On Monday past, four members of my book club, The Mountainview Literary Circle, along with with four friends, went on a Field trip to La Grange in Rozay-en-Brie. The Chateau at La Grange was the last home of Lafayette and his wife, Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles . La Grange lies in the Provins region of France which is still part of Ile de France. Lafayette lived there for 30 years after the peace of Amiens. His wife, however, who had became very sick when she refused to leave him while he was imprisoned in Austria during the French Revolution and the Terror, lived there only eight years.
A year ago November, I attended the American Library Book Award ceremony held to give a monetary prize to the best book of 2015. The subject matter has to be about France or French-American relations. The winner in 2015 was a book by Laura Auricchio entitled Le Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered. It sounded so interesting that I recommended it to my book club. At the end of the book, the author urged us all to visit La Grange explaining that it is probably the best museum of all things Lafayette as well as his wife, Madame Adrienne de Noailles La Fayette , a very interesting person in her own right. So I made all the plans and got a date and then learned that the Chateau at La Grange is a private museum and one has to have special permission to visit.
The Chateau today belongs to the Foundation Josée-and-Rene-de-Chambrun which is responsible for the management of the inheritance and property of the family La Fayette. Interestingly enough the Chambrun family was instrumental in keeping the American Library open during WWII. As a result of Mme Chambrun’s son’s marriage to the daughter of the Vichy prime minister, Pierre Laval, the library was ensured a friend in high places, and a near-exclusive right to keep its doors open and its collections largely uncensored throughout the war. A French diplomat later said the library had been to occupied Paris “an open window on the free world.”(Wikipedia)
One of our book club members is a “son of the American Revolution” At a press meeting at the American Library, he met another SAR and together they requested permission for a visit. It was very iffy until the last minute. The Chateau will be closed for the next eighteen months while it undergoes renovation and it wasn’t clear if the renovation had actually started. Three weeks ago, we were given the date of Monday, Dec. 12th for our visit.
Rozay-en-Brie is approximately 1 hour southeast of Paris. Easy to get to. We had lunch at one of those funky looking restos where you hold your breath hoping there is good food and leave thinking “imagine that, really good food in this place.We must be in France!” We met our guide promptly at 2pm. I was slightly handicapped as I was the only one who doesn’t speak fluent French. Visually the place is an homage to La Fayette and the American Revolution. A copy of the Declaration of Independence hangs on the wall along with letters, gifts and reproductions of battles.
No one actually lives in the Chateau. There was no heat. I had a very definite feeling of what it would be like inhabiting one of these gorgeous old places before modern day comforts were invented. We went from room to room enjoying the memorabilia. There is a James Fenimore Cooper bedroom. Cooper met General Lafayette when the latter visited the US in 1824, a reunion trip that took Lafayette to many states and many cities named after him. Cooper later moved his family to Paris hoping for a better audience for his books and became good friends with Lafayette.
It’s easy to imagine Lafayette’s love affair with all things American as there was a long canoe like vessel in the barns next to the Chateau. I wasn’t clear who had sent it to him but it looks very similar to the boat depicted in the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. While living at the Chateau in La Grange, Lafayette participated in politics but gradually grew very disillusioned.
On 20 May 1834, Lafayette died on 6 rue d’Anjou-Saint-Honoré in Paris (now 8 rue d’Anjou in the 8th arrondissement of Paris) at the age of 76. He was buried next to his wife at the Picpus Cemetery under soil from Bunker Hill, which his son Georges Washington sprinkled upon him.
To be able to visit this chateau was a treat and a privilege. One most people won’t be able to have. After we had visited all the rooms that were open, our guide invited us to tea. She took us into a beautiful, oak-lined small dining room set out with a full English tea. We were thanking her profusely and she said “no, it is I who should thank you. It is a pleasure to show this place and these rooms to people who understand the context and the history” Once again, I was reminded that our hero who had at least one city named after him in every state of the Union, who is synonymous with the American Revolution is not seen with the same eyes here in France. He was an aristocrat at the time when aristocrats were suspect and the French were never quite sure what his motives for doing anything were.