The man who could walk through walls

At Place Marcel Aymé, just off of Rue Norvins, there is a statue by sculptor Jean Marais called Le passe-muraille, based on a short story by the French author Marcel Aymé (1902–1967), who lived here in Montmartre for many years.

In this story a quiet middle-aged office worker named Dutilleul suddenly discovers that he has “the unusual ability to pass through walls without inconvenience”. His doctor discovers the cause, un durcissement hélicoïdal de la paroi strangulaire du corps thyroïde (which I won’t attempt to translate), and prescribes le surmenage intensif (intensive overwork) and some packets of medicine.

Since there is no way he can be overworked in his quiet office job, and since he neglects to take the medicine, he retains his unique ability and gradually finds some uses for it, first to frighten his new boss, then to rob banks and jewelry shops and finally to have an affair with a frustrated housewife who lives nearby.

By accident he takes some of the medicine, and his affair with the frustrated housewife provides him with some unaccustomed and very intensive exercise, so he loses his ability just as he is in the middle of a wall, where he remains stuck forever.

The statue shows him stuck in the wall. This is close to where Dutilleul lived in the story, at 75 bis de la rue d’Orchampt.

Maaike and the statue

The young lady holding hands with Dutilleul in this photo is VirtualTourist member Maaike van Kuijk, who now writes her own travel blog at travellousworld.com. See, for example, her post Discover London by bike.

Stories by Marcel Aymé

Since I had never read the story Le passe-muraille I bought a copy the next morning at the fnac bookshop in the Gare de l’Est (East Station), thinking to read it on the train.

But the story turned out to be quite short and easy, so I read it in a café before departure. Fortunately there are nine more of his stories in the book, so I had plenty of reading material for the train ride.

One of the other stories in the book is Le décret (The Decree), which I have described in my post Auteuil and the bourgeoisie.

 

 

Place Marcel Aymé in Montmartre is at GPS 48°53’18.95″ North;  2°20’16.93″ East.

My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2019.

See more posts on the Montmartre area in Paris.

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