April 26, 2014 – On the home-stretch to our cozy French cottage rental, I saw through my jet-lagged eyes the charming village of Saché. Jim and I were only sixteen miles from food and a bed with a real pillow, not an airplane sachet-sized-substitute sans the lavender scenting. I remembered the glimpse of Chateau Saché during our six weeks of exploration through villages and towns in the area around Brehemont, France and looked for more information on the pretty town.
My interest in Saché grew when I learned that the chateau housed a museum for Honoré de Balzac, one of the great writers of the first half of the 19th century. Balzac’s writings were not required reading in any of my studies in Alabama. However, my reading does extend beyond Better Homes and Gardens magazine on occasion. Hoping to increase our curve of knowledge in an upward direction, we drove to Saché after our morning coffee and croissants on a beautiful day in April. I hope you are wide-awake since more history is coming around the corner.
“The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin.” – Honoré de Balzac Now, wouldn’t a quotation like this make you want to see what this fellow is all about?
Balzac, born in 1799, lived mainly in Paris, where he died in 1850. His vast body of work comprises some hundred novels written in less than twenty years. “From 1825 to 1848, he paid regular visits to Jean Margonne, a friend of his parents at the Chateau Saché. There, far removed from the bustle of Parisian life and his financial worries, the writer found the silence and austerity that enabled him to work between twelve and sixteen hours a day.”
Jim quickly paid the admission before I had second thoughts. I wasn’t sure the museum would be worth the price of the tickets, but I was wrong. It was worth visiting to see the printing room alone. Balzac managed a company with thirty-six employees from 1826 to 1828, overseeing the printing of some two hundred and fifty works on the seven Stanhope typographical presses in his workshop. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was still only possible to print a few dozen pages per hour and several months were needed to print a book.
Balzac wrote the first forty pages of Lost Illusions at Saché in 1836. The novel tells the life-story of David Sechard, a printer in the 1820’s. “At the time when the story opens, the Stanhope press was not in general use in small printing establishments. Leather ink-balls were still used in old-fashioned printing houses; the pressman dabbed the ink by hand on the characters, and the movable table on which the form of type was placed in readiness for the sheet of paper, being made of marble, literally deserved its name of impression-stone.”
We were fascinated by this printing history, and we could easily imagine what an idyllic life a writer could have lived in the grand chateau. Balzac affectionately dubbed Saché a “debris de chateau” in contrast with the majestic Loire chateaus nearby.
After the tour, I decided I would read one of his novels, Eugenie Grandet – purchased on Amazon. The novel is set in Saumur, France, which we visited several times. Jim enjoyed Saumur, spending the night in a castle hotel with his sister several years ago. Yes, I know, he did all kind of stuff leaving me at home, working my fingers off! I guess I’ll forgive him since he cooks a mean barbecue and carefully packs all of my breakable antiques from French markets and junk stores – unlike the orangutan husband Balzac describes.
Back to the novel, it’s all about a greedy man who makes his family live in poverty while he is counting his gold bricks. A handsome young man comes to rescue his young daughter, more or less. Young man leaves with the only gold the innocent young woman has. Greedy father refuses to forgive the sweet, generous girl for giving the money to the penniless young man. Will he return? What happens when the father dies? If you are interested in a book written in 1883, give it a whirl.
Each evening, currently on my side of the bed, I’m reading Paris My Sweet, by Amy Thomas. I may eat the pillow on our bed if I read any more of her luscious descriptions of food in France. I’m on page 156, and so far, Amy’s book is a winner. On Jim’s side of the bed is a picture of grandson Daniel with his fingers stuck into his ears. Last night, Jim said, “Did you put this picture here as a hint that I’m snoring too loudly?”
“A good husband is never the first to go to sleep at night or the last to awake in the morning.” – Honoré de Balzac Balzac apparently never had an opportunity to meet Jim!
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