I love reading non-fiction. Its influence creeps into my writing in so many ways. The notion of all the vampires lying around in Jamie’s bed was inspired by the 17th century French custom of offering guests your bed (more on that later—it’s good, I promise). Oftentimes I’m surprised how risqué it can be, like when Madame de Sevigne writes to her daughter about her son’s impotence, or when she casually talks about meeting his mistresses.
The Transvestite Memoirs by the Abbe de Choisy offers some of the most salacious fare I’ve run into. He describes his love’s bosom thus: “They were two little apples, quite white, whose shape could be seen, with a little rosebud on each; she put a large round patch between them to accentuate their whiteness.” (Pg. 53)
His preferred method of seduction? He pretended to be a woman. He made sure to go out and to be admired—the Abbe was quite vain. In France, one of the places to be seen, besides the theater and opera, was the late mass, also known as the Belle’s mass. It was there the Abbe overheard someone say, “But is it really true that that is a man? He is quite right pass himself off as a woman.” (Pg. 35)
With his guise, he convinced nobles to leave their daughters in his hand. He offered to teach them to dress their hair, and in the case of Mlle. de la Grise, he taught her much more. “Indeed the pain soon vanished, and the tears of suffering became tears of pleasure. She held me with all her strength and said not a word.” (Pg. 77) Later on, he has her mother over, and he mentions how he thoughtfully had the sheets changed.
What I found surprising was Mlle. de la Grise had no idea as to the Abbe’s sex, or sex in general. He compares Mlle. de la Grise (Agnes) with another woman who was a little worldlier, “She would never believe, like Agnes, that babies came through the ear.” (Pg. 80)
One of his favorite moments with Agnes was when he had some guests over. Remember when I mentioned them sharing beds with their guests? The Abbe recounts the night he had Mme. Gaillot over:
She came over and I took her in my arms and made her pass over to the grande ruelle. She was on her back and I was on the left side, my right hand on her breast, our legs intertwined. I bent completely over her to kiss her.
“See,” I said to Madame Gaillot, “she is quite unfeeling. She makes me do the running and does not respond to the affection I give her.”
Meanwhile I was advancing the engagement, kissing her mouth which was redder than coral, and giving her at the same time more solid delights. She had not the control to restrain herself and said, half aloud, with a great sigh: “Ah! That’s wonderful!” (Pg. 85)
It is wonderful Agnes. The Abbe himself thought having an audience increased the pleasure. Thank goodness in his old age the Abbe sat down to pen his memoirs. I still have Aspects of the Embassy to Siam to read. It’s kind of an odd couple thing—the frivolous Abbe was sent on a long sea voyage with a very serious man.
Theo Fenraven said:
The writing at that time was sometimes far richer and more sumptuous than now. Thanks for sharing.
It’s a thin volume, but I found it a joy to read. I do love a man who talks about sex and clothes.
Elin Gregory said:
The modern preoccupation with sparse straightforward prose with an equally sparse and straightforward vocabulary is admirable for getting a point across quickly but I do miss the older style for the lush descriptions and the rather coy way of putting things.
What always surprises me in reading authors like de Choissy, de Sevigne, and Saint-Simon, is always how much I enjoy them, even in translation. I know what you mean about missing the older style. I love Gutenberg for a quick fix of dusty and wordy.
If you get a chance, read Mme. de Sevigne’s letters. She’s a delight. I love how snarky she is, and she’s such a gossip!