- Mademoiselle de Montpensier: Writings, Châteaux, and Female Self-Construction in Early Modern France by Sophie Maríñez
This volume gives a compelling and detailed survey of the life and times of AnneMarie-Louise d'Orléans, 'la Grande Mademoiselle', Duchesse de Montpensier: granddaughter of Marie de' Medici and Henri IV, first cousin to Louis XIV, probably the wealthiest unmarried woman in Europe, and, on this account, one of the most radical. Sophie Maríñez is excellent on Montpensier's renegotiation of constructs traditionally [End Page 597] ascribed to women: most obviously virtue, chastity, and submission to patriarchal figures. In Montpensier's case, this process of self-construction is literalized in the commissioning of buildings, gardens, and portraits and tracked in her correspondence and memoirs. Thus Montpensier continues in forceful terms a conversation about structural misogyny found previously, for example, in Christine de Pizan's Livre de la cité des dames. Maríñez also fully situates Montpensier's work in the tradition of female architectural patronage, moving from Anne de Bretagne's chateau in Nantes to Diane de Poitiers's Anet and the Medici queens' Tuileries and Luxembourg. A brief final chapter deals with her fictional works and their imagined spaces: a moon, an island, faraway realms. Throughout, scrupulous biographical detail is extracted from Montpensier's life-writing and analysed for the strategic positioning it reveals, in a (very real) world where everybody around her is after her money. Marínñez considers two major, overlapping patterns in Montpensier's work: a search for maternal substitutes (her mother, Marie de Bourbon, had died in childbirth at the age of twenty-one), and an obsessive reiteration of rank. This latter emphasis emerges particularly after the Fronde: Montpensier had famously ordered a cannonade shot directly at the king's troops, resulting in her forced exile to Saint-Fargeau in 1652. From 1660, following conversations with Mme de Motteville, she began seriously to envisage a way of life free from the constraints of marriage; she was exiled again, now to Eu, following a refusal to marry the King of Portugal, who had been described to her as debauched, unmannerly, and fond of murder. The portraits she commissioned of herself are brilliantly suggestive repositories of familial detail: painted by Pierre Bourgignon, she poses as Minerva, virgin goddess, and protectrix of the arts, holding but looking triumphantly away from a small inset portrait of her father, who seems insignificant and immobilized in comparison. Throughout, this sort of interdisciplinary analysis is the book's strength. It is let down, however, by the quality of production. The photographs look like (and presumably are) holiday snaps, with all the attendant problems of foreshortening and truncation. Some are terribly blurred. Quotations move bizarrely and inconsistently between English and French. Why is Mme de Sévigné only read in translation, for example, and her renowned announcement of Montpensier's late and shocking attempt to marry, for love, the lowly Comte de Lauzun ('la chose la plus étonnante, la plus surprenante, la plus merveilleuse, la plus miraculeuse', and so on and so forth) given only in English? These are issues for the editors at Brill Rodopi as much as for the author.