Paul and Virginie. The two names are embedded in local folklore, and are even popular names for restaurant, hotels and schools. Let’s retrace the steps of the two heroes that continue to inhabit our minds and imagination today.
In Poudre d’Or, a quaint village set on the water (on the northeast coast) there is a small park at the center of which was erected a rather understated stone monument that commemorates the St Géran shipwreck, a tragedy that occurred right off the coast on August 17, 1744. Onboard the ship were 149 sailors, 13 passengers and 30 slaves, who perished. The monument is however referred to as the “Pol ek Virzini” monument by the locals.
Paul and Virginie are the heroes of the popular historical fiction novel by French author, Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. The botanist and avid traveller spent two years in colonial île de France, from 1768 to 1770, which provides the setting for his best-seller. “Paul et Virginie,” first published in Volume 4 of Etudes de la Nature, in 1787, tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, whose naive love (they grew up together in colonial Mauritius, an exotic, far-flung colony) is doomed. The tale provides a glimpse of the colonial era and the island’s lush nature but is also a contemplation of the moeurs of society.
The novel is a classic and has inspired other famous authors including Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant and Honoré de Balzac whose works contain references to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s masterpiece. In the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, there is a statue of the author with his two fictional characters carved in the pedestal.
Shenaz Patel, one of Mauritius’ prominent female writers turned the novel into a comic book, illustrated by Laval Ng, and even translated to Kreol.
If this post has piqued your curiosity for the Mauritian Romeo and Juliet, we urge you to visit the Blue Penny Museum in Port Louis, where you may see the earliest editions of the novel as well as the marble statue of Paul carrying Virginie by Prosper d’Epinay. (There is a bronze copy of the stunning art piece outside the Curepipe town hall.)
Veranda Paul et Virginie Hotel & Spa pays tribute to the mythical ill-fated love story. The Couples-Only hotel is set in Grand-Gaube, which neighbours Poudre d’Or. Be sure to pop by the small museum-like corner devoted to Paul et Virginie (the novel itself makes for a fabulous beach read.)