The Château

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?

They’re tourists.

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.

26 thoughts on “The Château

    • Thank you Nelle, I am sure there are a few stories deep within the walls of Chateau de la Loubiere, I will enjoy digging into that subject further to try and find out.


  1. Nice post!! Just wanted to make me hop on a train for a long visit. Love that area of France but haven’t yet seen this Chateau Beaumesnil which has “un charme fou”. I’ll definitely keep it in mind for an enriching visit in the future. 🙂


    • Happy to be inspiring people to come south, its a wonderful atmosphere and of course the climate is wonderfully predictable. And only a TGV ride away for you 🙂

      It’s been a long time since I visited chateaux, must revisit that region some time in the future myself.


  2. Claire, I’m glad “The House of my Heart” struck a chord in your heart. I look forward to looking through your blog more as I love books and travel, too. I always have a pile of books or my Kindle or both wherever I am. I stayed in a chateau once in the mid-70’s when I was on an almost year-long trip of a lifetime in Europe. I plan to blog about that one of these days, too. So many things about which to blog, so little time. 🙂


  3. Wow! The Château de la Loubière is not that far from me and I’ve never been! Now that I know where it is, I must make a trip there. I never pass up a good chateau to see 🙂
    On another note, I now have a new book on my list to read thanks to your review.


    • Actually, it’s one of Provence’s secrets and it is a private chateau, although there are three gites attached to it. Makes it all the more interesting and enticing.


  4. G’day Claire thanks for visiting my blog and leading me to yours. I am on restricted computer time at the moment (at present in Christchurch library logged on for 30 mins) but look forward to catching up with more of your posts and lovely photos after this present trip


  5. Wonderful in so many ways.. as others have said, between the snaps and the overview you can help but want to read..and travel. My time in France is limited and every time we plan a trip, we end up in Spain ( a favorite of mine) and last time Italy, but we swear it’s France next. I do wonder when I am sight seeing what it would have felt like back in the day before someone’s home became a tourist attraction.


    • The empty imposing chateau that have become a tourist attraction often rob the imagination of making any link with its ‘lived in’ past I find, I was more in awe of the grand chateau of the Loire and even the medieval city of Carcassonne.
      This chateau however is private, it is a home (with holiday cottages within its vicity), which I why I have not taken pictures of it’s interior and it truely does retain the spirit of its past.


  6. Claire — thanks for your comment on my William Maxwell post; I’m so glad to have discovered your blog. I look forward to looking through your 2012 reading list!

    From what I have read I believe The Chateau is largely autobiographical — much of his writing is influenced by personal experience, which is understandable and not uncommon. But unlike his other works of fiction (where he deals with the loss of his mother but the contexts are entirely made up, for instance) he and his wife Emily actually did take *that* trip to France. I appreciated the Rhodes’ experiences in part because I empathized (I spent a wonderful year in France, but nowhere near long enough for it to feel like home). I saw their experiences as reflections of not so much a deep love for the place, but a deep desire *to love* the place, even though the place is so unknowable. What was fascinating to me was that France at the time, immediately following the war, was also unknowable even to the French, even to the people whose families had been there for hundreds of years but who could barely recognize their country during those post war years.

    Even where I found the story lacking (the entire last section, for instance), I still found the language transcendent.

    I have They Came Like Swallows and So Long See You Tomorrow on my desk. I don’t know when I’ll get to read them but I am looking forward to both. If you’re interested, I highly recommend A William Maxwell Portrait: Memories and Appreciations. Take care!


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