The Poet's Princess

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Liaisons dangereuses

Anne is alone. She has forsaken all those who loved her and renounced all her privileges to belong to her “beloved lover” only. She sees that the Fronde had failed. She realises that she is outstaying her welcome in Bordeaux and fears for her life. Above all, she is beginning to understand that La Rochefoucauld does not love her. In her despair she uses the last means left: she tries to excite her lover’s jealousy in order to get him back.

Her choice could hardly be worse. Monsieur de Nemours is a handsome, bright and gallant man. Though he not only has a spouse, who loves him dearly and with great devotion, but also a mistress with whom he is passionately in love. If he added to all that a scandalous affair with the Princess, he must have been excessively bored during a lengthy military campaign and he yielded to Anne’s charms more through the weakness of the flesh than for the reasons of the heart.

Madame de Longueville does her impossible to publicise her liaison, her cry for help hurled against the indifference of her lover. What a tragedy for this woman with flaming heart that she was so often misunderstood.

“She, who burnt so passionately for the Duke de Nemours did not at all try to handle her former lover,” here Bussy-Rabutin expresses the opinion of the majority of their contemporaries.

“The Duke de Nemours was unable to force himself to feign the love he did not feel. One can be certain that the Princess, who was filthy and stank, could not hide her poor qualities from a man who was passionately in love with another woman,” Bussy-Rabutin reports his sleazy slander.

Anne still believes in the impossible. She is certain that La Rochefoucauld must return to her. She cannot imagine that her beloved highbrow could misread the gist of her desperate deed. His silence startles her more than the storm of vilifications that she endures with lofty dignity. At last she has to understand that it is only she who loves. At last she has to accept that there is nothing to be expected. The Duke de La Rochefoucauld who, for a long time, had intended to break with her, seized the opportunity of her affair with Nemours to leave her without compromising his reputation of a man of breeding. He performs with bravado the role of a betrayed lover, who sends his unfaithful mistress away with a bleeding heart. Nevertheless, his pride is greater than his desire to crush Anne. Despite himself, he can’t stand that his devoted slave dared to set her eyes on another man. His offended vainglory maims his brilliantly calculated plot. He is unable to leave his mistress with the august noblesse he had planned. Driven by his wounded pride, he treats Madame de Longueville so lowly that the élite around him condemn his behaviour.

Madame de Motteville writes in her “Memoirs”:

“The Duke de La Rochefoucauld gladly left Bordeaux to follow the Prince de Condé. The charm of Madame de Longueville, which had once constituted his utmost rapture, has become, at that time, his despair. His passion has changed its nature and instead of love, jealousy possessed his heart. He suspected Madame de Longueville of caring for the Duke de Nemours and his mistrust caused him great anguish. This vexation changed him from a lover into a foe and from the foe into an ungrateful person. The cruel offences that he did, at that time, to this young Princess transcended what a Christian owes to God and a man to a lady of her standing.”

One has to sink to the level of a Bussy-Rabutin not to be shocked by the Duke’s manners:

“The Duke de La Rochefoucauld had been the beloved lover of Madame de Longueville for three years and he considered the unfaithfulness of his mistress with all the fury that a man feels on such an occasion.” He vehemently approves of La Rochefoucauld’s behaviour.

La Rochefoucauld does not content himself to flaunt the tragic mask of a betrayed lover, abandoned by a gallant woman, in public. He tries to bring his mistress down, depriving her of the last support she still can count on: the trust of her family and Condé’s friendship, both considered at the Court as a safe proof of her “glory” and a guarantee of her social standing, which lets them tolerate her eccentricity in manner as in deed.

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