Immobilised indoors with a broken leg in the summer of 2016 gave me time to indulge in Literary E-Tourism. I started reading Patrick Modiano’s novel from April 1997, Dora Bruder and immediately his opening lines provide sufficient detail to see if he is using real facts and real places. He opens with a brief newspaper item from 31st December 1941; it was the period when Marshal Pétain was Chief of State in France. The first literary tourism question then is, can a copy of that evening newspaper, Paris-soir be found? I know that Gallica, which allows free on-line access to scanned documents from the French National Library, the BnF, will probably hold the edition mentioned in the novel. Actually, it was with genuine surprise and something of that same thrill of discovery you feel when you arrive at the exact spot mentioned in a novel that I found this:
There is the missing persons message for Dora Bruder on page 3 as Modiano’s novel says! Take a look at the front page to check the date and there is a message from Pétain. The stories draw you in to a snapshot of time at the end of 1941.
Now for that exact spot! I use the term much-loved by literary pilgrims, attributed to the poet Tennyson (1809-92). When on a visit to the Cobb in Lyme Regis, he exclaimed ‘Don’t talk to me of the Duke of Monmouth. Show me the exact spot where Louisa Musgrove fell!’ For Tennyson his investment in the cultural capital of Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion gave imaginative value to the location. If Bourdieu had ever heard this story recounted, he would have thought it a perfect example of gratuitous place value! By voicing his intellectual pleasure out loud to his friends Tennyson had created a toureme. I did try to find the source of Tennyson’s famous words, supposed to be in an article by John Vaughan in Monthly Packet magazine of 1893 but without success. Please add a comment in Twitter if you know where a copy or scan of this periodical is held.
Back to the Paris of Modiano’s imagination, now though, and my Literary e-Pilgrimage continues with the help of Google Maps. Very quickly 41 boulevard Ornano comes into view, and thanks to Google’s images, the front entrance to the apartment block is easy to find. A glimpse of sunshine in the leaves of the trees and the characteristic blue house numbers showing 41. Down at street-level orange fruit beneath the awnings of a market stall.
All-in-all, a satisfying morning’s Literary e-Tourism.