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Madame de Pompadour: Eminence without honor
The Hudson Review
A skillful woman knows how to mingle pleasure with the general interest and, without boring her lover, contrives to have him do what she wants.
-Mme. de Tencin
[S]uch a combination-that of the genius of a Richelieu in the body of a Pompadour are not, perhaps, in the order of things possible.
-Sainte-Beuve, "Louis XV"
A review of several biographies of the one called at Versailles “Mama Putain”:
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The one by that inimitable stylist Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh’s friend, is by far the best. There is some evidence, in the Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, edited by Charlotte Mosley (New York: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1996), that Waugh gave Mitford some advice concerning the composition of biographies for a cultivated but non-academic audience:
On no account a novel. A popular life like Strachey’s QUEEN VICTORIA, to be enjoyed by Honks [Cooper] and Pam Barry. Plenty of period prettiness. Write for the sort of reader who knows Louis XV furniture when she sees it but thinks Louis XV was son of XIV and had his head cut off. There is no limit to the amount of knowledge YOU must have. The question is how much to impart. Aldous Huxley fails in this matter of taste, particularly in Devils of Loudon, he can’t resist giving irrelevant information. But I’m sure your artistic taste won’t fail you.
I write from memory, but I think it is fair to say Madame de Pompadour’s influence in politics was disastrous. The defeats of 1759 were her defeats. But I daresay historians have changed their views since I stopped studying.
As far as I remember, the Parlements were King’s Courts like our royal courts temp. Henry II, designed to break the power of the feudal courts. By Louis XV time I think the feudal courts had not much more power than the English J.P.s. All authority IN THEORY emanated from the throne, but the Parlements soon became practically hereditary themselves. The noblesse de robe (from whom incidentally most of the best Jansenist came) were a group of wealthy and learned families who shared out the legal appointments among themselves. But Toqueville will tell you all this, I am sure.
Strachey, in Q.V., knew all the politics of the reign inside out and just drew on his knowledge here and there when it was necessary for his portrait. It is like the knowledge of anatomy that is necessary for drawing a clothed figure—but I suppose that with your views of art you won’t admit that it is necessary.
I imagine Mme. de P.as Phyllis de Janze. I imagine Phyllis did, too.
And the description, from the Goncourts’ Journal of THIS portrait
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