Sunday, August 12, 2012

Francine du Plessix Gray on that interesting office

And who was it, who could have known
that into our time there would fall
an attention upon the conjugal engage-
ments of the Bourbon court, with Mrs.
Rodd still in print? Never wasting,
never wanting anxiously the by-ways
of the Petit Trianon, Francine du
Plessix Gray's publishers have given
to our August distractions her study
of Axel von Fersen, The Queen's Lov-
er, just in time for an afternoon's
browse at the University bookstore.
No less than that infallible atten-
dant upon genital activity in High
Places, Edmund White has waved his
knowing wand of favour over its roil-
ing covers, and Adam Gopnik (fast
contending for docent in all displays
Parisian) praises the text for dis-
covering a novel poignancy in the
admittedly familiar mechanics of the
amorous act. Who, then, could escape
the shop, uninformed?

We are not, in our reticent station,
about to compete with these sages in
the distinguishing of the historic
from the merely mundane tweak and par-
ry of furtive heterosexuality; when,
may it be remembered, the template
for registering their seismicity is
safely etched in the masterpieces of
Nancy Mitford, of the previous mid-
Century. Her Pompadour, Sun King and
Voltaire in Love all satisfy the
question of whether anyone were busy
in this way, with persuasive conjec-
tures on what this could have meant
for Statecraft and the lumens of the
Enlightenment, itself. 

Now, in Gray - a writer I have con-
sulted in the overhang of parents
(Them) and at The New York Review
we meet a refresher course in how 
turmoil of social change might en-
hance the morbidity of concupiscent 
escape. What's it like, in other
words, when all else is not going
according to plan? In this new nov-
el, I cannot raise expectations of 
Stendhal or Manzoni, Lampedusa or 
even Genet; but I think I can tes-
tify to its satisfying the fast-food 
connoisseurship of puberty, such as 
we can recall it from Catullus. Here, 
again, are all the marvels of the 
responsive features, lavishly ad-
dressed, here the exegesis of the 
immortal undercurrents' purgations, 
and mercifully without any bio-
graphical obligation. There will 
be no quiz, Class: it is presumed 
that you have mastered this material.

Yes, I do now understand that Marie
Antoinette's boyfriend lent his ar-
dour to the liberation of the Amer-
ican colonies, and was probably a
pretty good guy in his indulgence
of his own sovereign's hideous ho-
mosexual exploitations of his court.
How modern and accessible our dear
Marshall of Sweden does seem to us
in this light, as a fellow traveler
in the getting through of a time of
fiscal indiscipline. But the revolu-
tion in France cannot be said to
have been accelerated by his hap-
pening to have been in a consoling
place at an abject moment in a mon-
arch's day, and so one cannot as-
sign this text to anyone but lay-
about gossips in the prurience of
of our forbears, whose body count 
mounts well enough, already. Read-
ers, however, who accept a publish-
er's representations of historical
purpose in the product at hand, are
warned of acquiring a vapid tease.

Francine du Plessix Gray
The Queen's Lover
Penguin Press, 2012© 


  1. as noted-a bit tedious, she was best when telling her own story I think, but I said that already, I think? pgt

    1. I decided to hold on to the book, a tough call where shelf space is not endless, because the relationship she describes does point toward a figure, in the Queen, of actual stature.