Père-Lachaise (2)

Père-Lachaise - writers

Last week, one can say, it was a miscellaneous company. This week we are more specific. It's about famous writers that are buried at this world famous cemetery. More to come! 

Jean de La Fontaine (Château-Thierry 8 July 1621 – Paris 13 April 1695) was the most famous French fabulist and one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century. Born and raised on a gorgeous estate, his father arranged a marriage to the wealthy 14-year old Marie Héricard; Jean was 21 at the time. They lived separate lives, Jean most of his time being in Paris and being unfaithful to the marriage, while Marie stayed at home. She bore him a son, but most of their friends assumed that Jean wasn’t the father. He wrote popular prose and poetry and is known above all for his Fables, which provided a model for subsequent fabulists across Europe and numerous alternative versions in France. In Paris he was living part time with the very wealthy Madama De la Sabliere for over 20 years. By the time he was 60 he was the first man in letters in France. Towards the end of his life, his writings were actually considered ‘divine’. A set of postage stamps celebrating La Fontaine and the Fables was issued by France in 1995. For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_de_La_Fontaine.

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière (Paris 15 January 1622 – Paris 17 February 1673) was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature – a writer on par with Shakespeare in mastery, but unrivaled as a comedic playwright. Molière’s plays were often hilarious, but he did not draw a line at comedy. Some of his works were scathing dramas that draw admiration and crowds to this day. He was from a wealthy family that provided the royal upholstery for King Louis XIV. He was a brilliant scholar and awarded a law degree. Then he met the young woman by the name of Madeleine Béjart. She was from a theatrical family and Molière fell madly in love with her. They never married but he kept her as his mistress for many years. Eventually he performed for the King, who was so captivated by Molière’s talent that he became his benefactor. His troupe became official entertainers with the title ‘Troupe du Roi’. With his fame came a wider audience who did not always appreciate his wit or messages. Politicians found themselves humiliated during performances and nobles were poked fun at in plays. Beyond all of his incredibly enduring plays was his talent as an actor. On occasions the entire troupe sought to find an actor who could portray the leading role, only to find that no one had the nuanced presence of Molière himself, even when the acting commitment was becoming physically too much for him. In 1662 he married the lovely 19-year old actress Armande Béjart. Society was outraged that he had married his own biological daughter by his estranged mistress Madeleine Béjart. His close associates however claimed that Armande was Madeline’s very very young ‘sister’. Their relationship was, as with her mother, an on/off affair. They had a child, Esprit-Madeleine, born in 1665. Molière had known for a long time that he suffered from tuberculosis and his demanding life finally became too much for him. For his last performance, no one was able to carry the title role of Argan, the hypochondriac of Le Malade Imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid). Despite his weakened condition he thought he could handle the performance. But part way through he began to fall, holding on to set pieces as he acted out the part. The audience was quite amused. He slipped to the floor in a coughing fit that resulted in a large amount of blood being discharged. The audience howled with laughter and applauded loudly. They were, however, watching a fatal hemorrhage in front of their eyes. He made it to the curtain call and then collapsed, dead. It was the ultimate irony, dying on stage while playing a hypochondriac. Among Molière's best-known works are Le Misanthrope (The Misanthrope), L'École des Femmes (The School for Wives), Tartuffe ou L'Imposteur (Tartuffe or the Imposter), L'Avare (The Miser), Le Malade Imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid), and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman). For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moliere.

Although nowadays most famous for his writings, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (born Pierre-Augustin Caron), (Paris 24 January 1732 – Paris 18 May 1799) lead a really adventurous life and was a watchmaker, inventor, music teacher, businessman, diplomat, fugitive, spy, publisher, arms dealer, revolutionary and, yes, a writer too. Read a biography about him! Or, for a start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Beaumarchais. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart based his celebrated opera ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ (1786) upon Beaumarchais’ playwright ‘La Folle Journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro’ (1784). (Try this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8z_i3NAxbM – ‘Sull’aria’ from the opera/the movie The Shawshank Redemption.) The Gioacchino Rossini opera ‘Il Barbiere dei Siviglia’ (1815) was based upon Beaumarchais’ (earlier) playwright ‘Le Barbier de Séville, ou la Précaution inutile’ (1775). (Try this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyhuIC1sxJY – ‘Largo al Factotum’ from the Amsterdam Opera.)

Honoré de Balzac (born Honoré Balzac) (Tours 20 May 1799 – Paris 18 August 1850) was a French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of short stories and novels collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the 1815 fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balzac.

Oscar Wilde (full name Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde) (Dublin 16 October 1854 - Paris 30 November 1900) was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. His trenchant wit was legendary – he amused his friends and insulted his enemies with equal pleasure. Although married with two children, he was also gay in the height of the Victorian era, when ‘gay’ was not supposed to be related to homosexuality, and this eventually led to his ruin. His lover, Lord Alfred Douglas was the key to his eventual downfall. Douglas’s father, 9th Marquess of Queensberry accused Oscar of sodomy and Oscar’s self-defense was a disaster. A jury found him guilty of perversion and gross indecency and he was sentenced to two years of hard labour. His health quickly suffered from the horrid conditions. He was quoted as saying “If the Queen can’t treat her prisoners any better than this, she doesn’t deserve to have any”. His condition caused him to collapse and as his head hit the flagstones, his eardrum perforated. He was released from prison ruined. With the support of his friends he made way to Paris, where he lived at 13 Rue Des Beaux-Arts. There his ear became infected and he developed a painful brain infection. He lost consciousness in early November 1900 and passed away on the 30th of that month. Today he is still remembered for his epigrams and plays, and the circumstances of his imprisonment which was followed by his early death. The American sculptor Jacob Epstein took three years in creating the sculpture that covers his grave. The prominent erect penis of the flying angel was too much for some people’s sensibilities, and they took censorship upon themselves. French police had it draped with a tarp, condemning it as indecent. It was later mutilated and said to have been recovered, and to be currently serving as a paperweight in the cemetery director’s office. For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Wilde.

