Meet the cuckold of the 17th Century: Monsieur Montespan
With more than a whiff of King Louis XIV’s France, Monsieur Montespan is an undiluted love story that defies its own era: where the essence of the fabulous trappings of wealth and prestige are set against the backdrop of the cuckolded Marquis de Montespan. Usually portrayed at the simpleton incapable of grasping the fact that the King had usurped his position as lover to his wife, Teulé sets about transforming this grossly ridiculed character into an incredibly ballsy, if admittedly idiotic, man who simply refused to accept the King’s uptake of his conjugal rights.
The ensuing two decades follow Montespan’s self-destructive (and occasionally puerile) attempts to exact his revenge. The account of his intention to debauch the Queen as an act of retribution only to discover that he couldn’t muster the will or desire to loose himself on her unattractive person is outrageously funny; his reaction to her repulsiveness is cruelly honest, as is his misguided solution to get drunk in the hopes that that might assuage his reluctance. The vagaries of Montespan are at times boorish, unrefined and unrepentantly coarse - but Teulé is circumspect in his detailing; using carefully couched language and innuendo rather than X-rated descriptions. Sex, then, is at the very core of this novel. From the unblushing accounts of matrimonial intercourse between Montespan and his then earnest wife, the Marquise, to the more base, frenetic and comical routs between the King and Madame. Sex is thrust into our minds with vigour, a dash of wickedness and an unfathomable degree of merriment. For Teulé, it seems, sex is paradoxical - offering the fervent disciple ecstasy, whilst never taking itself seriously.
Aside from the frequent and de rigueur romps, Monsieur Montespan has a charming, romantic underskirt, courtesy of Montespan himself; as well as delivering devilish social observations with considerable aplomb. Teulé conjures from the dust of time the image of a genteel woman standing (so as not to ruin her clothes) in public to urinate in one breath, followed with droll titbits such as the maladies of washing with water, the consideration of wishing one could ask your employed soldiers to take care not to muddy their clothes during battle and the ‘truth’ behind an artist’s portrait of Louis XIV’s bastard children. This curious mixture of astonishing detail and delectable nuance of social niceties and etiquette of the time, occasionally clumsily clunking against the thread of the story, but invariably intriguing, and the tenderness of a man’s love that drives him to the brink of despair and madness is strangely alluring. The misery of a cuckold is enduring and Montespan’s particular predicament is understandably upsetting, although at least we get to have some fun revisiting his perilous escapades!
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012