THE CAT AND THE KING by Louis Auchincloss


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Highly anachronistic and often confusing chatter of liaisons and bloodlines at the court of the Sun King--as the Duc de Saint-Simon (actual author of the vast, formal Memoirs) recalls three episodes in which he and wife Gabrielle plunged into the nonstop schemings at Louis XIV's Versailles. The young courtier's first campaign is purely idealistic: aristocratically appalled by Louis' systematic pairings of his illegitimates with bluebloods, Saint-Simon works against the wedding of Louis' nephew to a bastardette; but this resistance movement is shattered when the opposition threatens to make a public stink over the homosexuality of both the King's brother and Saint-Simon's ""hero,"" the prince de Conti. (Gabrielle, a far more practical sort than her husband, has meanwhile been currying favor with the bride-to-be.) Episode #2 finds Saint-Simon acting as reluctant go-between for Conti (now, briefly, King of Poland) and Conti's mistress Madame la Duchesse (another of the King's by-blows), remaining loyal to Conti while Gabrielle blithely betrays him. . . in order to please Madame, who wants her lover back home. And some years later Saint-Simon and Gabrielle are vigorously involved in the nasty intrigues that determine which of two shadily descended princesses will wed the King's legitimate grandson: the weapons on each side include rumors of incest. All this adds up, of course, to a good deal of disillusionment for the high-minded Duc (""We had all. . . been made part of the Versailles system""), though, finally, after the King's death, he vows to record the Sun King's ""great style"" and quest for glory. But Saint-Simon's shifting attitudes toward the King and court never cohere in this meandering fact/fiction narrative; nor do any of the many other historical figures (including Louis himself) emerge with three-dimensional conviction. And the overall Versailles milieu diminishes in credibility with every line of Auchincloss' tutti-frutti dialogue: a mishmash of Britishisms, clichÉs, and flat, ugly American slang (""Now that's talking"". . . ""It's the Lorrainers he should be mad at"". . . ""he has to be basically on your side"". . . ""it might be a way of screwing the king!""). So, though some of the built-in fascination of the Sun King's court does come through here and there, Auchincloss' pseudo-modern treatment captures it less vividly, and certainly less clearly, than dozens of fact and fiction predecessors.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1981
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin