Le Havre has been a place of passage and exchange for nearly 500 years. Not far from Paris, the city has not only inspired many painters, but writers too. In the liner days, the port city with a thousand facets was a seaside resort comparable with Honfleur and Deauville. In the second part of the 20th century, after being devastated in the bombing, Le Havre underwent a renaissance with an architectural transformation which is now listed as World Heritage by UNESCO. Le Havre port also features in many romantic adventures.
To retrace the steps of this incredible odyssey, the University of Le Havre has joined the City of Le Havre to create a literary promenade, a permanent exhibition with 20 benches scattered through the city of Le Havre. It is an “invitation to travel”, to walk and discover Le Havre at different periods through the plume of different writers. For example, it is the opportunity to slide amongst the words of Guy de Maupassant to admire the north jetty of the port city. Thanks to the texts and artistic representations on the benches, the exhibition leaves the reader free to imagine how Le Havre appeared in the days of Flaubert, Stendhal, or Simone de Beauvoir.
The literary promenade is a chance to discover culture accessible in two different ways: in the urban space thanks to benches designed for this outdoor exhibition, as well as on the Promenade Littéraire du Havre website accessible in situ with a QR code on the urban furniture or at a distance at www.promenadelitteraire-lehavre.fr.
The literary promenade is an unparalleled editorial object, part anthology, part graphic museum. There are 150 extracts and as many images installed in the urban area. The benches give access to a virtual exhibition which traces the whole promenade, so you know where you are in the city, but also to download more literary itineraries in the city, such as Le Havre imagined by Jean-Paul Sartre’s Bouville in La Nausée, or Le Havre described by Raymond Queneau in Un Rude Hiver.
On the website you can also listen to literary extracts taking place in the city, and discover more authors and places represented in Le Havre literature, such as the heights of the city or the thermal power plant. The literary promenade with internet is a different way to wander through Le Havre-inspired literature and the representation of Le Havre in the arts, thanks to a range of archives, authors’ photos, drawings, paintings, film extracts and posters.
A promenade in the city
The walking tour follows all the successive periods of Le Havre, a phoenix city which has been transformed, bombed several times since its foundation, and which re-emerges from under the writers’ plume. This is where Sartre discovered the concept of existentialism. Henry Miller said that Le Havre reminded him of New York. Pascal Quignard grew up in Le Havre during the reconstruction. Whilst Stendhal discovered the Francis the 1st tower and the view over the 19th century city.
The twenty points which comprise the promenade reveal Le Havre literature since the beginning of the 19th century until today. It is also a promenade through the History of Art, with Monet, Othon Friesz, Braque, Dubuffet and many other artists.
Literary promenade: website
The literary promenade also has a website. The site will be developed over future years with different discoveries, and literary news related to Le Havre. The literary promenade website is accessible from the promenade with a QR Code on the lectern of each bench. Or at: www.promenadelitteraire-lehavre.fr. The aim of this urban exhibition tool is to enrich the visit by adding new photos, other archives, and readings by actors. With the literary promenade website it is possible to wander from one era to another, from an author to a literary movement to an artistic scene. With the website promenade, the user can also imagine Le Havre just as it is described in Balzac’s writings, or modern Le Havre, in the 1930s, that Simone de Beauvoir discovers and recounts in La Force de l’Âge:
“We found ourselves in Le Havre which we found more gay than Rouen. I liked the old docks, their quays lined with sailor’s bars and shady hotels, the narrow houses topped with slate roofs which fell over their eyes […] Le Havre was a grand port; people from all over the place mixed there; big deals were done with modern means. Le Havre lives in the present, rather than being trapped in the shadow of the past. “
Simone de Beauvoir, La Force de l’âge, ©Gallimard, 1960, p. 238.