I have received several invitations to parties celebrating the new year, but knowing Thierry would be left out I have declined them in favor of a quieter evening with him. We shall instead celebrate a new beginning for us.
Comtesse de R-, hearing of my interest in acquiring a puppy informed me that one of her's has just whelped, and she says I may have one of the dear little ones when they are weaned from their mother. I am very excited, and have been to see the litter where I picked out a lovely red and white girl, who (if she survives) will go home with me to Auvergne.
Maman received a letter from her husband, Msr. Cordelay, who requested that she and Mattieu return home. Despite my own planned departure after the Christmas season, they left this morning. Mattieu will finish his studies in Riom, and they must decide very soon what next to do with him. I will miss being near to him.
It being now late in the morning and having had my tea, I must dress and see to some letters. Perhaps I will choose some fabric for my new anglais, but as it is cold I think I would much rather stay at home.
I have always loved the turn of the year, and I think that with the beginning of a new decade we may well see the fulfillment of our hopes and desires. Thierry and I are considering returning to Auvergne, even though the roads will be difficult this time of year.
Being only two months along, Pauline is not yet showing her condition, but continues to be rather ill, especially in the mornings, which means that Marianne is wont to attend me alone. She, I am sure, would much prefer to remain in Paris, and will only put on airs as she did the last time we had been to town. I did finally receive a request from the footman, Gilbert Boucher, who was instrumental in the candle incident in August. He has requested the latest edition of the Encyclopedie, which I suspect he knows is actually several volumes. As I do like to see people educate themselves I will not spare the expense; I believe there is even an additional index now.
Msr. Poisson has assisted Thierry by once more giving him lodging at his own residence, but as I mentioned we are thinking of leaving soon anyhow. Maman has been in a temper, and I think the cold is getting into her bones. We are enjoying a very nice Christmas, but after a while one does long for home and the solitude of being away from people who give their opinions where they are not wanted.
The most pleasant thing is that Thierry and I have begun to discuss in earnest plans for marrying. This naturally figures into our desire to return home, where we may be together without comment or censure. I always have such high hopes for the new year, but never more so than now. Sometimes my own happiness frightens me, it is so tenuous.
It is hard for me to write about all of the reasons that this was a great book without giving away spoilers. I was in the library picking up only a couple of things, when I saw it on a shelf and made the all-too-common mistake of stopping to look at it. As usual, I left with more than I went for. I then did what I almost never do, when after reading the introduction I promptly skipped to the end. I had to know if the book was going to break my heart.I won't tell you how it ends, but I read the entire thing even knowing the ending already, so that says something.
From the front cover of the book, I knew it was going to be a good story, and like many others, the true stories are often the best. "The great love affair of the Enlightenment, featuring the scientist Emilie du Chatelet, the poet Voltaire, sword fights, book burnings, assorted kings, seditious verse, and the birth of the modern world." How does that not sound like fun?
Engagingly-written, the pace is very quick, and I found myself wondering if the lives of the characters were so truly stuffed with interesting events, or if the periods of boredom merely went unmentioned. It delivered not only a fascinating story, but was not overly-colored by the opinions of the author, who let the words of the protagonists speak for themselves in many instances. It is a love story, a history of thought, and even the heavy physics and calculus are explained in an approachable way.
I highly recommend this book to any of my readers who have not already enjoyed it. I myself plan to add it to my collection very soon. I also received several books for Christmas, so expect more reviews soon!
There is a kind of weightless joy from the reunion of good friends, and the clarification of desires. It has been days of celebration, with simple foods, cards, dancing, and we have laughed and laughed to be once more together. F&R have joined us most of the time, but some of the most enjoyable times have been when we are alone. It is so wonderful to have my Thierry again, I feel quite drunk with happiness!
There has been an unexpected turn of events. This morning as I was preparing for my audience at Versailles, F&R arrived (R being much recovered from his wound). I was not in a mind to have a formal lever, but as they are such dear friends I instructed Pauline and Marianne to admit them.
