Mme Gréville's Villa

Mme "Gréville" and Her Villa in St. Symphorien,
Sister Denisa and the Little Sisters of the Poor
from "The Giant Scissors"

(no pictures at the moment, can you help?)

The villa, just beyond the old French walled village of St. Symphorien, across the Loire from Tours, was kept by a Madame Chevrail (Gréville in the stories), the wife of a retired professor. She took in boarders, as Annie Fellows Johnston remembers how Mrs. Chevrail put it, " to insure her the luxuries of life." 

It was while staying here in 1897, that Annie Fellows Johnston wrote "The Gate of the Giant Scissors."  Annie's real life description of the house could have come right out of the story:

"The house was almost hidden behind a high brick wall and a row of lime trees. The windows looked out on a garden where chrysanthemums were in bloom. There was a maze in the garden and a statue of Adam looked across at a statue of Eve. Also there were enormous glass bells under which lettuce and other greens were growing."

This house was near the Ciseaux estate with it's distinctive gate and gables covered with similar medallions, owned by a "peculiar" gentleman that was rarely in residence, all of which gave AFJ the idea for her story.  But much of the story also took place at the Chevrail (Gréville) Villa.  One of the most memorable scenes is the Christmas Party for Jules and the peasant children.  In real life the event was such a happy one that it became a whole chapter of her book. It happened this way:

"I asked Madame if she knew any children for whom we could prepare a tree. I had in mind about ten, but Madame entered into it so heartily that she invited a whole school of thirty children to our Christmas celebration.

"For many days we were very busy dressing dolls, making candy bags and shopping for toys. We had no popcorn. Madame had never seen any, but she said if we had thought in time we could have ordered some from Paris grocers. Monsieur gave us a lovely bough of mistletoe. It was covered with waxen beads like pearls. At five o'clock the children began to come. Gabriel [a servant] furnished the music on his accordion, and they all filed into the room, thirty of them, after marching down the garden paths between rows of blooming laurel. They stood around the room bewildered at first, for none of them had ever seen such a sight before: a tree that glittered and sparkled and shone, that bore stars and rainbows and gay toys. At first they only drew deep wondering breaths and looked at each other with shining eyes..."

As for the rest of the people and places of St. Symphorien and Tours, we're still looking for information.  Except we do know that Sister Denisa de la Providence of the Little Sisters of the Poor was a real person, and the Little Sisters had been in Tours since shortly after the founding of the order.  Sister Denisa had come from Cincinnati and had been in Tours for 14 years.  Annie Fellows Johnston wrote of her:

She has such a happy face, as if she finds some joy in her work of caring for the old people. She took us first into the old men's hall. There were two hundred of them. Most of them were playing cards. Upstairs some of them were out on the gallery with their pipes. They seemed so fond of Sister Denisa. She moved some of them aside with a "Pardon, petit père." Upstairs were the dormitories, fresh and clean, with patchwork quilts on the beds.

In the women's room the old people were reading or gazing vacantly into space. Marquise, Countess, Baroness, all were there. More than half the inmates had at one time been wealthy people. One was sick in bed. She was eighty-nine years old. The tears streamed down her face, not because she did not have the necessities of life, but because she was herded with so many poor unfortunates, away from home and kindred.

On the way home Madame suggested another chapter for my "Gate of the Giant Scissors" story. So did Sister Denisa.