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The Princess De Montpensier   By: (1634-1693)

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The Princess de Montpensier


Mme. de Lafayette



Oliver C. Colt

This story was written by Madame de Lafayette and published anonymously in 1662. It is set in a period almost 100 years previously during the sanguinary wars of the counter reformation, when the Catholic rulers of Europe, with the encouragement of the Papacy, were bent on extirpating the followers of the creeds of Luther and Calvin. I am not qualified to embark on a historical analysis, and shall do no more than say that many of the persons who are involved in the tale actually existed, and the events referred to actually took place. The weak and vicious King and his malign and unscrupulous mother are real enough, as is a Duc de Montpensier, a Prince of the Blood, who achieved some notoriety for the cruelty with which he treated any Huguenots who fell into his hands, and for the leadership he gave to the assassins during the atrocious massacre of St. Bartholomew's day.

He was married and had progeny, but the woman to whom he was married was not the heroine of this romance, who is a fictional character, as is the Comte de Chabannes.

The Duc de Guise of the period whose father had been killed fighting against the Protestants, did marry the Princess de Portein, but this was for political reasons and not to satisfy the wishes of a Princess de Montpensier.

It will be noticed, I think, that women were traded in marriage with little or no regard to their personal emotions, and no doubt, as has been remarked by others, marriages without love encouraged love outside marriage. Whatever the reality, the literary conventions of the time seem to have dictated that we should be treated only to ardent glances, fervent declarations, swoonings and courtly gestures; we are not led even to the bedroom door, let alone the amorous couch. I wonder, however, if the reader might not think that this little tale written more than three hundred years ago contains the elements of many of the romantic novels and soap operas which have followed it.

At one level it is a cautionary tale about the consequences of marital infidelity; at another it is a story of a woman betrayed, treated as a pretty bauble for the gratification of men, and cast aside when she has served her purpose, or a butterfly trapped in a net woven by uncaring fate. Her end is rather too contrived for modern taste, but, even today, characters who are about to be written out of the plot in soap operas are sometimes smitten by mysterious and fatal disorders of the brain.

The unfortunate Comte de Chabannes is the archetypical "decent chap," the faithful but rejected swain who sacrifices himself for the welfare of his beloved without expectation of reward. In the hands of another writer, with some modification, he could have provided a happy ending in the "Mills and Boon" tradition.

This translation is not a schoolroom exercise, for although I have not altered the story, I have altered the exact way in which it is told in the original, with the aim of making it more acceptable to the modern reader. All translation must involve paraphrase, for what sounds well in one language may sound ridiculous if translated literally into another, and it is for the translator to decide how far this process may be carried. Whether I have succeeded in my task, only the reader can say.

The Princess de Montpensier


Madame de Lafayette

Translated by Oliver C. Colt


It was while the civil war of religion was tearing France apart that the only daughter of the Marquis of Mézières, a very considerable heiress, both because of her wealth and the illustrious house of Anjou from which she was descended, was promised in marriage to the Duc de Maine, the younger brother of the Duc de Guise.

The marriage was delayed because of the youth of this heiress, but the elder of the brothers, the Duc de Guise, who saw much of her, and who saw also the burgeoning of what was to become a great beauty, fell in love with her and was loved in return... Continue reading book >>

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