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4 Writers, 4 Movements: A Literary Tour of Paris


Paris – the city of love and the city of literature. Well-known writers around the world have been attracted to this beautiful city for hundreds of years. For authors like Victor Hugo, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett and William S. Burroughs, Paris has been both inspiration and home (at least for a time). The following four writers represent four different literary movements, but all found a place in Paris. Here are some must-see sights for bibliophiles.

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo (1802-1885), a humanitarian who used literature to call attention to the injustices of society, is most well-known today for the novels Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Though he traveled extensively, he always returned to Paris, writing many of his greatest works there. He passed away at the age of 83, nationally mourned as a literary giant and as a man who had helped to shape democracy in France.

Maison de Victor Hugo: Hugo lived in this house for 16 years with his wife Adèle and their four children. Here, he wrote two collections of poetry, plays such as Ruy Blas and Les Burgraves as well as a portion of Les Misérables. The house, in the Place des Vosges, contains hundreds of his drawings and artifacts collected during his travels.
6 Place des Vosges
tel. 0142-721016
Tuesday – Sunday from 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Notre Dame Cathedral: The famous cathedral is a must-see no matter what your literary bent. In Hugo’s book, titled Notre Dame de Paris in French, the cathedral is a main character, serving as both a setting and the epicenter of the story’s themes. The book is filled with descriptions of the building, one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture.
6 Parvis Notre-Dame
8:00 AM – 6:45 PM

Jardin du Luxembourg: In Les Misérables, Marius follows Jean Valjean and Cosette on their daily trips to the Jardin du Luxembourg. This park, one of Paris’ best loved, is also where he speaks with Cosette for the first time. No wonder, as the park is suited for romance. It was built in the early 1600s by Marie de Medici and modeled after Florentine parks. In later years, Baudelaire, Sartre, Balzac and Hemingway were also frequent visitors.
Rue de Médicis & Rue de Vaugirard
tel. 0142-643399
Opens between 7:15 and 8:15 AM, closes between 2:45 and 9:30 PM, depending on the season

Ernest Hemingway

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast,” said Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), who returned to Paris again and again after his first time in the city at the end of 1921. After he met Gertrude Stein, who introduced him to the Parisian Modern Movement, Hemingway became a fixture of the Parisian literary circles, frequenting cafés, bars and jazz clubs.

Rue de Cardinal Lemoine: When Hemingway first moved to Paris, he lived with his wife Hadley in a small walkup at number 74. His neighbors in the Latin Quarter were none other than James Joyce and George Orwell. Today, the area is a chic student quarter filled with cafés. Be sure to visit the legendary Shakespeare & Co. for your literary fix.
Shakespeare & Co., 37 Rue de la Bûcherie
tel. 0143-254093

Montparnasse Quarter: Four jazz-age cafes, once frequented by Hemingway and other compatriots of the “Lost Generation” (a term coined by Stein), sit at a crossroads in Montparnasse. Le Dôme, La Coupole, Le Rotonde and Le Select, still decorated in the art deco style with Tiffany lamps, paintings by Brancusi and Chagall, tassel lamps and red banquets, provided much of the inspiration for Hemingway’s early work. The characters in The Sun Also Rises even meet at Le Select to talk about Brett, the book’s femme fatale.
Le Dôme, 109 Boulevard du Montparnasse, tel. 3314-3352581
La Coupole, 102 Boulevard du Montparnasse, tel. 3314-3201420
Le Rotonde, 105 Boulevard du Montparnasse, tel. 3314-3264826
Le Select, 99 Boulevard du Montparnasse, tel. 3314-5483824

Samuel Beckett

Though Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) was born in Ireland, he did most of his writing in French and moved to Paris permanently in 1937. Writing in French, as a native English speaker, he found the style-free manner of speech that made him famous. He is considered the last great modernist and is most well-known for his play Waiting for Godot.

Boulevard Raspail: On January 5, 1953, Waiting for Godot premiered at the Théâtre de Babylone. The play in which “nothing happens” was an instant success and ran for 400 performances. Unfortunately, while the theater has now closed, you can still walk to number 38 and imagine the crowds lined up outside.

The Left Bank: Beckett was a feature of the famous cafés on the Left Bank, where he chatted with friend James Joyce or played chess with artists Marcel Duchamp and Alberto Giacometti. Not just Beckett, but many of the greatest writers and artists of the 20th century roamed this quarter between the end of WWI and the 1960’s.

Montparnasse Cemetery: Beckett is buried here in the heart of the city among other famous intellectual and artistic elite, such as Guy de Maupassant, Jean-Paul Sartre and Susan Sontag.
3 Boulevard Edgar Quinet
tel. 3314-4108650

William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) was a giant in the beat generation, most popular perhaps, for his novel Naked Lunch. A novelist, painter and spoken word performer, he influenced a range of popular culture and literature, including the new literary style, the “cut-up technique.”

The Beat Hotel: This small, rundown hotel in the Latin Quarter was a hotspot for members of the Beat movement, including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Peter Orlovsky. Here, in the late 1950s and early 60s, Burroughs finished the book Naked Lunch and began his lifelong collaboration with Brion Gysin.
Hôtel de Vieux Paris, 9 Gît-le-Coeur
tel. 3314-4321590