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Libertinages

August 2, 2012 16 comments

Point de lendemain by Vivant Denon 1813 (English title: No tomorrow) and La Petite Maison by Jean-François de la Bastide. 1758.

Last Christmas, a relative gave me a literary perpetual calendar. One quote for each day. This calendar is in my office so that I can start my day of stressed executive with a parenthesis of beauty. It’s a good calendar, plenty of quotes by Proust in there. Last week, I turned the page to read this quote:

Il en est des baisers comme des confidences : ils s’attirent, ils s’accélèrent, ils s’échauffent les uns par les autres. En effet, le premier ne fut pas plutôt donné qu’un second le suivit ; puis un autre, ils ne pressaient, ils entrecoupaient la conversation, ils la remplaçaient ; à peine enfin laissaient-ils aux soupirs la liberté de s’échapper. Now, kisses are like secrets. One leads to another, they quicken, they grow more heated by the process of accumulation. And so it proved now. The first had scarcely been given when a second followed, then a third, each crowding closely on the heels of the one before, interrupting our talk and then replacing it entirely, until at last they hardly left any path for our sighs to escape by. Translated by David Coward

Beautiful, isn’t it? The syntax shows the urgency, the breathlessness, the heat of the moment. It reminded me that Point de lendemain by Vivant Denon had been on the shelf at home since the moment I read Max’s review of that little gem. I picked up the book when I came home and took a journey back into the French 18thC in an instant.

I read the 1813 version of the text, which is also the one translated by Lydia Davis. The publisher included the former version of 1777 in the book; I only browsed through it.

In Point de lendemain, our narrator relates how he was seduced and duped by Mme de T…, his lover’s friend. Our young man is only twenty and is inappropriately early in the theatre, waiting for his mistress when Mme de T… suggests that he comes with her to her house in the countryside. They leave and hurry to her house where he is to meet her husband with whom she has just been reconciled after being apart for several years. I’m not going to tell too much of the plot.

Once again, you’ll notice that we’d be wrong to think that making out in vehicles was invented with the automobile. There’s this scene between Emma and Mr Elton in Emma, one in La double méprise de Mérimée and this incredible one in La Curée by Zola. Believe me, naughty things happened in these carriages. Here, the flirting starts with brushing against one another as the carriage jolts along. The atmosphere is already on an erotic mode when they reach the house and the heat and teasing increases as time goes by:

Quand la crainte est bannie, les caresses cherchent les caresses : elles s’appellent plus tendrement. On ne veut plus qu’une faveur soit ravie. Si l’on diffère, c’est raffinement. Le refus est timide et n’est qu’un tendre soin. On désire, on ne voudrait pas : c’est l’hommage qui plaît… Le désir flatte… L’âme en est exaltée… On adore… On ne cédera point… On a cédé. When fear is banned, caresses search caresses: they call each other more tenderly. A favor must be stolen. Postponing is refinement. Refusal is coy and is nothing more than a tender care. One desires but would like not to: the enjoyment lies in the compliment. Desiring is delightful… The soul gets carried away. One adores…One will not surrender…One has surrendered. (my translation, sorry)

No Tomorrow is a tale of seduction, of manipulation and of pure marivaudage. (the dictionary says “light-headed banter” but this retrieves the allusion to Marivaux, a famous playwright of the 18thC who excelled in this flirting, seducing and art of discussion). It is so French that I almost wrote my billet in French. You can imagine them strolling in a French garden like in Versailles and reach a little pavilion in a remote part of it and meet there for a rendezvous. Because our narrator is twenty, he gets mixed up in this through a cocktail of self-confidence, naïveté and passion. After all, he’s arrogant enough not to be that surprised that she proposes to him. He’s too naïve to imagine ulterior motives. And he’s too passionate and spontaneous not to take his chance and see where this will lead him.

In my edition, La petite maison by Jean-François de la Bastide is after Point de lendemain and indeed they complement one another. A petite maison (a little house) meant at the time what we call now a bachelor pad, or more elegantly, a love nest. In La petite maison, the Marquis de Trémicour is determined to seduce the pure Mélite thanks to the beauty of his petite maison. She perfectly knows where she’s going to and is determined not to give in. She’s known to have excellent taste in arts and the marquis wants to use the artistic and exquisite architecture of his petite maison to seduce her. During the whole tale, he leads her from one room to the other, showing off the magnificence of the decoration with the sole purpose of putting her in such a state of artistic rapture that it ill bring her guard down and surrender.

En effet, ce salon est si voluptueux qu’on y prend des idées de tendresse en croyant seulement en prêter au maître auquel il appartient. Indeed, this room is so voluptuous that one gets ideas of tenderness while believing only to credit some to the master to whom it belongs.(My translation, even more sorry)

Honestly, I struggle to translate this and give back the double entendre in it. prendre des idées de tendresse means get ideas of tenderness and it is in opposition with prêter which also means to lend but I used to credit in English. Don’t hesitate to suggest a better translation. It’s a good example of the elegant style of M. de la Bastide.

The decoration is done to put lovers in the right mood and you’ll need to read the book to discover if he succeeds in seducing her or not. This short story is also a gallant tale from that century, the kind that goes with paintings by Watteau, stories about the Regent and plays by Marivaux.

If you fell for Les Liaisons dangereuses, then you need to read this. It has this particular atmosphere that I associate with the 18thC in France.

Here are other reviews of Point de lendemain by John Self (Thanks for including the quote I’d selected and thus providing me with a good translation) and at Book Slut (spoilers there though) and by Kevin from Canada

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