A novel of the life—especially the loves—of the 19th-century French actress and poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore.
While Marceline married relatively late—she was in her 30s—she had no compunction about falling in love early and often. She wound up marrying Prosper Valmore, a handsome fellow actor seven years her junior, but when her talent and reputation began to eclipse those of her husband, he didn’t take kindly to what he perceived as a threat to his masculine self-image. The great love of Marceline’s life, however, was Henri de Latouche, an intellectual and critic. (Marceline’s uncle describes him as “an odd man, intelligent, disturbing, imperious, impenetrable.”) Ironically, she can’t quite get over how physically repulsive he is, yet she remains attracted to the force field of his charismatic presence. The depth of her feeling for Latouche emerges in the adrenalized longing of her fervid Romantic poems, one of which is entitled “The Last Rendezvous.” (The novel ends with a short anthology of Marceline’s poetry, both in French and in English translations by Louis Simpson.) Plantagenet gives us vivid portraits of theatrical and salon life in 19th-century France, especially in Lyon (a backwater Marceline hated), Rouen (somewhat more acceptable) and Paris (for obvious reasons held up as the ne plus ultra of the bohemian life). Flitting through the pages is a cast of well-known and lesser-known poets and artists, including Hugo and Balzac. Although Plantagenet anchors her narrative in the first-person perspective of Marceline, she alternates chapters between the young, coming-of-age Marceline and the older, more world-weary actress and poet, whose life tends to be defined in part by the tragedy of losing multiple children and searching for love in all the wrong places. This is primarily a novel about giving birth—to poems, to the creative life and to tragically doomed children.
A passionate rendering of a passionate poet.