Scarcely had Pauline opened the door, when in they burst and pulled me up from my dressing table. "We have an early birthday present for you!" they cried, and insisted on me dressing hurriedly without attending to anything else. In a very plain caraco rather than my court gown, they proceeded to grasp my hands and direct me to the Orangerie, despite my protests.
There, amidst the plants, was Thierry. He saw me, drew himself up, and then dropped to one knee. "Madame," he began. "Others may offer you titles and riches, but these you already have. I may only offer you a faithful and loving heart, but once those were riches enough. If you would have me, I am yours today, or else I shall trouble you no more."
He looked up at me with pleading eyes, and a stony expression. I, for my part, struggled for composure. Seeing him again made me long for the comfort of his arms. There was only one answer. "If you can still love a fool, then it is I who am yours."
We embraced, and F- said "There is nothing so cruel as not being able to have the one you love." This suddenly reminded me of my audience with the King, and I wondered aloud what to do. Together the four of us developed a plan.
I continued to prepare, being laced into my bodice with instructions to Marianne to make it increasingly tight; a duty I am sure she was only too happy to perform. Leaving T- at home the three of us took my carriage to Versailles.
Standing for a while in an antechamber, I made great show of fanning myself, and spoke to my companions of a heat which they denied. Admitted to the King's presence I took the prescribed steps, curtseyed, and promptly fell over as if I had fainted. I was, of course, quickly helped out of the room, and F&R fussed over me. Reviving slightly, I again pretended to faint dead away, whereupon my carriage was called for, and it was insisted that I return home to recover, as I had not been feeling well all day. Fearing an illness greater than a tightly-laced corset I was permitted to leave.
Returning home to T- we celebrated another successful plot with champagne, dancing, and much laughter in my rooms. When F&R left it was already past midnight, and T- and I retired to enjoy our own company and discuss our future together.
Despite the snow we unexpectedly had overnight, my hairdresser was still able to come and do something new with my hair. It is softer, and I do like it, but my melancholy remains. I lost terribly at cards today, which is doubtless one of the causes.
Tomorrow is my audience with the King. I find myself most unwilling to go through with it, but now I must.
Last time we met Mattieu, Olympe's youngest brother, and this time I'd like to introduce you to Andre, the elder one. The first child of Marie-Madeleine de Lespinasse and Guillame Renaud Cordelay, Andre was born in Riom on October 12, 1756. As this was only ten months after Olympe's own father's death, she had been sent away to a convent school, and would later attend St. Cyr where she remained far from her mother and brothers.
Andre grew up in Riom, and later attended the College Mazarin, where he met Caroline Delacour who was a singer. He left in 1774 and became a schoolmaster in the town of Ferney, where the Delacour family was from. He is trying to purchase a commission in the navy, but his changeable nature prevents Olympe from being willing to give him the necessary funds, and is a source of contention between them.
Due to the fact that they spent almost no time together as children, Olympe and Andre are not particularly close. When he was at school they had become friends and she would visit often, but in more recent years they have grown apart as they spent less time together.
Initially a happy and mischevious child, after his schooling Andre became withdrawn and bookish. Not an avid scholar himself, he is very unhappy as a teacher and looks forward to a different position, and refuses to marry Miss Delacour until he has a secure one. In contrast to his relationship with Olympe, he is very close to his younger brother, Mattieu, possibly as a result of seeing the deaths of three other siblings between them.
Andre's brooding nature and disatisfaction will become more and more evident as the events of the future continue to drive a wedge between him, and his sister, the Countess.
It has been a day full of activity. First there was a full lever this morning, at which S- was absent yet again. I am convinced that I was mistaken in his attentions to me, and must look elsewhere for a husband. A few weeks ago I had many options, and now it appears I have none. This is likely due to the Menars incident.
