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text 2014-12-29 20:35
Books I Read and REALLY Liked in 2014

I've been enjoying everyone's end of year summings up (in various fun forms) and thinking on making one of my own - and I couldn't quite come up with a way to rank anything. Which is I suppose what happens when you end up reading a variety of random things. Anyway, there's no order to this - except I have a particular fondness for the first book mentioned. History wins out this year, which isn't always the case.


Annoyingly all my favorite reads have also been the ones that I haven't written reviews for. (Except one!) But I think I can explain that! (There's a trend of laziness too, but we'll ignore that bit.)


[Jan 2, 2015: Since this has been linked at booklikes I thought I should add - a few of these are much more academic than others and have what I'd call "some dryer patches" reading-wise. Mad Madge in particular. I'll go into more detail when I review them, and add links to this. In this list I was more focused on how the book impacted me personally - I usually post more info as to readability in my reviews to give readers a head's up. Which is usually why I go quote-happy.]



Mad Madge: The Extraordinary Life of Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle, the First Woman to Live by Her Pen

by Katie Whitaker


This book was the perfect sort for the mood I was in - but it also requires a bit of backstory. So about a year ago I started the fun process of getting divorced, and it turns out that ends up effecting everything, even things you'd not thought over. Like what you enjoy reading.


Madge is Margaret Cavendish, and she gradually realizes that not only does she enjoy writing, but that it's important to her. And she wants to publish a book. Noble women of her day did NOT do this. They especially did not do this without asking their husbands first. Margaret did both. The author spends a good bit of text quoting what contemporary men and women felt about women authors (and educated women) - not much of which is positive. And because I've read enough fiction, this looked like the ol' set up of Woman Tells Husband Her Big Secret and He Reacts Badly. (I always have hated the Big Misunderstanding/Disagreement trope.) Here's the fun part - in reality William Cavendish was not upset, and in fact was extremely proud of his wife and wents on to brag about her to anyone and everyone he knew (and some no doubt rolled their eyes a good deal). Theirs was also a love match, and there's a chapter that's full of some of the love poems he wrote to her.

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text 2014-06-24 20:12
Reading in Progress: Richelieu's Affair with Thérèse, or The Secret of the Chimney
First Gentleman of Bedchamber : The Life of the Duc de Richelieu : Courtier, Warrior, Man of Affairs, and Marchal of France - Hubert Cole

The book review is going to be ridiculously long if I add all the interesting bits, so I thought I'd put this one story in its own post. (And I snagged the Secret of the Chimney title from another book I'll cite in the review - the affair didn't have just one title.) It's also one of the best of the many stories of Richelieu's affairs because it has some artful sneaking around and weird detail, as well as the awfulness of husband-wife relations of the 1700s (I'm assuming everyone thinks wife beating is horrible). I'll link to several French wikipedia google-translations because there's often not much in the English wikipedia about many of the people involved.


Confession: I am lazy and am not adding all of the French accents, despite actually having had multiple years of French classes. Basically I've had enough French to feel guilty over leaving out accents. Sorry to all my French profs out there. [Later: Since I typed that I've given in and started to add a few of the accents. Guilt inspires some mild editing, at least.]


First, a link to the duc de Richelieu in question, as there were many: Armand de Vignerot du Plessis (here's a more detailed French wikipedia entry)


Catherine Françoise Thérèse Boutinon Hayes (or Françoise Thérèse Boutinon Catherine Hayes or Boutinon Therese Hays, Madame de la Poupliniere - there are loads of variations) was an actress who through her beauty had managed to snag a wealthy man as a husband: Alexandre Joseph Rich of Pouplinière of Cheveigné. (I'm going to refer to them as just Richelieu, Thérèse and La Pouplinière.)

