As the dust jacket rightly states, A Passion for Paris is a "unique combination of memoir, history, and travelogue" and yet it is so much more. Thankfully Mr. Downie doesn't unnecessarily confine his book to simplistic explanations of "what is Paris romanticisim" or "why people project romance on to Paris". Instead, Mr. Downie weaves together aspects of Paris' history, architecture, literature, and, most importantly, its great personalities into a narrative that wanders through time, place, and people. Like so much of Paris, this book is a palimpsest full of history and stories that have been forgotten by many but are in fact what imbues Paris with its romance and je ne sais quoi. In the best way this book is like an intellectual itch - every aspect of Paris that it scratches only makes you want to delve deeper until you are lost into that quintessential vie en rose that is Paris, France.
David Downie offers a book of scholarship and reflection in 'A Passion For Paris.' He has a personal interest in studying the Romantic Movement in France and specifically in Paris. So...he walks the streets and cemeteries and makes detailed notes about where Romantic artists and writers lived and are buried; where courtesans held literary salons; he delves into writings by authors and critics to illuminate the movement; he looks at society and social unrest and changing governments during the unfolding of this long-lived movement. All along the way, he makes it clear what this time means to him during his years of living in the city and so...it means much more to us than it otherwise would have.
David Downie has written a remarkable and unexpected tale of the 19th century Romantics of Paris. Deeply grounded in French literature, art and history, he shows readers the physical Paris that was inhabited by Victor Hugo, Balzac, George Sand, Baudelaire, Delacroix and others. Not only where they met, but what their neighborhoods were like, how far apart from one another they lived, and which streets they took to their assignations. Reading, it's possible to follow in their wake imaginatively or even to make your own Romantic map for the next time you are there.
Do this and you will time travel to a different Ile Saint Louis from the high-toned one you know. 150 years ago, Bohemia existed there, and can still be traced. Was the Marais always chic? No -- it was both Royal and Bohemian, and ruled by Victor Hugo, more famous than any writer would ever be again. The Montmartre of the Romantics was hilly, grassy, with pasturing goat herds and the freshest of fresh air. The windmills were utterly for real, and the artists' studios were vast, light and cheap.
If you have ever wondered how the great Romantics bodily inhabited Paris, how long it took them to walk from one haunt to another, and how much of what they did and saw is available to you today, then read this book. Seeing their art and poetry in a new context that no one but David Downie could provide, you will want a date to meet a like-minded friend under the bust of Chopin in the Luxembourg Gardens, and set off make their trail your own. If you could use an architectural disquisition on why Haussmann's Paris feels and looks all wrong, then there's one here that you can "dine out on for a year."
The bountiful illustrations from diverse sources are a delight -- as real and nostalgic as theater ticket stubs. Alison Harris makes a superb photographic contribution to this book. Almost best of all, reading the final pages, you will realize the answer to a question you may never even have posed -- how Romantic are you?
I have read many books by David Downie starting with the fabulous Paris, Paris. I loved this new one. Mr. Downie does an amazing job of combining his knowledge of history, literature, architecture and Paris and takes the reader on a tour of the city with some of its best known authors. As we slip into the lives of Victor Hugo, George Sand, Balzac and others the reader comes to see the Paris they knew and visit what is left of it in modern Paris. It is difficult to describe what a wild ride it is. The book was so entertaining, and insightful, so filled with startling information that I wanted to start rereading it almost immediately.
I thought I knew everything there was to know in my old Parisian Quartier! But, I learned so much not only about my neighborhood but the brilliant visionaries (along with some great juicy tid bits as well) who came before me!! Thanks to David Downie on my next trip up to Paris I have a list of things I want to see ! I even bought the kindle edition for my iPad too, So I'll have it with me as I search for those hidden treasures. If you love Literature and love Paris you won't be able to put this book down!! I've dragged it out forever not wanting to finish it!!
I spent a delightful afternoon visiting the Victor Hugo museum in Place Des Vosges which I have never visited before despite having spent many months living in Paris. All because of David Downie's amazing and wonderful book. Also, the Luxembourg Gardens became much more enjoyable once I learned, from David's book, all about the statutes. It is like having your very own tour guide take you to the most historic places in Paris. His book gives you an intimate portrait of all the places, persons and things Paris. Thank you David Downie for making the most beautiful city in the world even more wonderful.
It is easy in the throes of passion to lose all sense of equilibrium and plunge head first into a saccharine rhapsody. However David Downie has managed to write a love song to Paris with intimate precision, wit, intelligence and not a trace of sentimentality. He delves into the layers of the collective romantic Parisian psyche with investigative charm, portraying characters (both real and literary), relationships of every possible permutation, and the architectural details of their lives. His ability to weave history, culture, politics, art, and urban landscape, illuminate why Paris is the empress of romanticism. David Downie is a ”fabulous fabulist.”