• Tue, Jul 24 2012

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

This might not seem as exciting as the poison-filled upbringing at court. Unsurprisingly, though, considering all the poison, Louis XV loved that she was bourgeois. All of Louis XV’s favorite mistresses (like Madame Maintenon and the later Madame du Barry) were common born, and, certainly, the fact that Madame Pompadour wasn’t an aristocrat allowed Louis a freedom in his interactions with her that the pomp and ceremony of the court of Versailles would never permit.

While we’re often apt to think of romances in the past as being very high on drama and feuding families and all sorts of operatic excitement, well, people living in the past are not aware they are living in the past. They think they are living in the present. For their whole lives, they think that. And so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Louis XV’s and Madame Pompadour’s relationship was successful for the same reason I think most relationships are successful – they essentially liked doing the same stuff.

Like adopting monkeys. While Louis did love to hunt, both he and Madame Pompadour were animal lovers, who soon formed a menagerie comprised of cats, dogs, and monkeys.

Pompadour also introduced Louis to a number of new authors – like her friend, Voltaire – though at one point Louis complained that she could not keep doing this, because, at the rate she was going, he was going to meet every author in the world. It’s possible he was right. At her death, Madame Pompadour’s library was found to contain 3,525 books and she was known to recite passages from memory in conversation. Louis told his friends that she often acted out comic scenes for him, and that she was very funny. She was known, among the rest of the court, to have a good sense of humor, though she did not act out scenes for them.

She did, however, perform in theatrical productions, often playing male roles (they had better lines). After one performance in Le Prince de Noisy , where Pompadour played the Prince, Loui XV ran onstage and hugged her, exclaiming “she is the most delicious woman in France.”

Madame Pompadour also began hosting little dinner parties for Louis and his friends. They were so informal that Louis supposedly helped her with the preparations, and served all the guests coffee himself. This all sounds like the kind of normal, good natured thing that husbands in a 1950s sitcom would do, but you have to remember that this was a court where aristocrats grew out their fingernails to obscene lengths in order to indicate that they were of such exalted social status that they would never need to pick things up with their hands.

When Louis realized that everyone in Pompadour’s family had nicknames for one another – Pompadour was Reinette, her brother was referred to as Frerot (“little bro” or “kiddo”) – he soon adopted nicknames for his own daughters (“Locque” for Adelaide and “coche” for Victoire, which mean “rag” and “coach” respectively. I’m not sure Louis quite understood how nicknames worked, but I’m sure he put a lot of thought into those.)

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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.