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Wednesday, 30 January 2019 02:22

From Émilie to Aldonce de Sade, May 1734

Every week  I'm sharing some of the correspondence of Gabrielle-Émilie de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet, and her lover Voltaire. This letter was written during a crisis, just after an attempt by the king's gendarmes to arrest Voltaire in Burgundy and throw him into prison in the town of Auxonne (pictured). The legacy of these events is still felt by the lovers in the new opera, Émilie & Voltaire, being developed this year by Nicholas Gentile.

We must conclude that my friend Voltaire—you know my feelings for him—is in prison at Auxonne, near Dijon. He left us several days ago to take the waters at Plombières (his health has long required it) but gendarmes sent here by the Governor of Burgundy have brought a warrant for his arrest and he is to be imprisoned at Auxonne until further notice. … I can’t tell you how devastating this is; I can hardly bear to think of my best friend, whose health is so terrible, locked in a prison where he will surely die of suffering, if not of some illness. I have no news of him and can’t defy the might of such a minister [Chauvelin, Minister of Police] by sending him mine … But of what use to Voltaire are our tears and regrets? I have no hope. Monsieur de Chauvelin is inflexible and I am inconsolable: I’ll never get over the loss of such a friend. Flirtation or resentment—anything at all—will do to console us after losing a lover; but time, which heals all wounds, would only poison mine …

I’m going at once to my château in the country. I can’t stand society any longer. Men are so false, so unjust, so prejudiced, so tyrannical! I must either live alone, or with people who think as you do. One spends one’s existence with envious vipers—what’s the use being alive and young? I’d prefer to be fifty years old and live in the country with my friend, Madame de Richelieu and you. Alas, we spend our lives planning to be happy and we never manage it. Farewell, monsieur: I can feel my suffering diminish even as I write to you, but I don’t want to strain your friendship.

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