La Pouplinière doesn't worry about having Richelieu around his wife, p 160-162:


"...Richelieu's amatory reputation did not worry him, for he knew that Thérèse was frigid by nature, refusing his own infrequent demands now that she was no longer impelled by cupidity to accept them. Enfeebled by earlier excesses, he was willing to accept his wife's refusals so long as he could enjoy the envy in other men's eyes; and he watched contentedly as she turned down one distinguished suitor after another...

Had La Poupliniere understood Richelieu's character better he would have realized that this was precisely the sort of challenge that he could never resist accepting. There were still very few women who could withstand him when he really set his mind to it, and sometime in 1744 he successfully seduced Thérèse in an armchair which he had given her and which she thenceforth kept as a love-totem in her boudoir. This cold, unkindled, desirable women suddenly discovered that she had fallen in love, desperately, deeply, without restraint. ...Inevitably, La Poupliniere was told one day that his wife was in the habit of receiving Richelieu in private and for long periods. He forbade Thérèse to see Richelieu, and she assented so meekly that his suspicions increased and he had her watched. ...

There were guests for supper that evening in the mansion ...and nobody noticed anything unusual in La Poupliniere's sulky behavior; he had often been bad-tempered recently. But when all the company except one of Thérèse's women friends had left, he flew into a furry, accusing his wife of disobeying and betraying him; as she got up from the table, he boxed her ears with such force that she fell to the floor. Her friend began to protest but was given such a thundering cuff in her turn that she ran out of the house and went in search of Richelieu; La Poupliniere returned to his wife, who was still lying on the floor, and kicked her repeatedly in the face and the chest until his rage was exhausted, hurting her so badly that her doctors had to bleed her three times the next day and twice more within the following twenty-four hours.

Richelieu was in a quandary. He could not go to plead for Thérèse or offer her his protection, because La Poupliniere was a common man behaving in a common way; it was even possible that he might go so far as to strike Richelieu, who could scarcely demean himself by demanding satisfaction in a duel. ...

A nobleman, in his less formal moments, might punch his wife in the head or kick her in the ribs, but he would do it strictly privately and without fuss, and seldom for such a frivolous reason as suspecting her of adultery. He would take it for granted that his wife would have a lover, and perhaps several."


Even after this episode the two didn't stop seeing each other. (Richelieu was the type that seemed to have more fun because sneaking around was required.) Richelieu disguised himself and rented the house next door to La Pouplinière.

p 162-3: "...He entered communications with Thérèse by the seduction of her maid, Mademoiselle Dufour (although, to conserve his energies, he entrusted this task to his Italian valet, Stefano); and he prepared to make entry into Therese's boudoir from an adjoining room on the second floor of his own house.

...one evening two masons, who had been collected in a hired carriage and driven to Richelieu's house with their eyes blindfolded, were taken up to the second-floor room, where they removed the back of the fireplace on his side and on Thérèse's and replaced hers with a similar sheet of iron mounted on hinges and bolted on Richelieu's side. The work was completed in a single night when La Poupliniere was away from home, and from that time forward Richelieu would tap on his side of the iron backplate, wait for Thérèse's answering tap to signal that the coast was clear, and then slide back the bolt; when he emerged from the chimney to join Therese in one house, Mademoiselle Dufour made the reverse journey to Stefano in the other."


In this way Richelieu continued to see Thérèse. The only catch was that the maid, Dufour, was susceptible to bribery, as well as trying to blackmail Thérèse for more money to remain silent. La Pouplinière paid Dufour to spy on Thérèse and to steal Richelieu's letters to her. Finally La Pouplinière decided to search Thérèse's bedroom, since he was sure Richelieu was somehow getting access to the house. He brought in his lawyer and a well known mechanical engineer to inspect the room, and it was then that they found the trick door. In the French wikipedia page for Thérèse it notes that the engineer was so impressed that he called it "beautiful work" and didn't want it destroyed because it was a "masterpiece."