I attended the salon of Marquise d'E-, who promised to have Comte F- there, but he was not. From there it was dinner at the Comtesse de R's, and then the Comedie, and back to Comtesse de R's for cards and a late supper. I tried to be of good cheer, but from the conversation of others I seem to have failed since nearly everyone asked me if I was well.
I cannot help but think that after a day such as this the quiet happiness of a book and T's conversation always made me feel better.
It being the Tuesday before my audience with the king, I had felt it necessary to break off the liason between Thierry and I. Therefore, with a firm heart, I called him to the library, where I resolutely gave him my reasons, and asked that he leave and not attempt to see me ever again.
Distraught though he was at this, he seemed to accept it. He left Sully shortly thereafter. Making plans to visit R- at his home where we moved him as soon as he was well enough I prepared to leave home. Hearing a commotion at the entrance I sent Pauline to inquire after it's cause. She returned shortly and informed me that Thierry had attempted to return and see me. I had taken the precaution of informing the household that he was not to be admitted, and so he was eventually persuaded to depart.
I myself left to see R- shortly thereafter, fearing that Thierry might stop the carriage or cause some kind of scene, but he did not appear. F- was there, and I spoke to both of them of my decision and impending audience, and also of the incident already related. They questioned my resolve, but I am proud to admit that I held firm.
Upon returning to Sully I received a letter from Mme Le Sang-Boeuf who said that a lackey had delivered it, and insisted that it should be read by none but me. Opening it I found that it was from Thierry. He wrote:-
"Mme la Comtesse,
I know not in what way I have offended you so deeply that you would seek to overthrow the life we have enjoyed. Time has not been our friend, and society has not welcomed us as we are, it is true; but we have always sought to rise beyond the bounds of formality and to live in accordance with our hearts and minds, rather than as others would have us do. You now tell me that you would prefer the company of one who will rule you, but I believe that this is only the pressure of others. I hope you will remember in time that while it may be of a selfish nature to insist on the life that you wish for, that it is a gift you alone may give. For my part, I am, as I shall always remain...
I have read and re-read his words tonight, and they haunt me. I feel as if a great chasm has opened before, and I must surely fall, no matter what.
These are words which I had hoped not to have to write. I have arranged for an interview with the King, so that I might accept his offer of the Duchy of Bouillon, and in return I will marry within a year a man of my own class and with his permission, giving up any hope of self-reliance.
I am calm, I have cried all of my tears for this fact, and those events which have brought me to it. I am merely weary now. The interview is on Friday next, so I have nearly a week to prepare myself for a new life. As to my lord and master, I shall at least try to find a kind one. Perhaps S- will have me after all.
I should like to say that it all stems from the duel, but really there were doubts before that. Thierry, whose christian name I shall use no more after this, was not someone who could exist in my world. Happy though we undoubtedly were in Saint Saturnin, even in Riom we were always hiding our true relationship, and so much more so in Paris that he had to appear as my servant! Yes, it might have been possible for me to marry him, but society would never have accepted us, my own friends could no longer associate with me. I have seen enough of the happiness that such a marriage may offer from the example of my own mother, and enough to know she could never go back. I may attend anything, everything, but she is not the dowager Countess of Auvergne anymore, only Madame Cordelay. I do not wish to lose the life I know.
For my children also, this is a wise choice. I may say that I have given them a dear gift, a duchy, and the hope for a happy future, whatever the cost to myself. It would be selfish of me to deny them that so that I alone may be happy. The fact that I may one day have to counsel my own daughter toward an unpleasant duty, is somewhat harder.
The duel was only the finale to a realization which has been assailing me for months, which is that Thierry and I are not the same. I can be calm, I can be sensible of my duty and my best interests. I need not consult an unruly heart to find my course. He may chastise "my people" for how we spend our time, and lament the failure to attain that which I came for, but by doing this I will have attained so much more, only for someone else. If he is so unimpressed with us, then he will not feel much affect at being thus freed to pursue someone closer to his own nature.
