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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Book Thirty

Why do we choose a certain book to read?

We wanted to find out about a gentleman from the sixteenth century called Chastelard. His most noteworthy achievement was that he paid for an unsuccessful amorous adventure with his own death. Before his untimely demise, he was among the retinue that accompanied Mary Stuart from France to Scotland. We found some information about her and the voyage that referenced another of her retinue, Brantome. Brantome was a major chronicler of the courts of France, and the account in his memoirs of Mary's adventures would have interested us if we had found it. We didn't, but another of his books, Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies, we found at BookMooch, and as soon as it arrived it became our thirtieth read of the year.

Brantome's real name was Pierre de Bourdeille. The historical accuracy of his writing is often suspect. His knowledge of the personal lives of royalty, particularly among the Valois, was great. Most of his writing fell under just two subject headings: men and women. It is these intimacies of women which he records in this book.

In what I say of women, I do speak of some, not of all; and of these, I do use only false names and garbled descriptions. I do keep their identity so carefully hid, none may discover it, and never a breath of scandal can come on them but by mere conjecture and vague suspicion, never by certain inference.
Brantome makes this type of assertion in a few places. Yet are there thirty-one pages of notes included in this book which give the identities of those Brantome mentions. He was correct that his writing could never bring scandal upon any of his subjects, for none of his work was ever published during his lifetime, or the lifetime of most of his contemporaries.

This book is divided into seven discourses: Of Ladies Which Do Make Love, and Their Husbands Cuckolds; On the Question Which Doth Give the More Content in Love, Whether Touching, Seeing, or Speaking; Concerning the Beauty of a Fine Leg, and the Virtue the Same Doth Possess; Concerning Old Dames as Fond to Practise Love as Ever the Young Ones Be; Telling How Fair and Honourable Ladies Do Love Brave and Valiant Men, and Brave Men Courageous Women; Of How We Should Never Speak Ill of Ladies, and of the Consequences of So Doing; and Concerning Married Women, Widows and Maids: to Wit, Which of These Same Be Better Than the Other to Love. Each discourse is comprised mostly of anecdotes strung together without much purpose other than to illustrate the general theme.

A Spanish dame, escorted one day by a gallant cavalier through the rooms of the King's Palace and happening to pass by a particular dark and secret recess, the gentleman, piquing himself on his respect for women and his Spanish discretion, saith to her: "A good place, my lady, if it were another than your ladyship." To this the lady merely answered the very same words back again, "Yes, Sir, a good place, if it were another than your lordship." Thus did she imply his cowardliness, and rebuke the same, for that he had not taken of her in so good a place what she did wish and desire to lose, as another and a bolder man would have done in like case.
We found such anecdotes of the First Discourse to be highly entertaining. As the book proceded, the discourses became less interesting. At times Brantome seemed to stray from his theme and merely recount the machinations of royalty and succession. The final discourse begins with an interesting theory, but the particulars which follow don't really expand or prove it.

The biographical and historical essays included in the book all suggest that Brantome wrote with a highly moral tone. This is not something we caught on to. Often his tone is playful, conveyed with a wry sense of humor. No matter what the subjects of his anecdotes do, he has high regard for them so long as they are highborn. He also seemed to have great respect for all the ladies he wrote about. Indeed, in his first discourse, nearly every single one of the ladies who has cuckolded her husband is described by Brantome as "fair and honourable." Perhaps times were different then.

This was an interesting book to read, though we probably would not have read much of it at all if it didn't fall within the scope of our research. For some light enjoyment, we would highly recommend the first discourse. If one avoids the remainder of the book, not much will be missed, unless one has some specialised interests.

1 comment:

  1. Great review:) Thanks. I have some shorts reviews of books for women - so if you're interested you may have a look. I really like to find new ideas to read - cause sometimes it's really hard to find worthy books.