Home > 2000, 21st Century, Beaussant Philippe, Book Club, French Literature, Novella, Out Of Print Tragedy > Rendezvous in Venice by Philippe Beaussant

Rendezvous in Venice by Philippe Beaussant

Rendezvous in Venice by Philippe Beaussant. (2003) Original French title: Le Rendez-vous de Venise.

In Rendezvous in Venice, Philippe Beaussant tells a story about art, about family and transmission, about mentoring and love. The first part of this billet is without spoilers and the second part explores the novella a bit farther but includes spoilers.

Part I

beaussant_rdv_venisePierre stumbles upon his dead uncle’s notebook. Uncle Charles was his mentor as an art historian and Pierre was his assistant during the last fifteen years heard of Charles’ life. He thought he knew everything about him. Charles was a bachelor, he appreciated women as works of art but never really as flesh and blood people. Or so Pierre thought. Reading through the notebook, he realizes that a long time ago his uncle had a passionate love affair with a younger woman named Judith, that this love story had its turning point in Venice.

Pierre is stunned. He never knew this side of Charles and he starts wondering whether he knew him at all. Pierre is also involved in art as an academic. He learnt everything from Charles, who was well-known in their academic world. He inherited Charles house and lives there with his old servant. The décor remained untouched. The memories of Charles were to remain untouched and this notebook upsets their careful order.

Rendezvous in Venice is a wonderful little book that masterfully mixes personal stories and art. As Pierre remembers Charles, he brings back their discussions about art and portraits of the Italian Renaissance. It is told with the words of a man who loves paintings and painters, who wants to share his passion with people beyond his inner circles of scholars. And I love academics who reach out to the masses who don’t have their erudition and will never have it but are still capable of finding beauty in a painting by Botticelli. Several portraits are mentioned in the novella, all with a heady mix of reverence and familiarity.

SimonettavespucciThere’s a Proustian atmosphere to Rendezvous in Venice. Anyone who loves In Search of Lost Time will love it too. I will explore this side of the novella in the second part of this billet. The open reference to Proust could be irritating but it’s not. It is done with fondness. It is made of the same deep knowledge and feeling as the references to paintings that I mentioned earlier.

Beaussant knew these paintings and books so well that he could interlink them with his own story without it being awkward. It is made to share something wonderful and not to show off academic knowledge. Rendezvous in Venice is written by someone who wants to uplift you with their knowledge and not put you down with your lack of education.

This is a book to read after a visit to the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris. This museum was the mansion of a rich couple who were passionate about art, and especially about the Italian Renaissance. The museum displays their collection, in their house and their apartments are furnished for the visitors to see. The mansion is Boulevard Haussmann, not far from where Marcel Proust used to live.

I heard about Rendezvous in Venice on Jacqui’s blog and you can find her review here. Thanks Jacqui, I owe you one. It was a delight.

Part II.

For readers who have read In Search of Lost Time, you will feel Proust at every corner while reading Rendezvous in Venice. The choice of Venice is not a coincidence. If it were just about Renaissance paintings, Florence would have been more appropriate. Venice is a key place for the Narrator in Proust, one he dreams about a lot.

Then, there’s Charles, the uncle who has the same name as Charles Swann. Swann and Odette’s story is told in Swann’s Way. The reader discovers Swann, passionate with paintings and art, seeing in Odette the features of a woman in an old portrait. Uncle Charles also sees Judith that way. Both Charles seem to have the same perfect manners of cultured people.

Page 50 of my edition we are reading extracts of Charles’s notebook and he mentions his memory, the way he plays with names related to Judith in his head. Her way of speaking is compared to a sonata. (J’en dégustais le son, comme on écoute une sonate. or in English, I tasted their sound as one listens to a sonata.) In The Guermantes Way, Proust plays with names of places and people. The Vinteuil sonata is also a pattern through In Search of Lost Time but plays an important role in Swann’s love for Odette.

Page 52, Charles describes in his notebook his attempts at bringing back Judith in his memories. The way he describes his quest is a lot alike Proust’s. It is a way to concentrate in yourself and remember. It is a lot like the passages after the death of the Narrator’s grand-mother or the grief after Albertine’s death. Uncle Charles grieves the death of his relationship with Judith.

A few pages later, Uncle Charles says J’ai compris que notre amour était mortel. (I understood that our love was mortal) which is exactly what happens with Charles in Swann’s Way. Both Charles understand that art is immortal and human love is mortal. They just choose a different path. Swann marries Odette and they have a daughter, Gilberte. Uncle Charles breaks up with Judith after she tells him that she wants a child with him. Judith marries someone else and has a daughter with him, Sarah. If we go further, the love story of the next generation also goes the other way. The Narrator falls in love with Gilberte but nothing comes out of it. Pierre falls in love with Sarah and they have a child together.