I will be content with future I have thus chosen. I refuse to allow regret to steal my happiness away.
Usually I wait until I am finished reading a book to review it, which only seems fair, however having read this book a year and a half ago and only re-reading it now I am reminded of enough of the content and style to give it what I feel is a fair review.
Madame de Pompadour: Mistress of France by Christine Pevitt Algrant, is a work of charming depth and character. It follows a largely chronological timeline, which is somewhat necessary when tracing the life of a single person. Many biographers fall into the trap of excusing or elevating their subject, and ignoring their flaws, but Ms. Algrant largely avoids this showing us instead what we know of the true feelings and hardships of this remarkable woman, sometimes even giving us a glimpse of the contradictions of character that existed; such as how truly loved Louis XV was, and yet how indifferent to her own family Mme de Pompadour could be. There is, however, always a distance when looking at Madame de Pompadour, wherein we are not able to put ourselves in her shoes. So many of her actions are seen through the eyes of others, and the machinations she used were so well-concealed that they remain speculatory.
The one thing that I wish had been touched on more in the book was the relationship that Mme de Pompadour had with children, especially her own daughter, Alexandrine. It is reported almost in passing that Alexandrine was born, almost certainly the true daughter of Jean-Antoinette's husband, and that she died in 1754, around the same time that the King had a daughter with another mistress. Other than that though, there were less than five pages wherein Alexandrine was even mentioned, and then only in the context of her mother's ambitions. Perhaps this is because that is all that her daughter was to Mme de Pompadour, a chess piece to be manuevered; but if that were the case it still might bear more elaboration, but this is only my opinion.
Overall the book is an easy read at 291 pages, I actually zipped through it in one evening as soon as it arrived, but am now reading more slowly to savor the vignettes it offers. For a fairly thorough biography of a beautiful, intelligent and cunning woman who was a major player in her time, this is an excellent start.
Though it threatened rain again today, it became merely clear and cold by afternoon. F- and R- were with me discussing the duel, when R- became impatient. He declared that the weather was caused by M- who was beleaguring God with prayers for delay. He swiftly sent a note by his man to the Marquis de Menars, accusing him of stalling, and saying that the weather was quite fine enough to die under if he would hazard it; or else that he could admit himself mistaken, take back his words, and all would be forgiven. By and by word came back that Menars would attend R- outside the city where there was less chance of being discovered.
Knowing this to be all the fault of my own petty game, I could not let them go without me. Nor could I in truth remain waiting for some fatal word to come. We took F's carriage, as they did not want to risk mine being recognized, and met with M- outside the gates, and thence some distance further into the country. I was ill at ease when I saw that we were near a church, but reasoned that at least there would be a priest at hand should one be needed.
Menars allowed one of his seconds to introduce himself, and then asked R- who his seconds were. F- was there, but in all of our haste we had not noticed the absence of Comte d'Antraigues who had agreed to stand as well. M- smiled condescendingly and inquired if we had at least remembered a sword. Flustered R- ordered that they begin.
The words exchanged, agreements to fight as gentlemen, though one man short they began. The first pass brought a wound on the hand for Menars, but when R- tried to call the duel on first blood he insisted that it was merely a scratch and that they must continue. The second exchange found Menar's sword tangled in R's sleeve. The third I did not see well, it happened so quickly, but after a flurry of action both men closed, and then slumped to the ground. F and I rushed to R who's shirt was soaked with blood and perspiration. He had a gash under his arm, but Menars was worse with a slash to the throat. The seconds met briefly and called the duel a draw as neither party could continue, and we rushed back to Paris to get a doctor for R.
Returning to Sully I was glad of the privacy of my living arrangements, for we were able to transport the weakened R- inside with very little chance of anyone seeing him. Duly the doctor was sent for, and while waiting for him to arrive I was greeted with the most unexpected news. Thierry was in Paris!
