From A Paris Balcony by Ernest Dimnet – A Review

writing pictures0003From A Paris Balcony


How could I resist such a title? I’m not sure where I bought this book; wherever I go I frequent second hand bookshops, stalls at markets, op-shops; anywhere that offers something interesting to browse. The unadorned cover called to me, and I paid all of $1.00.

From A Paris Balcony – what a delightful phrase. How could I not be intrigued?

True to his word, Ernest Dimnet did indeed observe Paris from a balcony. The balcony in question was at the Hôtel Belgiojoso. This can still be seen in the Montparnasse area of Paris, and Dimnet describes the place as “graceful and yet robust, classical but imaginative, mellow in its comparative youth”.

Who could not be enchanted by such a place or writing style: “When September comes, and the early Parisian autumn begins to strew the shrubbery with the ivory balls of the symphorine…”

Born in a small French village in 1866, Dimnet began writing for English periodicals from 1898. (Indeed, reading his works before reading about the man, I did not guess that

Eternally contemplating Paris
Musings overlooking Paris

English was not his native tongue.) An abbe and university lecturer, he achieved popularity in both England and the US with his “[easyazon_link identifier=”B01HK9UE7W” locale=”US” tag=”aharrison20-20″]The Art of Thinking[/easyazon_link]”, which still proves popular in philosophical circles.

Abbe Dimnet spent some 20 years living at the Hôtel Belgiojoso, and from the vast balcony looked out over “four microcosms, as different form one another as the Quartier Montparnasse with its foreign artists, the Quartier Latin with its seriousness and its unseriousness, the Quartier St. Sulpice with its sanctity and its scholarship, and the Faubourg St. Germain with its aristocratic associations, joined their borders and displayed their wealth of human life”. From here, Dimnet felt he could “open his window on to the world, or shut it against it and live with his own thoughts”.

Published in 1924, From A Paris Balcony contains a collection of 36 essays, most of which were originally published in The Saturday Review (a London weekly newspaper covering the arts, science, literature and politics). They cover his musing on Paris, on French politics, world politics, the arts as well as literary criticisms. He walks the streets of the city and of the country, review places where he eats, and opens a window onto France and Europe, at a time between the two World Wars.

Typical Parisian balconies
Typical Parisian balconies

An American newspaper advertising a talk by the Abbe in 1924 stated: Abbe Dimnet, who has attained literary distinction by his English works, has been a contributor to various English, American, and French periodicals, and is the author of several books. Among them are “Les Soeurs Bronte” and “France Herself.” The last, printed on the eve of the war, was prophetic in tone, and was widely circulated in America as well as in England… the Abbe has been widely acclaimed for fluent and lucid English, for a keen wit, and for convincing presentation of ideas. When Abbe Dimnet lectured at Stanford in 1920 on “The Return of the Native,” he gave an account of the changes wrought in his native village by the war. This was captured by the Germans in 1914, and his own home occupied by German officers for several years.”

Reading his works nearly 100 years after they were written, I could not help but feel them dated, both in tone and style. As one review of the time wrote: “Some of the papers in From a Paris Balcony must have been as delightful as fresh-gathered salads when they first appeared in a certain weekly review.”  Nevertheless, I found reading them a delight – dipping into them now and then between reading other books, or perhaps perusing as essay with my afternoon coffee, rather that reading them all at once.

Apart from Dimnet’s delightful writing style and command of English (like Conrad, his command of a second language leaves me embarrassed), Ernest Dimnet’s essays offer not only a window but come with an insightful tour guide who gives an esoteric commentary on a world now vanished.

From A Paris Balcony, Ernest Dimnet, The Riverside Press, 1924.

to buy, [easyazon_link identifier=”B001KP1EXG” locale=”US” tag=”aharrison20-20″]click here[/easyazon_link]


Ah, Paris
Ah, Paris


3 Thoughts on “From A Paris Balcony by Ernest Dimnet – A Review

  1. Ah, Paris. We spent some time there many years ago. We were touring around in a converted VW Kombi Van. Our three children were being looked after by my parents who had returned to Holland from Australia. At that time, we too were living there.
    A great city. Such a long time ago now.

    One wonders if it would be possible to spend twenty years in a Sydney hotel and come up with the delights that Dimnet came up with?

    • anneharrison on July 18, 2016 at 10:16 pm said:

      Touring in a Kombi – what great memories! I’m not sure of could cope with living in a hotel for 20 years though, be it Sydney or Paris (though Graham Greene came up with The Quiet American doing the same thing in Saigon).

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