chapter  7
12 Pages

Du Maurier’s Paris: Peter Ibbetson, Haussmann and Industrial Memory

BySusan Zieger

In a familiar cultural narrative, artists, cosmopolites and intellectuals arrive in Paris as young adults, but George Du Maurier's exquisite love for the city kindled at the tender age of seven, when his family moved there from Boulogne. The plot of Peter Ibbetson conjures Haussmann's redevelopment of Paris from 1853 to 1870 as the loss of childhood bliss. Peter's magical hours roaming the city abruptly end at the age of 12, when his parents die and he falls into the hands of his evil Uncle Ibbetson, who changes his name and moves him to dreary England. In Peter Ibbetson, the shocks of Haussmann's new Paris resolve into a fantasy of placeless, virtual memory. More than ever, Paris ironically metamorphosed from a city to a symbolic space — a 'capital' — of modern psychic fragmentation. Though Du Maurier criticized Haussmann's redevelopment in Peter Ibbetson, it was from a quasi-royalist rather than a left or Marxist standpoint.