The area has largely been given over to commerce, still memories persist of its aristocratic and artistic past. Josephine de Beauharnais lived in the Rue de la Victoire. ‘Yes, Madame, the stables were on this very spot’, the hairdresser round the corner told me, sighing at the weight of history thus imposed on her. In a corner of the garden Bonaparte plotted the coup d’état of 1799. A slightly reverend look came over her face. Napoleon slept here.
Nowadays the quarter is weighted with the glass and stone of insurance buildings and banks, and has the Opera, the churches of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette and the Trinite, and department stores for landmarks. Grey crowds fill the lunchtime streets.
But on Sundays when traffic thins, it gives itself up to almost provincial peace.
Delacroix moved here in 1844 and wrote his impressions to George Sand. ‘On my arrival here the first object that struck the eyes of my virtue was a magnificent lorette dressed in black satin and velvet who, getting out of a cabriolet with the unconcern’s of a goddess, let me see her leg up to her navel.’ The particular splendors of the neighborhood were, he freely admitted, enough to make an ardent man quite dizzy.
Berlioz, Offenbach, Gustav Moreau, Toulouse-Lautrec, Marcel Proust went to school at the Lycee Condorcet, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Liszt, Chopin, Renoir all spent time here – the quarter if full of ghosts.
Victor Hugo, attempting to divide his affection into four workable parts, used to devote the mornings to his work, the late afternoons to Juliette Drouet, whom he met each day by the church of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, dinnertime to his family, and the evenings to Juliette’s rival, Leonie d’Aunet.
Alexander Dumas the elder lived here. In the summer of 1849 his son wrote La Dame aux Camelias. Midway through reading the play to his father, he had to leave for an appointment. Upon returning, he found his father bathed in tears. His father rose and embraced his son. The great success of the piece never gave him as much pleasure as that moment.
Rue de la Victoire was known during the Second Empire for its numerous maisons de rendezvous, known also as five to seven houses. This is where Mme Gautier run her establishment. According to Peter de Polnay, in his book Aspects of Paris, she had the enterprising idea of writing to every American whose name appeared in The American Register’s list of visitors, inviting him to her house because she has something important to tell him. Occasionally an entire, innocent, transatlantic family would turn up, whereupon she would explain that she was running a theatrical agency, hence the assembly of attractive young women, and had mistaken the man’s name for that of a celebrated actor. Touché.
In Paris, even in the ‘new’ district of the 9th, history lies layers deep. Modernization has eroded, but not destroyed its charm.