Where? For an atmospheric and slightly spooky encounter with some of the world’s best-loved authors, you can’t do better than to pay a visit to Paris’s Père Lachais Cemetery, where literary greats have been buried since the beginning of the 19th century. What? Start your tour at Marcel Proust’s black marble tomb. The hermit-like author of À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu was buried here in 1922 after dying of pneumonia. Cross over to the southeast corner and you’ll find the last resting place of Oscar Wilde, the scandal-haunted 19th-century Irish writer who died impoverished at the age of 46. Other tombs not to miss include Les Misérables author Victor Hugo’s mausoleum and the monolithic tombstone of surrealist poet Guillaume Apollinaire.
Best way to do it: It’s easy to get lost in this 44-hectare cemetery, so join a guided tour with Oui Paris Tours .
Stay where? The Pavillon Des Lettres hotel has a Historic Offer including a double room and walking tour for around Dh2,500.
Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) Cimetiere d’Avon, Avon, France
What to know: Last year, the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society requested to have Mansfield’s remains returned to Wellington, New Zealand, where she was born, but after a petition by Mansfield’s great niece to leave her where she was, the mayor of Avon rejected the proposal. A good thing, too, as many Mansfield scholars were against the idea, including biographer Gerri Kimber, who called it “”crass and ill-judged venture,” and said, “The body of Katherine Mansfield is not a Maori artefact taken overseas by a colonial ruler, which would justifiably need to be returned. She was a private individual who chose, alongside all her sisters, to spend her entire adult life away from New Zealand.”
Victor Hugo (1802-1885), Émile Zola (1840-1902), and Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) The same crypt in the Panthéon, Paris, France
What to know: So, it’s clear where the cool crypt is in the Panthéon, where many French luminaries are interred. Victor Hugo made it into the Panthéon right away, but he was the only one of the three to do so. Zola was originally buried in the Cimetière de Montmarte, but in 1908 his remains were moved to the Panthéon. During the ceremony, Alfred Dreyfus (yes, of the Dreyfus Affair — Zola was a supporter) was shot in the arm by journalist Louis Gregori in an assassination attempt. Dumas was originally buried in his hometown of Villers-Cotterêts, and was only moved to the Panthéon in 2002, for the bicentennial of his birth. But if it was a long wait, the style in which he was buried made up for it: his coffin was covered in blue velvet and inscribed with the words “Tous pour un, un pour tous” (All for one, one for all), and escorted to its new resting place by four Republican Guards dressed as Dumas’s musketeers. His elaborate re-interment ceremony was presided over by then-French president Jacques Chirac. Voltaire’s around the Panthéon somewhere, too.
Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) Rouen Cemetery, Rouen, Haute-Normandie, France
What to know: In The Art of Fiction James Salter describes visiting Flaubert’s grave (he also visited and loved Willa Cather’s): “It was a pilgrimage, I suppose — I’ve made a number of them, not so much in homage as simply to be there and think. . . Flabert’s grave is modest; it is virtually hidden away among others, a stone with nothing more inscribed on it than Here lies Gustave Flaubert, born in Rouen, and the dates. His true monument, of course, is everywhere.”
Marguerite Duras (1914-1996) Cimetière de Montparnasse, Paris, France, Division 21
What to know: This photo doesn’t show it, but much the same way that fans would kiss Oscar Wilde’s grave, fans of Duras often pay tribute to her by sticking pens and pencils into the flowerpot that rests at the head of the stone.
Edith Wharton (1862-1937) Cimetière des Gonards, Versailles, Departement des Yvelines, France
What to know: Wharton is buried three graves away from her mysterious long-time friend Walter Berry, whom she called “the great love of all my life.” Her other loves, alas, remain at The Mount.
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) Cimetière de Montparnasse, Paris, France, Division 20
What to know: “The comradeship that welded our lives together made a superfluous mockery of any other bond we might have forged for ourselves,” de Beauvoir wrote. “At times this meant that we had to follow diverse paths — though without concealing even the least of our discoveries from one another. When we were together we bent our wills so firmly to the requirements of this common task that even at the moment of parting we still thought as one. That which bound us freed us; and in this freedom we found ourselves bound as closely as possible.” In life, Sartre and de Beauvoir had perhaps the most famous open relationship in literary history; in death, their bond is about as close (and as closed) as you can get.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France What to know: Wilde’s tomb has also been the victim of vandalization — though of a much more loving sort. In years past, the stone was covered in red lipstick kisses, left by Wilde’s admirers. But in 2011, his descendants, fearing degradation from the lipstick, had the memorial cleaned and protected behind glass. “We are not saying, ‘Go away,’ but rather, ‘Try to behave sensibly,’” Wilde’s grandson told the New York Times. Predictably, the glass is now usually covered in lipstick too.
Susan Sontag (1933-2004) Cimetière de Montparnasse, Paris, France; Division 2, Section 2, 1 East, 28 North, concession number 3PA2005
What to know: Sontag died after a long battle with myelodysplastic syndrome, which developed into leukemia. In his memoir, Swimming in a Sea of Death, Sontag’s son David Rieff wrote:
My decision to bury my mother in Montparnasse had little to do with either literature or even with her lifelong love of Paris, rapturous as it was. The decision was mine alone — that much her will had stipulated — and I had to bury her somewhere — she had a horror of cremation. But since she believed to the end that she was going to survive her cancer, and therefore had seen no reason to leave any specific instructions or even to express any wishes on the matter, I had no idea what those wishes might have been. We had no ceremonies of goodbye, to use Beauvoir’s great phrase. And without her voice to guide me, I had nothing to go on. It was as if she had died suddenly, in a car accident or a plane crash, rather than slowly, incrementally, horribly of MDS. . . So I improvised, all the while wondering, as I still wonder, if I was doing the right thing.
The cemeteries of New York are ugly, and the particular one where her own father is buried is one of the ugliest of all of them. Besides, my mother had not known of it until very late in her life and, as far as I know, only visited it once, even if her father figured repeatedly in the inwardly directed talk of her final days — talk that seemed to carom freely between lament, settling of accounts, and personal history. And I knew that my mother felt no particular connection to the other American cities — Tuscon, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston — in which she had lived. That left Paris, for so long her second home. Or so I reasoned, to the extent that I was capable of reason in the immediate aftermath of my mother’s death. In any case, Paris was also a second home to many of my mother’s friends, and as far as I can see, graves are for the living if they are for anything at all.
And so I had my mother’s body shipped from Kennedy Airport in New York to Paris aboard the same Air France evening flight she had taken literally hundreds of times during her life. it was our last trip together. I remember thinking, “I am taking my mother to Paris for the last time.” . . . [In the Volvo hearse] I took my mother on one last, sweeping ride through Paris, and then I buried her.
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