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Our French Watering-Place

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Author Charles Dickens
Genre Prose: Travel-writing i
Subjects Family Life; Families; Domestic Relations; Sibling Relations; Kinship; Home;
France—Description and Travel
France—Social Life and Customs
National Characteristics; Nationalism
Sports; Games; Leisure; Pleasure; Hunting; Horse Racing; Gambling; Duelling
Travel; Tourism; Hotels; Resorts; Seaside Resorts—Fiction; Passports;
Other Details
Printed : 4/11/1854
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume X
Magazine : No. 241
Office Book Notes
Views : 895

Dickens and his family spent their first summer in Boulogne in 1853.

He conceived the notion of writing 'Our French Watering-Place' as a pendant to his earlier piece about Broadstairs but held it over 'as an easy thing to write while I am away' (Pilgrim, Vol. VII, p. 156). They returned for the summer of 1854, staying till 17 October. On both occasions, as on their third Boulogne sojourn in 1856, Dickens was the tenant of Ferdiand Beaucourt-Mutuel, a former linen-draper and Town Councillor, who had built two country houses to let furnished on his little hillside estate. Dickens was enchanted by Beaucourt, 'a portly jolly fellow with a fine open face', and by his 'property' with all its ingenious contrivances, and described both at length in letters to Forster (see Forster, Book 7, Ch. 4). In 1853 the Dickens family stayed in the first of Beaucourt's houses, the Villa des Moulineaux, and in 1854 in the second, the Villa du Camp de Droite. During this second summer Napoleon III came to Boulogne to review his troops before they set out to fight the Russians in the Baltic and reported Dickens to Wilkie Collins, 'About 150 soldiers have been at various times billeted on Beaucourt since we have been here—and he has clinked glasses with them every one, and read an MS book of his father's on Soldiers in general, to them all' (Pilgrim, Vol. VII, p. 367). For further details about Boulogne as a favourite resort for the English, see J. Watrin, Boulogne-sur-mer: Vingt aus d'occupation anglaise 1840-1860 (n.d); and for further details about M. Baucourt and his interesting later connections, through another of his properties, the 'chalet' at Condette, with Dickens, and (probably) Ellen Ternan, see W. J. Carlton, 'Dickens's Forgotten Retreat in France', The Dickensian, Vol. 62 (1966), pp. 69-86; and J. Watrin, 'De Boulogne à Condette: Une Histoire d'Amitié—Charles Dickens et Ferdinant Beaucourt-Mutuel' (1992). Dickens introduces him as the kindly 'Monsieur Mutuel' with 'his amiable old walnut-shell countenance' in AYR Christmas Story for 1862 'Somebody's Luggage'. Inscribed on Beaucourt's tombstone in Condette churchyard are the words: 'The landlord of whom Charles Dickens wrote "I never did see such a gentle kind heart"'.

In this piece Dickens follows his usual practice of translating French idiom literally into English, e.g. 'a good child' ('bon enfant', a splendid chap); 'a bad subject' ('un mauvais sujet', a rascal). The real name of the gentle M. Féroce was Sauvage; Charles Dickens Junior claimed to remember him very well.

Literary allusions

  • 'floating hair': from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan';
  • 'another Jack ... beanstalk': alludes to the traditional fairy story.

Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume III: 'Gone Astray' and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851-1859, 1998.

DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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