaën’s childhood home (deh kwah-EH[N]). House situated a mile from Kildare on Ireland’s Curragh River, idealized in Amaury’s imagination on the basis of her description. The library’s arched windows are surrounded by honeysuckle and roses; boxed myrtles and potted carnations decorate the terraced lawn. When the Couaëns’ doomed son Arthur makes a little garden in the woods he calls it “Kildare.”

Vacquerie’s house

Vacquerie’s house (VAK-ehr-ee). Country house situated about one mile from the Château de Couaën; although it is surrounded by woodland, reached by sinuous paths, it is an intrusion of modernity; its facilities include a Barbary organ, an opticon, and a microscope.

Druid Island

Druid Island. Islet off the Breton coast, reputedly a sacred site of Druid religion, now pockmarked by the ruins of a Christian monastery. Amaury imagines himself living there alone, but finds it intimidating at night.

*Paris

*Paris. France’s capital city, on whose outskirts Amaury and the Couaëns always remain. They initially stay in a small religious community run by Madame de Cursy near Val-de-Grâce (whose famous convent became a military hospital), and later in Auteuil. Paris seems to Amaury to be ostentatious and feverish; his peregrinations aggravate his sensuality, except for his excursions to the Jardin des Plantes to hear the Chevalier de Lamarck expound his theory of evolution–whose worldview seems to him stark and dolorous. During later visits much of Amaury’s time is spent visiting the marquis at the Sainte-Pélagie prison and the hospice at Passy. He eventually finds solace, however, in a library of religious works on the rue des Maçons-Sorbonne. During Amaury’s brief flirtation with the idea of volunteering for military service, he and Captain Remi avidly trace the progress of one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaigns on a map; however, when Amaury leaves Paris it is to go to an unidentified seminary, and then–after a final pilgrimage to Couaën–to America. When he finally achieves peace of mind he envisages himself in a calm sea, approaching the bank.

BibliographyBarlow, Norman. Sainte-Beuve to Baudelaire: A Poetic Legacy. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1964. Analyzes the influence of Sainte-Beuve’s elaborate style and thematic preoccupations on Baudelaire’s poetry. The chapter on Volupté examines Amaury’s exploration of sensual and spiritual love. Although Barlow traces the spiritual journey, his didacticism is distracting.Chadbourne, Richard. Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A survey of Sainte-Beuve’s life and works. Reappraisal of Sainte-Beuve’s fiction and poetry. Discusses his literary criticism. The chapter on Volupté analyzes innovations in narrative technique and genre.Lehmann, A. G. Sainte-Beuve: A Portrait of the Critic, 1804-1842. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1962. Overview of the novel, emphasizing its failure to create convincing characters or to use dialogue effectively. The criticism is unbalanced, however, since Lehmann judges Volupté as a realist novel rather than as a Romantic confession.Mulhauser, Ruth. Sainte-Beuve and Greco-Roman Antiquity. Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1969. Traces the classical sources of Sainte-Beuve’s literature and criticism. Greek and Roman culture combine Romantic revery and intellectual curiosity. Discusses Sainte-Beuve’s Hellenism, or love of physical beauty.Nicolson, Harold. Sainte-Beuve. London: Constable, 1957. Surveys Sainte-Beuve’s work. The chapter on Volupté considers the novel as a representation of the love triangle of Sainte-Beuve, Adèle Hugo, and Victor Hugo, but also analyzes the prose style and thematic unity of the work.
Categories: Places