Madam Sévigné, la Femme de Lettres


“Her eye color varies and, the eyes being the mirror of the soul, nature  itself tells you not to rely on her too much,” wrote Bussy-Rabutin in his novel about his sister-in-law, Madame Sévigné. “Had a pair of corns sprung on my head, I would be less surprised! I have read this and I have re-read this! What a cruel portrait! I would have found it wonderful, of course, had it described anyone but me, or had it been written by anyone but you.” The response of Madame Sévigné came in a letter, for that was her genre of choice. Let us now see how she uses another letter to bring her cousin, Emmanuel de Coulanges, a certain news, “I am about to tell you something quite astonishing, something’ absolutely surprising and marvelous, miraculous, triumphant, absolutely extraordinary, incredible, unexpected, the most common and yet rare, explosive and secret at the same time, brilliant and most enviable, after all an example of this could be found only in the past, yet it remains laudable, absolutely unbelievable to all of us here in Paris; so, how could you possibly believe it in Lyon? I cannot bring myself to tell you; so why don’t you guess? I give you three guesses! Has the cat got your tongue? Well, you leave me no choice. Monsieur Lauzun marries this Sunday in Louvre…, guess whom? I give you now four guesses! I give you ten! I give you a hundred; and since you would never guess, I ought to tell you myself, he marries on Sunday, in Louvre and with the king’s approval, Mademoiselle…, Mademoiselle…, can you guess the name? He marries Mademoiselle, my God! I swear! …on the stack of Bibles! …the Mademoiselle, the grand-daughter of Henry IV! Mademoiselle, the cousin of His Majesty Louis XIV! ” Here we must add that la Grande Mademoiselle was the nick-name of the princess in question and the play on words helps to reveal the name, while sustaining the suspense till the end.

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