Marcel Proust (full name Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust (Auteuil 10 July 1871 - Paris 18 November 1922) was a French novelist, critic, and essayist best known for his monumental À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time; earlier translated as Remembrance of Things Past). It was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927. He was born to a wealthy bourgeois family. The money that was available to him was, however, not enough to gain acceptance to the upper crust of society that he wanted to be a part of. Eventually his gift of witty conversation allowed him entrance to exclusive society gatherings. He quickly revealed himself to be hyper-sensitive, intense, over-eager and such a gifted mimic that he gained a reputation for imitating people in an extremely accurate and cruel fashion. This did not ease his acceptance into haute society and he was branded as a social climber and a snob. Aside from the fact that he should not have used his wit and mimicry at the expense of the people he longed to be accepted by, there was clearly a major brain at work inside his head. As a writer he was a class by himself. Proust was gay and treated his homosexuality openly in his writing. From age nine he suffered from extremely acute asthma and almost suffocated to death on several occasions. He died of pneumonia and a pulmonary abscess. Proust is considered the greatest French writer of the 20th century. For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcel_Proust.

Colette (full name Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) (Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye 28 January 1873 - Paris 3 August 1954). She was a French novelist and performer, best known for her novel Gigi, upon which Lerner and Loewe based the stage and film musical comedies of the same title. She was the most daring, audacious, (bi)sexual and modern girl of ‘La Belle Époque’ (‘The Beautiful Era’) that began in the late 1800’s and ended with WW I. As a young girl, Colette married in 1893 her first husband who was 15 years her senior. From her steamy love letters he spotted her talent for writing. After marriage he locked her up in a room, forcing her to write. She wrote books which shocked proper society, making them wildly popular. Her husband published these books under his name, but everyone who met him immediately knew it wasn’t his writing. Collette became an instant smash hit, which lasted to the end of her life. She left her unfaithful husband in 1906 and lived for some period of time with the American writer and salonist Natalie Clifford Barney. Colette had a variety of lovers including a five-year romance with the Marquise de Belbeuf with whom she performed at ‘La Moulin Rouge’. Their sexually charged and blatantly hungry onstage kiss cased such hysteria that the Paris police were summoned to avert a riot. In 1912, Colette married Henri de Jouvenel, the editor of the newspaper Le Matin. The couple had one daughter, Colette de Jouvenel, known to the family as Bel-Gazou. Colette de Jouvenel later stated that her mother did not want a child and left her in the care of an English nanny, only rarely visiting her. In 1914, during World War I, Colette was approached to write a ballet for the Paris Opera, which she outlined under the title "Divertissements pour ma fille". After Colette herself chose Maurice Ravel to write the music, he reimagined the work as an opera, to which Colette agreed. Ravel received the libretto to L'enfant et les sortilèges in 1918, and it was first performed on 21 March 1925. During the war, she converted her husband's Saint-Malo estate into a hospital for the wounded, and was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (1920). She divorced Henri de Jouvenel in 1924 after a much talked-about affair with her stepson, Bertrand de Jouvenel. In 1935, Colette married Maurice Goudeket and as from that year her legal name was simply Sidonie Goudeket. Throughout her career she published over 50 novels, including ‘Cheri’ and ‘Gigi’ which became massive Broadway and Hollywood classics. Colette was given a state funeral and her daughter, who died in 1981, is buried with her mother. For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colette.

Gertrude Stein (Allegheny, Pennsylvania 3 February 1874 - Neuilly-sur-Seine 27 July 1946) was a noted American art collector of seminal modernist paintings and an experimental writer of novels, poetry and plays, which eschewed the narrative, linear, and temporal conventions of 19th century literature. She was born in Pennsylvania, raised in Oakland, California, and moved to Paris in 1903, making France her home for the remainder of her life. She came to Paris during the height of the artistic heyday of Montparnasse known as ‘Les Années Folles’ – ‘The Crazy Years’. Her talent to not only appreciate, but to discover artistic geniuses who were suffering in abject poverty is unequaled to this day. She amassed a mind-boggling array of fabulous paintings by her dear friends, Picasso, Matisse, Derain, Braque – to name but a few who came into prominence through her salon. Picasso made a painting from her in 1906 – now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. When someone commented that Stein didn't look like her portrait, Picasso replied, "She will". In 1907 Gertrude Stein met the then 30-year old Alice B. Toklas (San Francisco 30 April 1877 – Paris 7 March 1967). They would become partners for life – ever after wherever Gertrude was, Alice was right there, too. Ernest Hemingway describes how Alice was Gertrude's ‘wife’ in that Stein rarely addressed his (Hemingway's) wife, and he treated Alice the same, leaving the two ‘wives’ to chat. During their final moments together, Alice recounted hustling alongside the gurney as her lover was being sped into the operating room for stomach surgery in an attempt to save her life. Gertrude reached out to Alice and asked her ‘What is the answer?’ But when Alice was too emotional to answer, Gertrude then held her arm and smiled. ‘In that case what is the question?’ Gertrude dies of stomach cancer and left everything to Alice. As the couple's relationship had no legal recognition and the paintings appreciated in value, Stein's relatives took action to claim them, eventually removing them from Toklas's home while she was away on vacation and placing them in a bank vault. Toklas then relied on contributions from friends as well as writing to make a living. Toklas died in poverty at the age of 89 and is buried next to Stein; her name is engraved on the back of Stein's headstone. For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gertrude_Stein.