Paris, France: 1860's. Hundreds of houses are being razed, whole neighborhoods reduced to ashes. By order of Emperor Napoleon III, Baron Haussman has set into motion a series of large-scale renovations that will permanently alter the face of old Paris, moulding it into a "modern city." The reforms will erase generations of historybut in the midst of the tumult, one woman will take a stand.
Rose Bazelet is determined to fight against the destruction of her family home until the very end; as others flee, she stakes her claim in the basement of the old house on rue Childebert, ignoring the sounds of change that come closer and closer each day. Attempting to overcome the loneliness of her daily life, she begins to write letters to Armand, her beloved late husband. And as she delves into the ritual of remembering, Rose is forced to come to terms with a secret that has been buried deep in her heart for thirty years. Tatiana de Rosnay's The House I Loved is both a poignant story of one woman's indelible strength, and an ode to Paris, where houses harbor the joys and sorrows of their inhabitants, and secrets endure in the very walls...
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
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The House I Loved
By Tatiana de Rosnay
St. Martin's GriffinCopyright © 2012 Tatiana de Rosnay
All right reserved.
I can hear them coming up our street. It is a strange, ominous rumble. Thuds and blows. The floor aquiver under my feet. There are shouts too. Men’s voices, loud and excited. The whinny of horses, the stamp of hooves. It sounds like a battle, like in that hot and dreadful July when our daughter was born, or that bloody time when the barricades went up all over the city. It smells like a battle. Stifling clouds of dust. Acrid smoke. Dirt and rubble. I know the Hôtel Belfort has been destroyed, Gilbert told me. I cannot bear to think about it. I will not. I am relieved Madame Paccard is not here to see it.
I am sitting in the kitchen as I write this to you. It is empty, the furniture was packed up last week and sent to Tours, with Violette. They left the table behind, it was too bulky, as well as the heavy enamel cooker. They were in a hurry and I loathed watching that being done. I hated every minute of it. The house stripped of all its belongings in one short moment. Your house. The one you thought would be safe. Oh, my love. Do not be afraid. I will never leave.
The sun peeks into the kitchen in the mornings, I’ve always appreciated that about this room. So dismal now, without Mariette bustling about, her face reddened by the heat of the stove, and Germaine grumbling, smoothing back wisps of hair into her tight chignon. If I try, I can almost pick up the enticing wafts of Mariette’s ragout weaving its slow path through the house. Our once-cheerful kitchen is sad and bare without the gleaming pots and pans, kept scrupulously clean by Germaine, without the herbs and spices in their little glass bottles, the fresh vegetables from the market, the warm bread on its cutting board.
I remember the morning the letter came, last year. It was a Friday. I was in the sitting room, reading Le Petit Journal by the window, and drinking my tea. I enjoy that quiet hour before the day begins. It wasn’t our usual postman. This one, I had never seen. A tall, bony fellow, his hair flaxen under the flat green cap. His blue cotton blouse with its red collar appeared far too large for him. From where I was sitting, I saw him jauntily touch his cap and hand the mail over to Germaine. Then he was gone, and I could hear his soft whistle as he marched up the street.
It was early still, I’d had my breakfast a while ago. I went back to my newspaper after a sip of tea. It seemed the Exposition Universelle was all they could talk about these past months. Seven thousand foreigners pouring through the boulevards every day. A whirl of prestigious guests: Alexander II from Russia, Bismarck, the Vice King of Egypt. Such a triumph for our Emperor.
I heard Germaine’s step on the stairs. The rustle of her dress. I do not get much mail. Usually a letter from my daughter, from time to time, when she feels dutiful. Or maybe from my son-in-law, for the same reason. Sometimes a card from my brother Émile. Or from the Baronne de Vresse, in Biarritz, by the sea, where she spends her summer. And the occasional bills and taxes.
That morning I noticed a long white envelope. Closed with a thick crimson seal. I turned it around. Préfecture de Paris. Hôtel de Ville.
And my name, printed large, in black lettering. I opened it. The words leaped out. At first I could not understand them. Yet my reading glasses were perched on the end of my nose. My hands were shaking so hard I had to place the sheet of paper on my lap and inhale a deep breath. After a while I took the letter into my hand again and forced myself to read it.
“What is it, Madame Rose?” whimpered Germaine. She must have seen my face.
I slipped the letter back into its envelope. I stood up and smoothed my dress down with the palms of my hands. A pretty frock, dark blue, with just enough ruffle for an old lady like me. You would have approved. I remember that dress, and the shoes I was wearing that day, mere slippers, sweet and feminine, and I remember Germaine’s cry when I told her what the letter said.
