(44) Chapter 4 cont.

Trouble in Paris.

Ruines de la Commune. Décor des Tuileries. Paris (Ier arr.). Photographie anonyme. Tirage sur papier albuminé. 1870-1871. Paris, musée Carnavalet.

As noted a couple of installments ago, The Last Man offers many instances of Mary Shelley’s “thing” for palaces. Up until now, it’s been possible to keep her settings intact; Lionel could still live with Idris at Windsor Castle, or sojourn with Perdita and Raymond on the Bosphorus in a famous sultan’s retreat; these structures are still standing in 2023, and 70 years from now, when the novel is set, they likely won’t have gone anywhere.

Finally moving the action to Paris, Mary Shelley follows her established pattern. The first group of English immigrants occupies the Tuilleries Palace, French royalty’s former home in the capital. The trouble starts when the next group to arrive joins them there, but discovers the first group has appropriated the best rooms and prime comforts all to itself. The same thing happens in the present installment—except it can’t happen in the Tuilleries Palace, which was set on fire by arsonists at the end of the Paris Commune in 1871 and subsequently demolished. So the Louvre next door stands in, and the museum’s treasures become the focus of the conflict. The fanatics’ phony leader, “a ponderous, dark-looking man” in the original, now hails from the Southern Cone and headquarters at the Hôtel Ritz (aka Ritz-Paris; here I project a future restoration of the old and in my opinion better name). The bonfire is new and helps to stand in for the Commune.


Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of preservationists across more than two centuries, I can honor Mary Shelley’s final booking of the chapter, at the Grand Trianon at Versailles, photographed here in 1905 by the great Eugene Atget:

Victoria & Albert Museum, London

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