Unannounced he had come to Sully, and finding me out had agreed to come back later in the afternoon. I had, of course not informed my servants where I had gone or why, and so when Thierry returned he found the doctor hard on his heels. I had the doctor shown to R's bedside, and drew T- aside to explain what had happened.
Telling him the whole story, I was most suprised when he evinced anger and even blamed me for the entire event. There was an argument, and I suggested that he leave, but to my greater surprise he would not, he insisted on seeing R-. Feeling bewildered by his request I nevertheless did as he asked, and to my very great surprise, though he had not moments before condemned the practice of dueling, calling it "idiocy", he thanked R- for taking upon himself my own guilt.
This I was not, and am not still, inclined to like; and I was heartily embarassed that I should have made such an introduction. R- tried to be jovial, and teased me about my lover, but he was pale and breathed with difficulty. Finally the doctor left instructions for his care with my servants, and I paid him for his services as well as for his silence.
Thierry attempted some affection, but I have shut myself up in my room. His words will not leave me "This is how your people spend their time. What of your grand plan?" Word has come that Menars looks to survive, so that is something. I doubt that I shall sleep well tonight all the same.
It has turned quite cold here, in fact there was snow on Sunday, and even some tonight. The weather waited just long enough, however for me to spring my plan on the unsuspecting M-. I had some suspicion that this would bring me guilt, especially as it is the season of Advent, but I did not guess at how different things might return to haunt me.
The weather being fine on Saturday, which was the 4th, I informed M- that I had planned for a walk in the Tuileries Gardens, and I even gave him an hour. I had intrigued with F- and R- to convince him that I could only be swayed by a man who was willing to make known his affection for me. Naturally there was only one conclusion the poor man could make.
In the afternoon I, along with both of my co-conspirators, took to the gardens, and there went also Menars. Finding us at last amongst the many promenaders, he proceeded to bend at the knee and offer verses of his own concoction in praise of my beauty. I did not immediately stop him, and so he continued to plead his love and beg of me release. Finally, seeing that we were the subject of some interest, I begged of him what encouragement I had given him that he might think me disposed to his suit, so much so that he would debase himself in public in such a way.
His blood drained from his face and then returned in force, as he realized that I never had publicly encouraged him, at least not more so than many others. He then turned on my companions and charged them with misleading him, but they also denied such things and professed astonishment at his words.
Then he made the mistake of saying to F- that he would demand satisfaction if he thought F- capable of holding a sword. R- stepped in quickly and said that he would answer for his friend, if M- sought satisfaction. Though aware of R's reputation as an excellent swordsman, M- addressed his challenge anew. The man named their seconds on the spot, and we withdrew in haste to Sully.
With some great trepidation I tried to convince them both to call it off, but they would not hear of it, and instead called for merriment, with many over-boastful jests in the manner that they should not look to live past the next day. I for my part could not pretend to be jovial, but instead found that I had no appetite for either food or laughter and retired to my rooms.
For the last few days now the duel has been postponed for the weather, but should it cease to rain, snow, and be terribly cold I know they will continue, for they talk of nothing else. I pray that it will come to a bloodless end.
For the moment our plan has been thwarted by the weather. Yesterday was too cold and today it rained continuously, and I believe still does. This is a disappointment, but it comes with an unexpected benefit. S- canceled his plans for a hunting excursion, and instead hosted a supper party with entertainment in the form of a fortune-teller.
Everyone crowded around the little table where she sat, and one by one we took the seat across from her. She examined our palms, and spread the cards before her for us to choose from. My palm predicted many loves and a long life, but one line branching off she said indicated I would make a sudden change and go in a new direction. I am uncertain what that portends, but in any case it is a harmless amusement with no sigificance. My cards were very hopeful and she told me that nothing could stand in my way, that I was destined for great things. It would be nice were it true.
I am a university professor and costume professional who calls Virginia home. Interested in costume history, and history in general, I endeavor constantly to better understand life through those who lived it.