It was not until later, much later, alone in our room, that I collapsed on the bed. Although I knew this would happen one day, sooner or later, it still came as a shock. That night, when the household was asleep, I fetched a candle and I found that map of the city you used to like to look at. I rolled it out flat on the dining room table, taking care not to spill any wax. Yes, I could see it, the inexorable northern advance of the rue de Rennes sprouting straight from the Montparnasse railway station to us, and the boulevard Saint-Germain, a hungry monster, creeping westward from the river. With two trembling fingers I traced their paths until my flesh met. Right over our street. Yes, my love, our street.
It is freezing in the kitchen, I need to go down to get another shawl. Gloves as well, but only for my left hand, as my right hand must go on writing this for you. You thought the church and its proximity would save us, my love. You and Père Levasque.
“They will never touch the church, nor the houses around it,” you scoffed fifteen years ago, when the Prefect was appointed. And even after we heard what was going to happen to my brother Émile’s house, when the boulevard de Sébastopol was created, you still were not afraid: “We are close to the church, it will protect us.”
I often go to sit in the church to think of you. You have been gone for ten years now. A century to me. The church is quiet, peaceful. I gaze at the ancient pillars, the cracked paintings. I pray. Père Levasque comes to see me and we talk in the hushed gloom.
“It will take more than a Prefect or an Emperor to harm our neighborhood, Madame Rose! The church is safe, and so are we, its fortunate neighbors,” he whispers emphatically. “Childebert, the Merovingian King, the founder of our church, watches over his creation like a mother would a child.”
Père Levasque is fond of reminding me of how many times the church has been looted, plundered and burnt down to the ground by the Normans in the ninth century. I believe it is thrice. How wrong you were, my love.
The church will be safe. But not our house. The house you loved.
Copyright © 2012 by Éditions Héloise d’Ormesson
Excerpted from The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay Copyright © 2012 by Tatiana de Rosnay. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
A Conversation with Tatiana de Rosnay
Like Sarah's Key, The House I Loved focuses on a very specific and emotional moment in Parisian history. What first drew you to writing about this era? A certain experience or place? A story you heard?
As a born-and-bred Parisian, I have always been fascinated by my city's rich history, in particular how Haussmann reshaped Paris. And I have often wondered what it must have been like to lose a beloved house to the creation of a new boulevard. I believe Rose's story was floating around in my head for quite a long time before I sat down to write it!
Can you describe the development of Rose's character? How did you decide on her to tell this particular story?
Rose is a brave and generous womanwith a wonderful sense of humor. I guess you could say I modeled her after my mother, Stella, who also looks like Rose, with her blue eyes and golden hair. Rose has a terrible secret, which I invented and which is revealed at the end of the book. I found myself getting very attached to Rose, and when I finished the book, I truly missed her.
Strong attachment to a place is such an important element in The House I Loved. Is there a house you love or loved the way that Rose does in the novel? Or a specific place in Paris?
Yes, there are a number of family houses that I love, in France and in England. Some of those houses are no longer in my family and it was very sad to leave them. Leaving houses can sometimes be like leaving people. I have always been interested as a writer in the history of houses and our memories of them. If walls could talk...I guess they do, in this book!
Sarah's Key, A Secret Kept, and The House I Loved are each very different, but with some important shared themes. How would you compare the experience of writing and/or researching The House I Loved to that of your previous novels?
All of my novels deal with how the past swings back to affect the present. These three books each reveal a family secret, and how my characters will learn to live with them. I researched Sarah's Key and The House I Loved for historic reasons, and learned many facts about my city while I was doing so.
Do you have a certain approach to sitting down and writing (for example, a specific time of day or place that you go to write)?
I write in a tiny office on the top floor of my building, which I call "Manderley," as I'm a Daphne du Maurier and Rebecca fan. There is no Internet or phone there, and a marvelous view over the rooftops of Paris. I write there several hours a day.
One thing that's so unique about The House I Loved is that it's largely told in the form of letters that the main character never expects (or wants) others to read. We are privy to Rose's most intimate thoughts. Did you find it harder or easier writing from this perspective? Getting to know a character this way?
I chose the epistolary form because I wanted to pay homage to the lost art of writing letters. Nowadays, we send each other text messages and e-mails and we don't even know each other's handwriting! This was also another way for me to be able to express Rose's inner secrets. I actually wrote this book by hand, and not on my computer, which is very rare for me! I felt that writing it by hand brought me closer to Rose and the nineteenth century. It was a wonderful experience.
What sorts of responses have you received from your House I Loved readers, particularly Parisians?
Parisians wrote to tell me they learned many things they had not known about the Haussmannian era. They tell me they can no longer walk through the city without noticing things they had never noticed before and that when they go to Saint-Germain-des-Près, they think of Rose. Those e-mails and letters were a true compliment for me. Other readers from other towns and different countries were impressed at the enormity of Haussmann's "embellishments" and the trauma that Parisians endured for all those years, even if Paris is a gorgeous city.
