Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How to Seduce a King

[posted by Callimachus]

You have to wade through a few graphs of pedestrian historian-writing in this article to get to the good stuff.

Pompadour did not, it is fair to say, have a romantic conception of love. Indeed, the Italian sociologist Francesco Alberoni probably summed up her approach to romance quite nicely when he wrote that "the experience of falling in love originates in extreme depression, an inability to find value in everyday life." From the very beginning, Pompadour acted as though the key to Louis's heart was through exploiting his insecurities as well as his fear of the future. Pompadour's insight into human nature, as I hope shall become clear shortly, is a particularly shrewd one when seduction, and seduction alone, is the overriding goal.

Before she could prey on Louis's insecurities, Pompadour had to reckon with the irksome fact that Louis XV, having long since abandoned any hope of being a great king, was becoming more and more carefree. How do you make someone feel insecure about that which they no longer care about, or to which they remain oblivious?

Pompadour's strategy, which was sheer genius in conception and execution, was to open the wounds of failure, rub salt in them, and then offer Louis the hope of closing them. Basically, since the king had few insecurities, Pompadour had to create them. Pompadour strongly hinted to Louis that the reason for his unpopularity was that the French felt he would not live up to the legacy of his auspicious predecessor, Louis XIV.

This much, I rather suspect, Louis XV already knew deep down; but since most of his advisers, through politeness or sycophancy, avoided making this point directly to the king, Louis XV thought Pompadour's observation particularly novel, and profound, and was impressed that someone could see so deeply inside him. As if meeting a stranger who knew all his stories, Louis began falling for Pompadour's spell.

A feminine match for de Sade. Someone wise once said something to the effect that a true historian must have some conception of how people who are not historians live.