La Pouplinière was furious, and it was lucky that when Thérèse comes home after he's made this discovery that there were plenty of witnesses around (or so I think, judging by the earlier beating) because although La Pouplinière immediately tells her she must leave his house he does agree to pay her money to buy furniture and a regular yearly allowance.


p. 175: "...Soon Paris was ringing with songs about Richelieu's latest exploit and the toy-sellers were offering tiny models of chimneys with revolving backplates, some of them made of gold or decorated with precious stones and much admired as novel Christmas presents. "Nothing was ever better invented," Louis wrote to him in admiration, "and it was easy to identify the inventor. I regret not having seen it myself, for I could not have resisted trying it. But you must console yourself that you will henceforward be able to get your little comforts more easily and without spoiling your clothes with soot." "


The Louis in question was Louis XV, and he's more of a pig than Richelieu, in various ways I'll not rant about here. Frankly my favorite part of this story is the fact that Parisians loved it so much that they bought model chimneys to give as gifts.


There's not a happy end to Thérèse story, but then that's true for a good many of Richelieu's lovers. She remained in love with him for many years and, as usual with him and women, he wasn't quite as eager to see her once the forbidden nature of the affair was removed. So he wrote and visited less and less. Thérèse fell ill which what was apparently cancer and eventually died. Near the end she reconciled with her husband, having given up her love of Richelieu.


I haven't been able to find any images for those toy chimneys btw, just references to other books that tell the story. And of course there's no mention of what happened to the chair Thérèse kept as a souvenir, though I did wonder what happened to it. You'd think her husband would have burnt it or something.

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text 2014-06-24 03:51
Reading In Progress: Ok, Book, We Need to Have A Chat
First Gentleman of Bedchamber : The Life of the Duc de Richelieu : Courtier, Warrior, Man of Affairs, and Marchal of France - Hubert Cole

Book, I am indeed enjoying reading you, it's just that this little 3+ pages or so description you've decided to go on and on about with this execution by whateveryoucallit - tying the dude's four limbs to four separate horses and making them run and thus pull off said limbs (I am so not in the mood to google that!).*  Even though you're not being uber gorey about describing it, when I got to the part about the execution not working no matter how much the horses keep pulling... Just, no, not putting me in a happy place. So you're going into the time out box for the moment.


Oddly the dude being executed really has nothing to do with the duc de Richelieu. I assume it's just being thrown in for local color. And the line about the aristocrats hanging around to watch the execution and feeling sorry for the horses because they were getting tired - oh yeah, that's indeed colorful. (Ugh.)


This is actually a great example of why I'll sometimes set a book aside and pick up another. And how I end up reading so many books at once. That time out box (or shelf or pile) is always full of a few books for various reasons.


This is going to be such a weird book to review. I'm going to have to write two reviews in one:

1) bemused discussion of the constant bed-hopping stories (there are some truly good ones in there - using disguises and hidden doors) and egotism of the duc de Richelieu, and

2) a rant in which I want to smack all the men in the entire century (starting with the French court and working my way through the continent) for their treatment of women, not to mention wanting to give a stern talk to the women who continually put up with Richelieu as long as he keeps sleeping with them.

(That's a seriously long commitment to smacking people around that I'm proposing. Er, along with the time travel.)


I have looked at lots of paintings of this man. I just do not see what all these women are falling all over themselves about. Though everyone does keep saying that it's his way of talking people into things that keeps him popular, both politically and with the ladies.




*Is there another term besides drawing and quartering when you're not going to do any slicing up and parts removal, just the horse and limbs bit? As I said, sooo not in the mood to research this atm. I have to get into a Ready For Gross Stories mode. Which I was not in when this delightful execution segment decided to get lengthy.

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text 2014-06-21 02:56
Friday 56 Challenge: Quote from First Gentleman of the Bedchamber
First Gentleman of Bedchamber : The Life of the Duc de Richelieu : Courtier, Warrior, Man of Affairs, and Marchal of France - Hubert Cole

So when I picked up this book at a thrift store - because I'm a sucker for $1 books - I was sure that the title was used purposely to draw in folk who didn't know what a "gentleman of the bedchamber" actually was, and assumed it was all about someone's wild sex life. I was pretty sure that it was going to be the usual French history, with large amounts of courtly traditions of lesser royals serving greater royals, where handing the king his nightshirt was the main excitement. I was expecting a lot of gossip.


