Duc d’Orleans sans pox scars.
By Gregory Arnott
special guest blogger
This week we are introduced to the enigmatic Duc d’Orleans, still the duc de Chartres at this point in history, Louis Phillipe -- twenty years from this point he’ll rename himself Philippe Égalité during the height of the Revolution. This is a more intimate portrait of the man as we see him privately dining, digesting, and casually abusing his power. (Also it is worth pointing out that at this point Fatima, Sigismundo’s favorite prostitute from Algiers, and three joints of beef have been described as formidable.) We’ll get to know more about d’Orleans and his role in Sigismundo’s fate soonish, most of this is in relation to the Duc’s role in the Grand Orient Lodge of Masonry- after the evens of the novel his son went to Austria leading to his father’s murder during the Reign of Terror. Although d’Orleans would never sit the French throne the son who caused his untimely demise would. Discussing Proofs of a Conspiracy de Selby makes a Johnsonian kick at Robison.
In Chapter 7 the theme of “merde” still runs strong form Chartres “inexorable chemistry,” to the stinking streets of Paris, to the “tough shit for him” reaction the commissaire has to authoring Sigismundo’s warrant. Born and bred betwixt piss and shit. Jeder, the messenger, hails from Rennes-le-Chateau, epicenter of all this Merovingian/Priory of Sion business.
The chapter also contains some more intimate portraits of three other characters- Louis XV and Sartines through the lens of the narrator and the Chevalier d’Eon through the befuddled mind of Sartines. Louis XV continues to remind me of current people in positions of power and seems like a very stable genius. Sartines begins to resemble one of Wilson’s “bad” cop characters; like Otto Waterhouse his role as enforcer is implied to be born of misplaced resentment. Though I would say that Sartines is a more interesting character than Waterhouse’s caricature.
“Everybody thinks somebody else is to blame for all of life’s little problems.”- RAW (pg. 56 Hilaritas edition) “Some people claim that there's a woman to blame/Now I think, hell it could be my fault.”-Jimmy Buffett
I first read about the Chevalier d’Eon in a rather lurid chapbook about the Hellfire Club by a guy named Daniel Mannix. Regrettably my copy is somewhere in my parents’ house so I can’t delve into what I remember to be some great descriptions. d’Eon has proven to be a more popular figure in recent years because of...an anime, I guess?...and because of their appeal to the transgender community. Since I don’t have my sensationalist history on hand, here is a good article about the Chevalier from Atlas Obscura that is worth reading.
An excerpt that gives some context to Sartine’s frustration with Louis’ approach to spycraft and d’Eon’s role:
“This traditional role, however, was just a cover: D’Eon was also tapped for another royal service—le Secret du Roi, or “King’s Secret”. The Secret was a network of spies and diplomatic agents established by Louis XV in the 1740s with the aim of putting his cousin, the Prince de Conti, on the Polish throne and turning the country into a French satellite. The Secret was so secret, it was hidden from and sometimes acted against the official French foreign ministry. D’Eon was charged with fostering good relations with the Russian court of the Empress Elizabeth and getting her behind installing Conti in Poland, as well as promoting France’s interests generally. Though d’Eon was competent, by all accounts hardworking, charming, and clever, the geopolitical reality was grim: That same year, France had entered what would become the Seven Years War with Britain.” (Linda Rodriguez McRobbie)
In Chapter 8 Captain Loup-Garou’s name is of course the French term for “werewolf,” his name and the language describing his six “ogres” make for a nice Gothic flavor. (I might be reaching but is there any chance his middle name “Teppis” is a reference to Vlad Tepes?) Perhaps the true horror of the first scene is Loup-Garou’s blase attitude towards following orders.
While we’re on the subject of Gothic horror I wanted to note last week that Maria thinks about her dark fantasies as something “from a gothic novel by Walpole.” Horace Walpole actually only wrote one Gothic novel, although it was the first, The Castle of Otranto. The novel is a medieval romance that establishes the incestuous themes as well as the sensationalized portrait of Catholicism/Southern Europe that would be found in much of the genre’s later works. Otranto is actually itself in Southern Italy, though on the opposite coast of Napoli. While the novel is turgid at times it is worth checking out. I tried teaching it to my sophomore’s last year at the beginning of our Gothic fiction unit and made a handout of excerpts. I’ve provided a link in case any one wants to dip their toes in.
The sinister Professor Hanfkopt makes another appearance in the footnote on pg. 60-61 having most likely framed a rival professor for terrorist activities in Ireland (no small joke in the 1980s) but the pothead’s English “almost sounded like the Katzenjammer Kids.” I believe his study of de Selby roughly translates as “De Selby’s Stupidity.”
Gabriel Honore de Mirabeau was a real person and as far as I could tell everything Wilson writes about here is historically accurate. I did read in one article that the first lettre de cachet written by Mirabeau’s father might have been to protect him from his debts but the Wikipedia article also linked to multiple sources that indicated the bitter relationship between Mirabeau and his father existing before this incident. Mirabeau would actually die before the tide could turn against him in the aftermath of the Revolution- the wiki article also has a picture of a memorial plate made for Mirabeau. Along with the pendants discussed in Chapter 3, the ones made from fragments of the Bastille, it seems entrepreneurship was alive and well in post-Revolutionary Paris: “Life is hard, but it is harder if you have too many scruples.”
“Let us weep for the loss of Mirebeau.”
I was able to find two books I believe might be Wilson’s The Taking of the Bastille, the first is a historical novel by Alexander Dumas and the second is a history written in 1970 by Jacques Godechot. Which one it is depends on if Wilson was being a smartass or actually had been reading this book at closing time and forgot the author. I couldn’t imagine him truly forgetting Dumas’ name but having read neither book I don’t know which one (perhaps) contains the scene of Chartres tossing coins.
Do be careful today everyone, THEY say that Friday the 13th is bad luck.
From Eric Wagner: “For this week I’ve chosen Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor with Friday the 13th in mind. As a kid I loved this piece. It made me think of Captain Nemo and the Phantom of the Opera.”