Monday, September 3, 2012

Lafayette & Women

In terms of his relationships with women, Lafayette was not quintessentially 
different from other aristocrats of his time: he dutifully accepted an early 
marriage of convenience, and later pursued extra-marital flirtations (well 
into an advanced age, according to Stendhal) and friendships with “muses.” 
On the other hand, he also shared attitudes more typical of the bourgeoisie 
of the romantic era. with his correspondence contains many expressions of 
genuine conjugal love, and reflects a lively interest in children, his own as 
well as those of his friends and family members. Finally he supported 
women’s rights, particularly in matters like education and divorce.

Financial Contract of Lafayette’s Marriage to Adrienne de Noailles, 1772. 
A marriage under the Old Regime was mostly about alliances and money. The deal
 between the Duke d’Ayen and Gilbert’s grandfather, the ultra-wealthy Comte de La
Rivière, was kept secret until the girl was thirteen and the boy sixteen. The terms were
extremely precise. Article 12 stipulated that, should Gilbert die first, she would keep
“her clothes, linens, diamonds and jewelry, and a carriage with six horses”; should she
die first, he would keep his “clothes, linens, arms, a carriage with six horses, and his library”.
It was also agreed that the young couple would live with the Noailles-Ayen family for the
first two years after the marriage. The union turned out to be a happy one, until
Adrienne’s death in 1808.

Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. Portrait of “Diane de Damas d’Antigny,
 Comtesse de Simiane.” Oil on Canvas (reproduction).
Diane de Simiane (1761-1835) was married to a homosexual courtier who
served in America with Rochambeau and Lafayette; she became the latter’s
mistress in the early 1780s. Celebrity portraitist Vigée-Lebrun noted in her
diary: “M. de La Fayette came to my house for the sole purpose of seeing a
portrait I was painting of the pretty Mme de Simiane, whom they say he
was taking care of at the time...” His wife always proved very tolerant: she
allowed her husband to spend vacation time with Diane, and encouraged her
children to call her their “aunt”.

La Confession de Marie-Antoinette, Ci-devant Reine de France, au
Peuple Franc, Sur Ses Amours et ses Intrigues avec M. de Lafayette, les
Principaux Membres de l’Assemblé Nationale, et sur ses Projets de Contre-révolution.
[Netherlands, i.e. Paris], 1792.
 | Additional images: This is one of many revolutionary pornographic pamphlets directed against Queen
Marie-Antoinette, who was hated for her foreign origins (the portrait included in this
pamphlet is entitled “Marie-Antoinette of Austria”) and for her costly extravagances.
Because her marriage to shy Louis XVI had remained unconsummated for seven years,
the couple made an inviting target. After Lafayette rescued them in October 1789, he
became her alleged erotic partner (in this pseudo-confession, she says “I do everything
with him [and] wouldn’t be surprised if a child results from our erotic parties”), along
with other politicians, sex-crazed lesbians, her own son and even her spaniel... This type
of underground literature, intended to dehumanize the Queen, helped to ruin the reputation
of the monarchs and paved the way for their public execution.

Revolutionary Fan Showing Marie-Antoinette and her Son (Lafayette is 
on the verso, along with King Louis XVI). 
 | Additional images: Louis XVI was guillotined on January 21, 1793;
Marie-Antoinette, on October 16 of the same year; and their son died in jail aged 10 on
 June 8, 1795.

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