And page 80, in the middle of Charles’s notebooks, there it is, the open reference to Proust. The Narrator had dreamed of Venice. The volume Albertine disparue is the one that matches with the tone of Uncle Charles’s notebooks. In this volume, the Narrator mourns Albertine’s death and his lost love and he finally goes to Venice. Uncle Charles has to write about Judith, still mourning their relationship.

Pierre inherited of Uncle Charles’s house and Sarah moves in for a while. Mariette disapprove of the disruption. Sarah is impulsive, different from Pierre. Françoise didn’t like Albertine and hated that she moved in with the Narrator. When Sarah leaves Pierre, Mariette will say:

Mademoiselle Sarah…Son placard est ouvert…Il est vide. Elle a emporté ses affaires? Elle est partie? Miss Sarah…Her dresser is open…It’s empty. She took her things? She left?

Albertine Gone opens with Françoise exclaiming Mademoiselle Albertine est partie! (Miss Albertine is gone) Let’s face it, both servants are happy to see the intruder leave.

The whole novella breathes Proust. Swann and the Narrator’s love for art. Mariette, Uncle Charles’s old servant who sounds exactly like Françoise. Uncle Charles is very ill and bedridden for the last years of his life but still continues to work as an art historian like Proust himself who finished In Search of Lost Time in bed.

There are probably other references that I missed but I shared the ones I noticed with you.

  1. July 16, 2016 at 10:38 am

    I can’t resist this – and I’ve ordered it in French!


    • July 16, 2016 at 10:51 am

      How did you do that? I thought it was OOP in French.
      You’ll have the opportunity to work on your subjonctif passé. Lots of it in this book.
      I’m looking forward to reading your review.


      • July 16, 2016 at 1:22 pm

        Yikes, le subjonctif passé! What have I let myself in for!
        It will probably take me months to read…
        PS It is out of print, I bought it from AbeBooks.


        • July 17, 2016 at 5:43 pm

          Have fun! It’s a short book and I think that after Indiana, you’re up for the challenge.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. July 16, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    I tired this but found it too romantic and a bit staged, so I gave up on it.


    • July 17, 2016 at 5:44 pm

      That’s clearly a book I wouldn’t have bought you for your birthday. Not your kind of read.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. July 16, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    Thanks for the mention, Emma. I’m so glad you loved this novel too. Isn’t it just the most charming book? I loved the marriage of storytelling and art, the people behind the paintings, their personalities and lives.

    Fascinating commentary on the links to Proust, especially with regard to the Venice setting. I have yet to read him, but this might turn out to be the push I need to make a start.


    • July 17, 2016 at 5:46 pm

      It’s absolutely charming.
      I loved that he imagined the lives of the people on the paintings.

      You’ll probably enjoy Proust, Jacqui. If you’re not taken by Swann’s Way, don’t abandon In Search of Lost Time there. I don’t think it’s the best volume.


  4. July 17, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    I didn’t have time to talk to you about this book when we met, by the way, but I love the sound of it. Especially when you pointed out the similarities with Proust (I do love my Proust… but have to dip in and out of it rather than reading it end to end).


    • July 17, 2016 at 10:10 pm

      It is a short read. I can understand why Guy found it too romantic but I just enjoyed the ride. (and so did my friends from the Book Club)


  5. July 19, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Sounds fantastic Emma – and happily already on the TBR.


    • July 19, 2016 at 12:51 pm

      Let me know how you like it, Ian.


  6. July 20, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    It sounds very good, and I already have a copy (so I skipped your part 2 for now, thanks for dividing the post up like that). I note Guy’s concerns though. One to read then with an awareness that it’s somewhat romantic.


    • July 21, 2016 at 12:55 pm

      I think you’ll enjoy the parts about art and the Proustian atmosphere. It’s a short book too.


  7. February 19, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    Hi Emma, it took me a while, and I needed some help from the English edition, but I finished reading it – in French – today! https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/02/19/le-rendez-vous-de-venise-rendezvous-in-venice-by-philippe-beaussant/
    So, what next, eh? This was about the right length for me:)


    • February 20, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      Congratulations! You made it and it was not an easy one to start with.
      Perhaps you could try a book by Philippe Besson.


      • February 20, 2017 at 11:42 pm

        I have ordered En l’absence des homes, it looks interesting!


        • February 20, 2017 at 11:43 pm

          It is. There’s a billet on my blog and one at Max’s.


  1. August 7, 2016 at 2:59 am
  2. February 19, 2017 at 2:39 pm

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