This Folio Life: Chateaubriand

My priority as director of Folio’s wonderful editorial team is to channel our love for the books we publish – to send a secret message from reader to reader by creating the most sympathetic and definitive editions of precious books. So when James, our non-fiction editor, came back from his holidays last week I was hardly surprised to hear that he’d been sniffing around a book he’s been working on recently, but I love his story. In his own words:

On a school trip to France, in 1993, a chum and I attempted to cross over to a tidal island in the bay of Saint Malo. We got about halfway along the causeway before the cries of some Frenchmen on the shore made us notice the tide lapping about our shoes and we hastily retreated. However, recently, while working on a Folio edition of Chateaubriand’s Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb I discovered that the great French Romantic was himself buried on a tidal island in the bay of Saint Malo, that we were including an oil painting of his burial in our own picture selection, and, from the description and painting, I recognized at once the island of my youth.

Months later, on an overcast March afternoon, I found myself and my wife standing on the same beach I had trod some twenty-odd years before, waiting for the tide to retreat in order to again attempt a crossing to the island. We had to wait for a few hours (an easy thing to accomplish when the restaurants of Saint Malo that sit upon the medieval walls overlooking the shore are so welcoming) and eventually walked out onto the elusive island. We found there the unmarked tomb, exactly like the one in my nineteenth-century painting, on a promontory looking out over the English Channel to America where the author was inspired to write his great works of Romanticism.

The only indication of who lies in the tomb is a simple plaque bearing these words: Un grand écrivain Français a voulu reposer ici, pour n’entendre que la mer et le vent. Passant, respecte sa dernière volonté. (A great French writer wanted to rest here, to hear only the sea and wind. Passerby, respect his last wish.)

Burial of the Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768–1848) at Grand-Be, 19th July 1848. Oil on canvas, Valentin Louis Doutreleau (Musee d'Histoire de la Ville, Saint-Malo, France/Bridgeman Images)

Burial of the Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768–1848) at Grand-Be, 19th July 1848. Oil on canvas, Valentin Louis Doutreleau (Musee d’Histoire de la Ville, Saint-Malo, France/Bridgeman Images)

Tomb of Chateaubriand

Tomb of Chateaubriand, Saint Malo (Image by James Rose)

Tom Walker
Editorial Director, 20 April 2016

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