Shelved Dolls: Madame de Pompadour – She Is Your Role Model, Now

madame pompadour boucher

You know that notion that if you just linger outside the workplace of someone you have a crush on, or sit in their favorite coffee-shop enough, eventually they’ll notice you and fall in love with you? And how that never, ever works, and you just end up consuming your body-weight in caffeine and cake-pops?

That worked for Madame Pompadour. Admittedly, that was in 1744, and she may have been the last person it worked for, but wow, did it ever work out.

But then, everything worked out for Madame Pompadour. If she was a ball player she’d have hit a home run every time she did anything. She would have hit home runs idly walking on her way to the ballpark. She was probably the most memorable of all the French kings’ mistresses (and when you consider all the French Kings, that’s a lot of mistresses.) Pompadour was not only beautiful, graceful and charming, she was a renowned intellectual, and she helped craft the political the cultural climate of France during the mid-18th century. She patronized everyone from Voltaire to Boucher, and the Pompadour style (of art and architecture, not the hairstyle, though I guess, also the hairstyle) is, unsurprisingly, named after her.

Not bad for a commoner in 18th century France.

Which is one of the reasons I wanted to write about her this week. I’ve gotten a few emails about how most of our Shelved Dolls are women like Edie or Zelda or Evelyn all of whom have heartbreakingly sad stories, and seem like they do not always makes the best life choices. Some people have asked whether, although I present myself as being in favor of women being as smart as they can be, I really, secretly, prefer bimbos. I feel like Hugh Hefner probably has a better retort for that than I do, but I will say, I tend to focus on these unhappy women because, as a rule, tragedies have a better narrative arc than happy stories do, but no. No, I am not suggesting that women who are cool and competent and generally fantastic don’t have great stories, too. So, for the record: GLOSS READERS – BE LIKE POMP. SHE IS YOUR ROLE MODEL, NOW. READ THIS WHILE HALF RECLINING ON A DIVAN.

(And if you like bimbos – next week we have Madame du Barry!)

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    • Megan

      Loved this! I’ve read a little about Louis XV in various and sundry history classes, but next to nothing about Madame de Pompadour. Now I’m heading to the library to see if I can find her biography :-)

    • B

      She was still essentially a prositute – don’t think you can call her a role model.

      • Jennifer Wright

        I think you are wrong. Good talk.

      • whiteroses

        Considering her social class, the options avaliable to women in the 18th century, and her geographic location- yes, you can call her a role model. Just because she was the king’s mistress doesn’t make her less so. Ever heard of Diane de Poitiers? Anne Boleyn? Heck, Camilla Parker Bowles?

        Being someone’s mistress probably shouldn’t be celebrated, but darned if Madame Pompadour didn’t make the best of her opportunities. We could all use a little bit of that in our lives.

    • Tya

      First time commenting on The Gloss, but have been reading for over a year and never tire of it! Shelved Dolls is my favourite section-I can never wait for the new one! So much cool stuff and so many cool women written in a way that’s easy to understand (and damn funny)-it’s fantastic! Keep up the good work and please, keep these coming! (though, if you run out of women you have extremely detailed accounts of at your fingertips, I understand)

    • JenniWren

      I’m sorry, did I miss a memo? I didn’t think the Shelved Dolls were supposed to be role models, I just assumed they were interesting stories about interesting women who lived interesting lives that the reader may not have been aware of. I’ve enjoyed every one of them as such.

      And frankly, reading about people who messed up IS more interesting than reading about those who did everything right! Think of all the famous men who achieved brilliant things but managed to be alcoholics, drug addicts or just general cocks in their private lives. Very few perfect people have walked the earth- it’s far easier to empathize with the imperfect.

      Anyway, lovely article as usual. Is it okay to make suggestions for the future? Because I’d love to see your take on Cora Pearl.

    • Alle C

      I LOVE THE POMPADOUR. POMP FOREVER.

      Nancy Mitford–also known as my favourite Mitford–wrote a really excellent book about her, which I love to this day. And this article was wonderful!

    • MadameDakar

      Also worth checking out, if you are geek-minded, is the Doctor Who episode where David Tennant finds a portal between a spaceship and Madame de Pompadour’s fireplace, and pops in and out at various stages of her life. All kinds of awesome.

