January 17, 2014

Victorine’s Street

I don’t know if I would have been able to write the story of Victorine Meurent without the work of another artist—and I don’t just mean Manet, the man who painted her over and over.

I mean that without the photos of Charles Marville, or Charles François Bossu, I would have had much more difficulty imagining Victorine Meurent’s world.

Marville documented the streets of Paris before they were Haussmannized. He took photos of streets that would disappear in Haussmann’s modernization of Paris, and sometimes photographed streets as workers demolished them.

What Marville did for me was show me the Paris that Victorine saw. Because of his photos, I was able to see the exact street where Victorine lived, and see it as she saw it in 1862.

Victorine moved around Paris, but for a time she lived at 17 rue Maître Albert. Manet recorded that address for Victorine in one of his notebooks, so that’s where I placed Victorine at the start of my novel, Paris Red. The Marville photo at the top of this post shows rue Maître Albert from Place Maubert, and this next image shows the street from the other end, from quai de la Tournelle:

Maître-Albert, Marville

Rue Maître Albert is an interesting street because it has a bend in it. A dogleg. Victorine lived right at the spot where the street angled.

Marville didn’t just allow me to know Victorine’s street, though—his photos revealed her whole quartier to me. Just around the corner from rue Maître Albert was tiny rue Jacinthe, or Hyacinth Street, a street that got destroyed by Haussmann.  A street so narrow it looks more like an alleyway:


I so fell in love with rue Jacinthe that I wrote it into a scene: Manet waits for Victorine in a doorway in rue Jacinthe.  I can’t say everything that happens on rue Jacinthe, but there’s a little bit of kissing, a little bit of touching.  The street matters.

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About Maureen Gibbon

Writer. Author of the novels Swimming Sweet Arrow, Thief, Paris Red.

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