Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chateau de Grignan

Add to Google Reader or HomepageAbout a half hour north of Vaison la Romaine is the village of Grignan. The most prominent aspect of the village is the restored castle that sits at the top of a rocky promontory.

Chateau de Grignan
Street in the village of Grignan
The gardens of the castle, below.
The history of the castle indicates that the first home was built in the 11th century then expanded in the 13th century and was the fortress around which the medieval village developed. The castle was rebuilt in 1479-1495 during the Renaissance and then destroyed during the French Revolution because it was one of the « monuments qui insultent l'égalité en rappelant ces temps de servitude, de féodalité et de superstition, dont le fardeau a trop longtemps pesé sur un peuple rendu à la liberté » “one of the monuments that insults equality by making one remember the times of servitude, feudalism and superstition for which the burden has rested too long on the people who have now acquired liberty.” In the early 20th century, the castle was purchased by a woman who worked with an architect and restored the chateau to its original beauty. The work continued from 1913 until 1931. Ultimately, the chateau was sold to the Department of Drome in 1979 and became an historic monument in 1987.

While the history of the building is noteworthy, there is an equally interesting about one of its inhabitants and her mother. It is the story of the letters from Madame de Sévigné to her daughter Françoise-Marguerite. Madame de Sévigné lived in Paris and her daughter married and moved to the castle to become the Countess of Grignan. Madame de Sévigné wrote over 1,000 letters most of which were to her daughter whom she missed very much. As a wealthy woman in Paris, she visited the court of Louis XIV and met the king as well as the high-society women of Paris. Her letters offered insights into the lives of Parisian aristocracy: what people were talking about, what people were seeing at the theatre, what books were popular, etc. Her descriptions were lively and heart-felt. She became widely known as a letter writer (une épistoliere) who offered wonderful descriptions of daily life among the aristocracy. Many of her letters were copied and distributed even before they were sent. She wrote not only to her daughter but to the wider audience of readers that she knew were waiting for her next letter. 

Madame de Sévigné is considered one of the icons of French literature. L'absence de la comtesse a fait d'une femme sans ambition littéraire un auteur par la volonté de combler son manque affectif et de consoler sa douleur... Parce qu'elles sont une recomposition de la réalité à travers le prisme de l'amour maternel, elles deviennent littérature. The absence of the countess turned a woman without literary ambition into an author by the will to fill her emotional void and to comfort her pain… Because they (her letters) are a restructuring of reality through the prism of the maternal love, they become literature; (Hélène Bernard, editor, Madame de Sévigné: Letters. Flammarion, Paris, 2003.)