      • JenniWren

        Loved that episode! I thought Sophia Myles was wonderful and I especially loved that she was actually dating David Tennant at the time!

      • Jennifer Wright

        So, I am dedicating the rest of the day to watching this episode (I have also never seen Dr. Who before, but I feel like this could really destroy my entire life). For everyone else who wants to watch, here’s a link to the episode: http://www.tubeplus.me/movie/867684/Doctor_Who/season_2/episode_4/The_Girl_in_the_Fireplace/%22

      • Jennifer Wright

        But wait – the revolution happened after Louis XV and Pompadour were dead. IS THIS SHOW HISTORICALLY INACCURATE?

      • Jennifer Wright

        OMG YOU GUYS WHAT IS THIS SHOW WHY IS THE CLOWN MAN SCANNING HER BRAIN?

      • scarlett

        Thank you MadameDakar!!!! That’s actually my favorite episode!!! Im a geek and a romantic. Also thanks JenniWren I didn’t know that they were dating at the time!! Amazing!

      • Renee

        YESSSS! Doctor Who!

      • jen

        hahah Jennifer Wright’s reaction to the Doctor Who episode actually made me laugh out loud.

    • Beth

      Other interesting reading: Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman and Antonia Fraser’s bio of Marie Antoinette.

    • Cheri

      She was obviously very intelligent and all that good stuff, but I just can’t get behind the whole mistress thing. I know I’m lame and old fashioned but I don’t think using sex to become successful is actually empowering.

      Also, I didn’t like that episode of Doctor Who. I know, I’m ridiculous.

    • Amy

      How interesting that mistresses were just an expected part of life and that no one saw anything off about it or about the necessity of the queen’s approval!

      Jennifer Wright, reading your writing tastes like strawberry ice cream.

      • Eagle Eye

        Its interesting to think about them in some ways as being the Kings “real” wife in terms of a relationship in which two people come together who like one another and decide that they’re going to make a go of it, so to speak.

        T

    • Tania

      Aaah, nothing like applying modern day puritanical values to the decadence of French nobility.

    • Renee

      I love this series. So looking forward to du Barry next week!

    • Eileen

      Does anyone else look at Mercedes Bass and think, “You are the reincarnation of Mme. de Pompadour”?

      Just me?

      • Jennifer Wright

        But the Bass’s incredibly amicable divorce was because he was tired of the social circuit/tired of going to the opera! SHE IS LOUIS XV. If the opera is like a sexy young woman? I feel like I’m reaching on this.

    • Jenn

      This is the best Shelved Dolls yet, I love them, please never stop writing them!!!!

    • June

      I used to be a fan of hers, but I just can’t admire her anymore. The more I learn, the more I don’t like her. Pompadour had some qualities, but her tenure as “Prime Minister”of France was disastrous. I guess she had good intentions, but she was easily manipulated by unscrupulous opportunists and supported France changing alliances from Prussia to Austria, which resulted in the Seven Years War (which France lost). By the time of her death, France’s finances were in serious, serious trouble. Louis best years as king were when she wasn’t around. The first years mostly because of Fleury and his lasts because he finnaly managen to implant important reforms and dissolved the incredibly corrupt Parlement of Paris. Reforms which were promply reversed when Louis XVI became king (some people wonder that if Louis XV managed by be king for more years there wouldn’t be a revolution, since he was walking through the right path when he died).

      Plus, she was the person behind the creation of Parc-aux-Cerfs, Louis XV private brothel (you probably know about that). Pompadour was a cold woman sexually, and Louis XV obviously didn’t find that fun, so to keep her reins over him and keep out any pontential threating woman (she almost lost her position twice througout her year’s as king’s mistress) , she begin procuring for him ver young girls of the age 14, 12, and some sources say even 9. Marion Sigaut says she basically corrupted the king turning him into a pedophile and I agree with her. She wasn’t te only one, many people were working for the kings corruption years before that. I can’t admire her anymore, what she did for power, the France treasury’s money she spend keeping her ridiculous extravagant lifestyle, I just can’t.

      However, I like this piece. It’s well written and keeps our interest.

    • tee

      This series is fascinating! I have been completely unproductive (at least physically, I am learning, right?) today.

    • Melannie

      I like Madame Du Barry more than Madame De Pompadour.