Seperis (seperis) wrote,

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books: The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Françoise d'Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon by Veronica Buckle

Between downloading insane amounts of music, I'm also buying insane numbers of books. Most recently:

The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Françoise d'Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon by Veronica Buckley, a biography of Françoise d'Aubigné. The main reason I bought this was because I read a novel about her years ago, and it was one of those where I was absolutely sure that seriously, artistic license was taken like whoa. Because let's face it, when you're born to the lowest French gentry in prison (speculatively) because your father is vaguely parricidal and psychotic, you spend a childhood shuffling between continents and begging in the streets, in general, that doesn't end with you marrying Louis XIV of France because he fell in love with your mind and starting a school for underprivileged girls (in between randomly raising other people's children, including his by your friend before you were his mistress).

And yet. These things happen.

Note: during my extremely geeky youth, this period of time up to the beheading of Louis XVI was kind of among my favorites, but not at all even close to a well-read amateur. There are some really questionable historical bits--I'm not sure mistakes is the word to use here, but suffice to say, there are some issues that come up that don't entirely match some generally accepted views of the period. If you're well-read regarding the Huguenots and the Edict of Nantes, you may start foaming at the mouth in her approach to one of the bigger issues of Louis XIV's reign, which below I'll hit in somewhat more detail.

Also note: she is really, really not trying to be objective. If this was fandom, this would be a character manifesto.

Issue 1: the author had a very specific reason on how she interpreted Françoise's faith and how devoutly Catholic she was, which I get from a historical perspective regarding the Huguenots and how much Louis XIV was influenced by Françoise. The author really fought it down to the ground that Françoise wasn't as deeply devout as is often believed to combat this, and she slams that down on your head at every possible opportunity, including some very loose interpretations of certain quotes.

It's a lot easier to deal with if you go in knowing that this is her particular issue with how Françoise is seen historically or it really won't make a lot of sense on why that keeps coming up even when you're not sure how it relates to what is going on in that specific chapter. I get she's trying to remove the historical taint that Françoise heavily influenced or was wildly enthusiastic about the persecution of Huguenots in France, but she's doing it almost entirely by attempting to prove Françoise was not very devout. This gets awkward when Françoise's non-Huguenot-oppression actions seem to reflect a depth of faith, which means there is a lot of circling around explaining how it was political, social, or advancement-related. It gets super weird when she actually can't explain it (the entire sequence of events where Françoise's banging the king because--and I could be wrong on what the author was going for here--it was better if he was only cheating on his wife with one person instead of many is honest to God hilarious).

Issue 2: Because I'm not sure what she was going for with this: while mentioning that Françoise may (or probably) had had sexual relationships with some of her female friends, she's really clear that Françoise had no real attraction to her sex while following up with the women she (likely) slept with, then follows up that with how Platonic Bed Sharing was a thing, which yes, it was, but there was a sense she was making some kind of random stand for Françoise's heterosexuality while trying to combine it with sex with women = lack of devoutness or something. I'm honestly not sure what the hell that was about. It was more awkward than offensive, but it did make me twitchy, even though it was a fairly short section.

Issue 3: Françoise's female friendships are told as important but rarely shown, especially the development of her friendship with the Marquise de Montespan, as well as many of the very strong friendships she developed during her marriage to Scarron and during her widowhood. To be fair, her relationship with Louis XIV also feels somewhat sketchy at times. The Montespan bits, and the very shortened version of how she raised Louis XIV and Montespan's babies is somewhat annoying.

Honestly, this could be called How Françoise Did Not Cause Huguenot Oppression (And Was Not Very Catholic, Really) and Also Her Life If There Is Time. However, overall, it's a very interesting read, though I would have been far more likely to at least take some of her theories under consideration if she hadn't spent so much time trying to make me believe them by sheer force of will. And honestly, if nothing else, the entire nailing the king to keep him more faithful to his wife is amazing.

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