I finish William Maxwell’s 1961 classic on the last day of our two week séjour at the 16th century Château de la Loubière, what better environment to read of the travels of Barbara and Harold Rhode’s than from within the ancient walls of a majestic edifice that has saluted the sun, hosted visitors and protected its inhabitants from events we can only imagine, for centuries.
Maxwell’s Château Beaumesnil is in the north of France near Blois, where the young American couple make their acquaintance with Madame Viénot and her guests, whom they continue to encounter and attempt to befriend during their time in France, including time in Paris.
They visit France just after the end of the second world war which adds to the difficulties they encounter, though they are fortunate they speak French sufficiently well enough to be understood, though not in the manner they are accustomed to and this causes them much reflection, trying to figure out the reactions they inspire and why.
“That’s all very interesting, but just exactly what are these two people doing in Europe?
Obviously. But it’s too soon after the war. Travelling will be much pleasanter and easier five years from now. The soldiers have not all gone home yet. People are poor and discouraged. Europe isn’t ready for tourists. Couldn’t they wait?
No, they couldn’t. The nail doesn’t choose the time or the circumstances in which it is drawn to the magnet.”
They encounter an uncertain transparency, for there are few false niceties extended, an important cultural difference causing them some consternation, however the couple make a commendable effort at developing the nearest to friendship that is possible with their hostess and her guests and bring the reader to some memorable locations and situations.
“They had hoped before they came here that a stay in the château would make them better able to deal with what they found in Paris, and instead a stay of three days in Paris had made them able, really for the first time, to deal with life at the château.”
In addition to the narration, there is another conversation about the book, which inserts itself from time to time and makes up the latter section of the book, so more than just a novel, it is as if we are witness to a conversation about the book with the author, as he indulges his experimental nature and writes as he pleases.
I guess one can never judge a château by its appearance and the white limestone exterior and cool human interior of Château Beaumesnil seem a world away from the warm terracotta tones of Château de la Loubière, as it soaks up the provençal winter sun, quietly reflecting her modest beauty on the surrounding landscape, full of warmth and the contented spirits of its past, recharging this particular visitor in the best possible way.
Today, pictures speak what words seem insufficient to describe, so I leave you with these and if you need an escape to Provence anytime soon, don’t hesitate to click on the link here for your own provençal retreat and mention you were sent by Claire.