The Redevelopment of Paris: A Historical Timeline
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte elected president of the Republic of France.
March 26, 1852
Decree passed to regulate the leveling of Paris's streets, alignment of buildings, and connections to sewers. Demolition begins on residential buildings throughout the city.
December 2, 1852
Napoléon III, under new title as emperor of France, embraces Industrial Revolution. Era of Paris's modernization begins.
Georges-Eugène Haussmann named Prefect of the Seine.
Plans for the city's new boulevardsavenues lined with trees on one or both sidesin place.
The Gare de Lyon, one of the city's six large mainline railway terminals, reconstructed for easier access to main roads.
Île de la Cité (home of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame), along with surrounding bridges, demolished and transformed.
Urban planning regulations continuebuilding height increase to 20 meters; roof-pitch, 45 degrees; use of quarry stone along new avenues.
January 1, 1860
Paris expansion includes communities outside main district. Arrondissements (districts) increase from twelve to twenty.
Opening of Boulevard Malesherbes.
Boulevard Haussmann denomination.
Gare du Nord reconstructed. Major work on the city's aqueducts and sewer systems underway.
New monuments and edifices erected throughout the city. Growth of several parks and public squares.
January 5, 1870
Facing criticism for Paris's radical urbanism and related debts, Napoléon III fires Haussmann.
Paris remains one of the world's most beloved citiesa testament to Haussmann's legacy.
These are the books that trigger Rose's belated love of reading:
The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola
Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe
Suggestions for further reading:
The Kill by Émile Zola
Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann and the Quest to Build a Modern City by Stephane Kirkland
Haussmann: His Life and Times, and the Making of Modern Paris by Michel Carmona
Walks Through Lost Paris: A Journey into the Heart of Historic Paris by Leonard Pitt
Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light by David Downie
1. One of the central elements of the novel is Rose's deep and abiding love for the house in which she spent her married life, which becomes apparent from her many memories tied to every room. What does the house represent for Rose, and how did it change her life? By the end of the novel, it seems as though Rose views her house as the most important thing in her life. Although others would see the house as a possession, do you think Rose views it that way? Have you ever had this experience of loving a place or a thing as deeply as if it were a living person?
2. Baron Haussmann was described by his opponents as the "Atilla of the straight line" and the "Ripper Baron," nicknames that Rose approved of. But Alexandrine, the flower girl, does not agree, and has another point of view, that of a necessary progress that Paris badly needed. How do Rose's and Alexandrine's opinions differ, and why? Whose do you feel closest to?
3. Rose loves her son, Baptiste, deeply, despite the fact that he was associated with an extremely difficult time of her lifeand more than she seems to love their natural daughter, Violette. Why do you think this is? Do you think it's true to life or even possible to love someone (or something) who comes out of intense hardship? Why or why not? Have you ever experienced or seen relationships like those which Rose has with each of her children?
4. Secrets are an important theme throughout The House I Loved. By the end of the novel, we learn that Rose has kept a devastating secret for her entire life from everyone she holds dear. How do you think it affects a person to keep such an important secret for so long? How did it affect Rose? Have you ever had a similar experience?
5. In a sense, Rose's letters to her husband throughout the novel are her way of finally revealing her secret. Do you see any purpose in her telling the secret at this point in her life, with her husband already gone? Does it change or help her? And if so, how?
6. Between the years of 1852 and 1870, Napoléon III and Baron Haussmann remodeled large sections of Paris in an attempt to bring the city into the "modern" era. Did you know anything about this major period in Paris's history before reading this novel? What surprised or interested you about how Tatiana de Rosnay re-created that era?
7. How do you feel that Rose's secret past (the episode she hides from her husband and entourage) relates to what Haussmann, the "Ripper Baron," is doing to Paris? How exactly does Rose, in the final pages, describe her personal ordeal and compare it to Haussmann's tearing down of her home?
8. Flowers play an important part in this novel. Discuss what Rose learns through the flower shop and Alexandrine's job as a florist. Pick out the rare roses and their names, and how Tatiana de Rosnay uses the symbol of roses and flowers throughout the book.
9. Alexandrine, the flower girl, and Gilbert, the ragpicker, are close to Rose, in different ways. Discuss the differences and similiarities of their relationships with Rose, of their secret pasts, of how they each try to help Rose.
10. The elegant Baronne de Vresse fascinates Rose with her fashionable crinolines and the balls she attends in Paris and Biarritz. Rose loves clothes and fashion, yet she strongly disapproves of the fashionable emperor and empress. Why do you think this is so? How does it speak to who Rose is as a character?
11. Rose discovers the joys of reading late in life. How and when does this happen? What is the first book she falls in love with? How did you fall under the spell of reading?
12. If you have read Sarah's Key and A Secret Kept, Tatiana de Rosnay's previous novels, can you pick up any themes that are common to all three books?