Oh, was I sooooo wrong. Not about the gossip because there's loads of that - but that this wouldn't be all about someone's sex life. Because it is.


The full title of the book is The First Gentleman of the Bedchamber: The Life of Louis-Francois-Armand, marechal duc de Richelieu. And the man not only had sex with every woman that ever struck his fancy, but also took great delight in telling everyone about it. I can't stop reading because I keep waiting for him to get into some kind of trouble that he can't manage to talk his way out of. It's kind of amazing that no one's made a movie out of his life yet - but that's probably just because I haven't watched enough French films - someone must have. The details are just too over the top.


His wikipedia page, under the name: Armand de Vignerot du Plessis

Which doesn't tell you anything near the detail of the book, but I will call attention to this line, under Marriages:

"The duke was such a renowned womaniser that it is said Choderlos de Laclos based the character Valmont in Les Liaisons dangereuses on him."

Yes, he's that guy. So there's at least that movie. But there's so much more dirt in his biography...


I was hoping that page 56 would have a great example of one of his sex stories. Like the time he had two mistresses of his - both thinking they were his only (current) lover - meet at the same time and place, and then (surprise!) meet each other....and he STILL ends up sleeping with both of them (they agree to it!!!), right then, one after the other. (And this happens AGAIN with two different women. He apparently liked this scenario.)


But no, page 56 only gives us a duel. It's also not his first duel. Links in the quote to wikipedia, in case you want to know who the royals involved were. And in case it's not clear, Richelieu was indeed sleeping with Mademoiselle de Charloais (though possibly not as frequently in 1721 simply because I find it hard to keep track of who he was with when, and he seemed to tire of women rapidly after they said yes).


p. 56-57:


"In May 1721, a guest once more at a hunting party at Chantilly, he was drawn aside by his host, the duc de Bournon. Bourbon was in the mentally disturbing situation of hating his sister, Mademoiselle de Charolais, yet bitterly resenting Richelieu's association with her. He had frequently tried to provoke him to a duel: unfairly, since provocation would not have been a sufficient excuse to save Richelieu from severe punishment if he had done serious injury to a prince of the blood. This time Bourbon ordered him to draw his sword on the spot, saying: "Richelieu, you know that I have disliked you for a long time; now you shall answer to me for it."


Richelieu protested that he had no wish to comply. "I know the respect that I owe you, Monseigneur, and I am not the man to fight you." The only reply was a lunge from the prince, and Richelieu put himself on guard. He allowed Bourbon to wound him in the hand, thinking that this might satisfy him. It did not, and in the end Richelieu was fighting in earnest, desperately trying to ward off the furious attack without inflicting too much damage on his opponent. In this he was only half successful; Bourbon was wounded in the stomach, but he had the grace to admit that he had forced the fight on Richelieu. Fortunately, he was known to be a man of violent and uncontrolled temper. As one diarist put it: "Everybody says that Monsieur le Duc's mind has been deranged for some time. Not that this makes much difference, for what he had was small and evil."


Those snarky lines at the end? The book is full of them. Lots of people left letters and memoirs full of that kind of snark. Which I honestly have to approve of, because it's terribly fun to read. (If teachers had this kind of primary source reading in high school I think a LOT more kids would enjoy history. Or at least pay attention during class.)


Oh and I will indeed quote some of the sex stories in the review. They're not full of risque language or graphic detail, just many, many scenarios. Not to mention scenarios of his peers, many of whom were also hopping in and out of various beds. I think after I finish this and Worsley's Courtiers I'll have to try and figure out who was having more affairs at this time, the English or the French court.


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