Balzac in Saché
Portrait of Balzac, by Eugène Chiquet, 1899, based on Achille Devéria (1825), Balzac Museum collection.
Saché, the refuge
Honoré de Balzac was born in Tours in 1799 and moved to Paris when he was 14. The novelist stayed in Saché a dozen times between 1825 and 1848. The site was more than a refuge from his creditors, it was also a "monastery" where he could write and recharge his batteries in the peace and quiet. The author suffered from heart and lung issues in the 1830s. His doctor, Dr. Nacquart, prescribed fresh air in his homeland to recover from his hectic Paris schedule. Balzac's stays in Saché were peppered with long walks in the century-old woods on the estate, trips to visit local château owners and games of whist and backgammon with the owner Jean Margonne.
Balzac stayed in Tours and Vouvray in Henry-Joseph de Savary's house, Jean Margonne's father-in-law, in the summer of 1823. He discussed going to Saché in a letter to his sister Laure Surville: "I shall go to Saché and see you soon in Ch[amp]rosay because, aside from the Azur air and sky, the people of Touraine are weak and feeble" (Honoré de Balzac, Letter to Laure Surville, Tours, summer 1823).
In autumn 1825, Balzac returned to Touraine with his mother and younger brother, Henri, presumed to be Jean Margonne's son. Balzac wrote to the Duchess of Abrantès from Saché of his sadness that she couldn't be there.
Whilst Balzac worked tirelessly with different Paris newspapers, he took time off to relax in Touraine with his lover Mrs de Berny in summer 1830. He rented La Grenadière, a house in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire which they used as a base to visit Le Croisic and Guérande. They stayed for two months. Balzac returned to Paris in September. He wasn't in Paris for the July Revolution, he was probably on the way to Saché: "I assure you that I consider myself a very brave man to confess to travelling on the banks of the Indre during our glory days" (Honoré de Balzac, "Letter about Paris", published in Le Voleur, September 30th 1830).
Balzac published the first edition of The Magic Skin in August 1931. Back in Tours, Jean Margonne wrote to Balzac saying how hard it was to get hold of the novel whose success he had read about in the papers. And although he was eager to read it in the countryside, he was more looking forward to the conservation he hoped to have with the writer in September. In the end, Balzac had an extended break at Château de Saché between late October and mid-December 1831. Letters between his publishers and friends detail how hard he worked on Master Cornélius and Droll Stories: "I am living under the hardest form of despotism: self-inflicted despotism. I work day and night. I have come to take refuge here in the depths of a château, like in a monastery." (Honoré de Balzac, Letter to Zulma Carraud, Saché, November 1st 1831)
Balzac returned to Saché on June 8th 1832 and spent over a month here. From his little second floor bedroom, he gave his mother instructions so she could take care of his business in Paris, particularly settling his financial issues... Balzac set to work on Louis Lambert at a frenzied pace. But he also used his time in Saché to plan his wedding to a rich local widow, Baroness Deurbroucq. Balzac left Saché on July 16th 1832 and walked to Tours in the heat.
In September 1834, after publishing The Quest of the Absolute, Dr. Nacquart found Balzac in such a sorry state that he prescribed fresh air in his homeland. So Balzac spent weeks in Saché where he began work on Father Goriot, hoped to finish Séraphîta and corrected proofs of César Birotteau.
Balzac fled to the Indre Valley in June 1836 soon after winning his trial against Buloz for The Lily of the Valley. Although Balzac used his stay here to rest, he began writing the first part of Lost Illusions in Saché and worked for up to 15 hours a day: "Touraine revived me so much so that on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday I created the Lost Illusions and wrote the first four pages of it." (Honoré de Balzac, Letter to Émile Regnault, Saché, June 27th 1836).
After months in Italy, Balzac spent a fortnight in late August in Saché to recover from a chest inflammation. Balzac planned to retreat to Touraine in a little house on the Cher or Loire coast to avoid ever having to serve in the National Guard.
In early June, Balzac caught the train to reach Touraine quickly as he wanted to buy a house for him and Mrs Hanska. He spent a few days with Jean Margonne in Saché who, between backgammon games, advised him to buy Château de Moncontour in Vouvray. Balzac dropped his plans to buy it two months later.
Balzac spent the whole of June in Saché away from the Paris turmoil. But he wasn't inspired to write The Lesser Bourgeoisie. He spent most of his time walking and playing whist. At the end of his time here, Balzac began experiencing the first symptoms of serious heart disease. He joined Mrs Hanska in Ukraine in September where he spent a year and a half.