05/04/2013 by noonobservation
A birthday, absurd levels of drinking, and my pathetic attempts to buy a larger house to keep my books in have lain me low this month with a bout of blogger’s block. I am resolved to eat more fibre and spend less time on mortgage comparison websites.
Matters have not been helped by the arrival at the top of my reading stack of Memoirs of Madame de Pompadour by Madame du Hausset, her waiting woman, which despite its tempting title, turned out to be the literary equivalent of trying to eat newspaper covered in sick.
The text was allegedly found among Madame de Pompadour’s papers after her death. Her brother declared that Madame du Hausset, “was a very worthy creature, but her diary is all twaddle.” Unfortunately, some idiot stopped him burning it and eventually got the damned thing published, thus wasting a lot of people’s valuable reading time.
For anyone out there planning to write the memoirs of the fascinating royal mistress they skivvy for, some Dos and Don’ts:
1. DO try to remember things in chronological order.
2. DO use chapters, or some sort of structure.
3. DO add a line break or at least a full stop to alert the reader that you are about to switch to a totally unrelated topic.
4. DON’T write endlessly about yourself and what an excellent waiting woman everyone says you are and about how it’s perfectly respectable to wait on a bourgeois harlot even though your family is la-di-dah. No one cares.
Anyway, I’ve managed to sieve a few interesting tips from the turgid slurry of du Hausset’s drivellings, which might prove useful to those wanting to turn a chance encounter with an eighteenth century French king into a longer term arrangement.
Madame de Pompadour’s tips for the aspiring royal mistress
1. Get him on the rebound. Since 1726, the important government post of mattress-en-titre had been held by one or other of the de Nesle sisters, for whom Louis XV had a certain taste. In December 1744, his favourite Nesle, the Duchess de Châteauroux, suddenly died of peritonitis, leaving the King in need of a new mattress. Madame de Pompadour recognised this as an excellent moment to talk to Louis about her husband’s career prospects in provincial tax-farming.
2. Make sure that you’re the right temperature. If you are worried that your temperament is too cold to satisfy the King of France, Madame de Pompadour recommends a diet of chocolate flavoured with triple essence of vanilla and scented with ambergris, followed by truffles and celery soup. This will make you extremely heated through the mechanism of making you very ill.
3. Develop selective hearing and/or a high boredom threshold. Louis XV was fond of anecdotes and according to du Hausset, “it was necessary to let the King talk on these subjects, and sometimes to listen to the same story three or four times, as fresh persons arrived. Madame never showed weariness; she sometimes even urged him to start again.” This kind of super-human endurance evolved only in the courts of absolute monarchs where it was a prerequisite for successful survival to breeding age. Repeaters of anecdotes are now quite rightly eaten or made to live in care homes.
4. Help your lover deal with the embarrassment of surplus mistresses and children. When the King mentions that he’s got some gullible country girl up the duff, it’s important not to overreact. Simply send your waiting woman to superintend the birth, arrange the christening and tell everyone that it’s the child of some naughty Polish lord who’s lodging at Versailles.
5. Accept that other furrows will be ploughed. It’s also important to be understanding about the King’s need for meaningless sex with multiple partners. You may find it convenient to set him up with a small private brothel or “Deer Park” where he can rut away to his heart’s content without troubling you.
6. Take an interest in his work. Though this can hideously backfire (see Lola Montez), taking some of the heavy weight of government from your king’s shoulders can endear you to him. Pompadour recommends dabbling in foreign affairs, where a coquettish manner and a pretty ankle can get you a long way. Helping out with the appointment of generals, ministers, artists, etc. can also be fun. Even if you can’t run the entire country, make sure you at least run the court, ensuring that expenditure is fantastically high – after all, a king can’t have too many palaces, hunting lodges, balls, silly wigs or fabulously glamorous mistresses.
7. Sing for your supper. Bored young kings like Louis XV require constant diversions to make the tediousness of ruling bearable. If, like La Pompadour, you are a talented actress, why not set up a court theatre at enormous expense to the state, where you and other marquises, princes, dukes and countesses can put on the King’s favourite plays? If the other “actresses” turn out to be rather pretty and talented, Pompadour suggests changing the repertoire to opera, thus reducing the possible cast to you and the other two aristocrats who can sing.
Through reading the memoirs, I sadly learned virtually nothing about Madame de Pompadour – my tendency to fall into an apathetic coma every half page probably didn’t help on this score. The only fun bit was when Pompadour and her maid sneak into town wearing fake noses made out of bladders in order to consult a fortune teller. I guess I will have to read a proper biography if I want to actually know useful stuff.
It is sad when the primary sources let you down…