A secret drive to crave disgrace or an insane desire to please? …
Louise Mignot, the daughter of Voltaire’s sister, had in 1738 married Monsieur Denis of the Commisariat Department, who died in 1744. Her uncle on the occasion of her marriage had presented her with a dowry of thirty thousand francs. On the death of madame de Chatelet his niece became his mistress and constant companion; they lived together until the day of his death.
His friends were perplexed by this infatuation. Madame Denis was ugly, unintelligent, a bad housekeeper, snobbish and intellectually pretentious. It seemed strange indeed that Voltaire, who was so fastidious and tidy in his habits, could have loved, or even tolerated, this dull and slatternly woman. What was even worse, she had extravagant tastes, and Voltaire, who was very careful about money, much resented her gift for ostentation and the lavish expenditure which she indulged in when hostess at the estate in Ferney.
She had no taste for country life and was not reticent in expressing her longing for Paris. In fact in 1768, Voltaire gave her leave of absence for eighteen months, and profited by the interlude to cut down expenditure and to give to Ferney a thorough spring cleaning. On her uncle’s death she became his residuary legatee. She immediately disposed of Ferney and sold his library to Catherine the Great. Being now an heiress, she married a young man of the name of du Vivier: she died unlamented in 1790.
When Denis died, six years later, Marie became the mistress of her famous uncle. Now in her early thirties she began to receive passionate letters from the philosopher. An example:
I shall be coming to Paris only for you, and if my miserable condition permits, I will throw myself at your knees and kiss all your beauties.. In the meantime I press a thousand kisses on your round breasts, on your ravishing bottom, on all your person, which has so often given me erections and plunged me into a flood of delight.
Marie had several other well-known lovers at the same time. One of them, the poet Marmontel, remembered her with somewhat less passion.
Her easy and unaffected character had imbibed a tincture of that of her uncle. She had much of his taste, his gaiety, his exquisite politeness; so that her society was liked and courted.
When Voltaire went to Berlin as an unofficial philosopher in residence to Frederick the Great, he wrote Marie asking her to come and share wealth and attention. She preferred to remain in Paris, but wrote warning her uncle that the nature of royalty was such that he would soon find himself a prisoner or servant. Voltaire gave the letter to Frederick, who pretended his feelings were hurt, “I should prefer your happiness to my extreme pleasure in possessing you.”
When Voltaire moved to Switzerland, to his estate called Les Délices (The Delights), Marie joined him to supervise the domestic side of his life. Mme d’Épinay arrived for a visit from Paris in 1757 and described Marie, now aged 45 years old, as, a fat little woman, as round as a ball, about fifty years of age…ugly and good, untruthful without meaning it, and without malice. She has no intellect, and yet seems to have some; she…writes verses, argues rationally and irrationally…without too great pretentiousness, and above all without offending anyone…. She adores her uncle, both as uncle and as a man; Voltaire loves her, laughs at her, and worships her. In a word, this house is a refuge for an assemblage of contraries, and a delightful spectacle for lookers-on.
Regarding Emilie more as a colleague than a lover, Voltaire’s lust for her was unwontedly abashed; with his niece Mme Denis he candidly expressed his passion. Perhaps intimidated by Mme du Chatelet’s noble birth (though her family was by no means wealthy), he warned a friend to hide from the “Sublime and delicate Emilie” some pornographic verses he had composed . He felt more at ease with his sister’s daughter, who shared his bourgeois roots. The personalities of the two women resemble Jude Fawley’s wives in Thomas Hardy’s immortal novel: the mercenary, voluptuous Arabella Donn and the erudite, slender, ethereal feminist Sue Bridehead. On the other hand, both Emilie and Marie Louise, like Candide’s Cunegonde, were buxom and rosy-cheeked, suggesting that they embodied Voltaire’s physically robust ideal of woman, rather than the eighteenth-century French stereotype of female beauty as pale, slim, and fragile. Indeed, Candide’s paramour Cunegonde is in large measure a composite of the physical, sensual Mme Denis and the more cerebral, aristocratic, austere Mme du Chatelet. Read More:http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-142613_ITM