Monday, June 9, 2008

Madame de Genlis

The Duc faced Madame de Genlis. "It is very important for a prince to have a virtuous wife. That is one thing which I hope you have instilled in my sons."

"Someday, she will leave you." Madame de Genlis' usually musical voice came to him like an icy wave. "And someday, perhaps, so will I."

"The mother of my children will never leave me," replied the Duc. "And neither will their governess." He may have been against despotism, but he could sound dictatorial when he chose. He started for the door, but suddenly spun around and flashed her his most charming smile, his features handsome and seemingly benign.

"Now, Félicité. Now it begins."

"Now it begins," she echoed him in hollow tones. "But where will it end?" And she gazed with unseeing eyes out of the window into the depths of the night.

~from Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal

Madame de Genlis did indeed eventually leave her lover, the Duc d'Orléans, called Philippe Égalité. His wife left him as well, before he died on the guillotine in November 1793, where his vote had sent his cousin Louis XVI a few months earlier. Madame de Genlis was originally an attendant of the Duchesse, then the Duc's mistress, and eventually the governess of the Orléans children. It was considered odd and even vaguely scandalous for a woman to have charge of the education of Princes of the Blood. However, Philippe d'Orléans truly appreciated her innovative educational ideas. Madame de Genlis, an admirer of Rousseau, had the young princes chopping wood and fetching water so that they would learn a healthy respect for manual labor, a respect which many nobles did not possess. It was similar to the way Marie-Antoinette made her daughter Madame Royale wait upon peasant children at table.

Madame de Genlis taught the children at a small house on the grounds of a monastery called La Bellechasse. There she had free rein in inculcating them with all the new ideas. She did not wear rouge or powder in public and so was seen as being loose and daring. One of Madame de Genlis' pupils would grow to become Louis-Philippe, the "Citizen-King." His liberalism came directly from his governess.

However, Louis-Philippe in his memoirs later complained that Madame de Genlis lavished more attention on a young girl named Pamela than upon his own sister
Adélaïde. Pamela is shown in the Giroust painting (below) turning the pages as Adélaïde is given a harp lesson by Madame de Genlis. Louis-Philippe insisted that Pamela was not the love child of Madame de Genlis and his father the Duc d'Orléans. The identity of La Belle Pamela continues to be mysterious, and the subject of a recent novel. It appears she was the daughter of Madame de Genlis by someone, although Madame claimed to have adopted her. At any rate, Pamela had an immensely interesting life, marrying the Irish rebel Lord Edward Fitzgerald.

As for Madame de Genlis, she managed to escape death in the Revolution, which she been deeply in favor of in a Girondist sort of way. Writing being one of her many accomplishments, Madame de Genlis' children's stories became popular in England. She also wrote pious novels, especially during the Restoration, when everyone became more religious. Some thought it hypocritical of her to be so preachy. She died shortly after her former student Louis-Philippe took the throne from Charles X in 1830.



Catherine Delors said...

Another great post on a French lady, Elena! Whatever one thinks of Madame de Genlis, one had to be impressed by her vitality, as a woman and a writer. She and Louis-Philippe had a very interesting teacher-pupil relationship.
Did you have a chance to read The Harp Lesson? Sarah seemed to think it was quite good, and I had never heard of it until today.

elena maria vidal said...

No, I have not read it, Catherine, but would like to very much. I have never read any of Madame de Genlis' writings, either, but I hear she was very high-minded.

Catherine Delors said...

I certainly found her Memoirs extremely interesting. I have to track down what Louis-Philippe had to say about his former "gouverneur." I remember it was very funny.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Louis-Philippe had some very conflicted emotions about Madame de Genlis. He describes her fussing over Pamela and constantly writing her memoirs. He seemed to adore but resent her.

Matterhorn said...

In discussing the Orleans family, Louis-Philippe's great-granddaughter, Princess Henriette of Belgium, says Pamela probably *was* the daughter of the Duc d'Orleans. Interesting, because it looks like she was directly contradicting what L-P himself said. It is also worth noting that, while she defends Louis-Philippe as a person, Henriette is quite critical of his education, saying he was brought up with the "brilliant and false" ideas of the Enlightenment era. She also mentions that Marie-Amelie was alarmed lest Madame de Genlis interfere in the upbringing of the next generation, the children of Louis-Philippe and Marie-Amelie.

elena maria vidal said...

Very interesting!! Thank you!!

Ruthlin said...

Thank you for drawing attention to Mme de Genlis, a brilliant - if flawed - woman and writer.

I am currently writing a master's thesis on Genlis and her concept of virtue. Of all the historical figures I've read about, she must be the most controversial and disputed. I admit I adore her, warts and all.

I haven't read them, but Louis Philippe did write in his memoirs that he and his sister "adored" Mme de Genlis. I think it is probably pretty accurate to say it was a conflicted relationship, as you speculated Elena Maria.

As for her having "brilliant and false" ideas about the Enlightenment, that depends on what one thinks the "true" ideas were. The period was far more complex than many the generalizations one hears about it. She is often assumed to be "anti-Enlightenment" simply because she defended religion.

Anyway - thanks again!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Ruthlin, for enriching this discussion with your findings! What a fascinating character she was!