4 August 2016

Jean Teulé: Le Montespan | Monsieur Montespan (2008)

The definite article in the original French title is actually italicised: Le (as opposed to La) Montespan, indicating that the emphasis of Jean Teulé's novel is on the Marquis (rather than the Marquise) de Montespan. In other words, instead of the usual interest in Louis XIV's mistress, it's on her husband.

From the writer of Le Magazin des suicides, this is again a very humorous book, although I find it much better, one of the reasons perhaps being that it's based on factual information, no matter how bizarre – or grotesque – that may seem.

We have Louis-Henri de Pardaillan, otherwise known as Montespan, marrying Françoise (later named Athénaïs), and them having almost non-stop sex. Louis-Henri is particularly smitten, although they've almost no money partly due to their extravagant lifestyle, and Madame de Montespan insists on continuing to live the high life in central Paris while the debts increase.

Louis-Henri decides to take part in various battles with little risk to his life but he's thinking of the possiblility of being favourably recognised by the sun king. However, it's Louis-Henri's beautiful wife whom Louis XIV recognises, and it isn't long before she joins the king in his bed, in fact becomes the royal favourite. Such things were accepted in those days, and indeed it was viewed as a kind of compliment for a person's wife to be so recognised.

But the Marquis de Montespan doesn't see it like that, insults the king, attaches huge antlers to his own carriage (as a sign of his being cuckolded), is the laughing stock of Paris, is briefly imprisoned, and then exiled to his native Gascony.

This novel is very much a story of Louis-Henri's unceasing unrequited love for his wife, but also the story of the machinations of Louis XIV and his court attempting to buy Louis-Henri off in exchange for him keeping his mouth shut and avoiding negative comments from the clergy: after all, what Louis is doing is a sin according to the highly influential Catholic Church. You can almost detect the spin doctors to come a few centuries after.

I particularly liked some expressions used here. 'Aller à Naples sans passer par les ponts' (lit. 'Going to Naples without taking the bridges') is a reference to homosexuality and is a slight variant of the expression 'Aller à Naples sans passer par les monts', a reference to catching a sexually transmitted disease. And how about 'Le cardinal loge à la motte' (lit. the cardinal is lodging in the mound') for menstruation?

My other Jean Teulé post:

Jean Teulé: Le Magasin des suicides

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