Wednesday, July 1, 2009
My dearest Readers,
In honor of my "Save the School of Gallantry Campaign," I decided to introduce all of you to the inspiration behind Madame de Maitenon. Yes, my silver haired retired courtesan and headmistress of the School of Gallantry. Meet Ninon de L'Enclos. I stumbled across her name during some research I was conducting for another story and the more I unearthed about this woman, the more I realized I HAD to create an equally fascinating character.
Ninon de L'Enclos was born in Paris in 1620 and came from an interesting family. Her father had been exiled from France for participating in a duel and when her mother died, she decided to enter a convent. Of course, she didn't last very long and a year later, she left the convent and decided to strike out on her own using her wit and her body to make her fortune. How did she decide to go from convent to courtesan? It may surprise you to know that the one thing Ninon wanted above all else was to remain unmarried and independent. That left a woman only one of two choices back in those days. The convent. Or the life of a courtesan. She figured out pretty quickly that there wasn't all that much fun to be had at the convent...
Ninon, once she went out into the world, actually became quite known for her passionate involvement in the literary arts, not just the sexual arts. She interacted and encouraged writers such as Moliere and even left money from her estate for her accountant's son, Francois Arouet. Better known as Voltaire. Voltaire has Ninon to thank for his education. Without it, who knows what he would have turned into.
It was, however, the older Ninon that ultimately fascinated me. She took on many lovers throughout the years, but never more than one at a time and involved herself with powerful, wealthy men, such as the King's cousin and dukes. Perhaps the most heartbreaking, yet fascinating of stories is about her son. Ninon involved herself with a wealthy, powerful man and bore him a son. This man took the son from Ninon and asked that she never disclose herself as being the boy's mother. She agreed and watched her son grow up from a distance. Imagine her astonishment when her fully grown son appears at her door one day and ardently pleads to her if she'd take him into her bed. Ehm. Yes. Talk about awkward. At first, she simply denied him and brushed him off, hoping that his pride would simply squash whatever hopes he had. But her son was so obsessed and in love with her that he simply would not give her any sense of peace. Ninon was beside herself and knew she simply had to reveal the truth to him. To get him to stop. When she revealed the truth, her son quietly left and that same day committed suicide by impaling himself upon his own sword. It was a tragedy that haunted Ninon for the rest of her days.
Such tragedies, however, often leads to great wisdom. (Don't we all know that...) She thrived upon using her experience at every turn. When she wasn't bedding her current lover, she held literary events and discussions with aristocratic men having to do with philosophy, life, love, and yes, even sex. It was a "school" of sorts she had created and she had quite the following of men. In the early stages of creating my books, I decided to take these "discussions" of hers with men and turn it into an actual school. Hence the creation of the School of Gallantry.
Without a doubt, Ninon was known for her quips and wit. She had great sayings like, "Much more genius is needed to make love than to command armies." (Ain't that the truth) And my my favorite "The resistance of a woman is not always a proof of her virtue, but more frequently of her experience." These fabulous quotes of hers gave me ideas upon ideas as to how my imaginary school should be run as well as the sort of quotes I wanted to see at the beginning of each chapter within my books. Hence the lessons. Call it a tribute, if you will, to the fabulous Ninon.
What is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Ninon and why I created an elderly courtesan for my series as opposed to a young one, is that the older Ninon got, the more sought after she became by men. Unlike most courtesans who were forced to retire due to age and lack of beauty, Ninon's circle of admirers grew because they simply could not get enough of her wit and charm. Even women flocked to her for advice. One of my favorite stories about Ninon is when she was approached by a gentleman who desperately wanted to bed her but she really didn't care for him. So she told him, "When I turn 80." The man was so obsessed with her, that he waited, and when she turned 80, he showed up at her door saying it was time. Ninon was so amused by the man, she decided to bed him after all. Indeed, her approach toward men and toward life, the amount of wealth and power she acquired in her lifetime is beyond the comprehension of even a modern woman. I hail her for this alone. Ninon died at 84 and left her vast fortune to friends and admirers.
So there you have it. Ninon AKA Madame de Maitenon.
Cheers and much love,