1. A King Who Could E.A.T.

    "His appetite astounded the onlookers and frightened the doctors." —Nancy Mitford, on Louis XIV in The Sun King

    371 years ago today Louis XIV was crowned king, kicking off the longest recorded rule of any European monarch. According to Nancy Mitford, he recharged his absolutist batteries by eating copious amounts of pheasant, mutton, raw fruit, and “a huge amount of salad” for supper every evening.

    [Image: Artist Unknown. “Equestrian portrait of Louis XIV of France.”]

  2. A Marriage of True Minds: Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet

    image
    Portrait of Émilie du Châtelet, by Nicolas de Largillière c. 1740. (Louvre)

    The pairing [of Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet] was dynamic and productive — together, they would achieve some of the most important Enlightenment writing on science, physics, and philosophy. But as Nancy Mitford explains in her fantastic 1957 biography of the intellectual power couple, Voltaire in Love, they were devoted not just as intellectuals, but as lovers as well as friends. It was an extraordinary bond that lasted for nearly fifteen years.

    Michelle Legro at Brain Picker, on Nancy Mitford’s Voltaire in Love


    Enough cynical dark and depressing “love stories” from us. Here’s one that actually earns the title.

  3. via natgeofound:

The Halls of Mirrors reflects the reign of the Sun King in Versailles, France, July 1989.Photograph by James L. Stanfield, National Geographic

This eerily dazzling photo from NatGeo reminded us of Nancy Mitford’s own enchanting description of la Galerie des Glaces in The Sun King, her book about the mercurial and decadent Louis XIV: 

"Seen at night soon after its completion, the painting and the gilding fresh and new, lit by thousands of candles in silver chandeliers and candelabra, furnished with solid silver consoles and orange tubs, crowded with beauties of both sexes, dressed in satin and lace, embroidered, re-embroidered, over-embroidered with real gold thread, and covered with jewels, it must have been like Aladdin’s Cave or some other fable of the Orient."

    via natgeofound:

    The Halls of Mirrors reflects the reign of the Sun King in Versailles, France, July 1989.Photograph by James L. Stanfield, National Geographic

    This eerily dazzling photo from NatGeo reminded us of Nancy Mitford’s own enchanting description of la Galerie des Glaces in The Sun King, her book about the mercurial and decadent Louis XIV:

    "Seen at night soon after its completion, the painting and the gilding fresh and new, lit by thousands of candles in silver chandeliers and candelabra, furnished with solid silver consoles and orange tubs, crowded with beauties of both sexes, dressed in satin and lace, embroidered, re-embroidered, over-embroidered with real gold thread, and covered with jewels, it must have been like Aladdin’s Cave or some other fable of the Orient."

  4. Nancy Mitford on Kafka Hype

    When Nancy Mitford made a trip to Prague in November 1968 to do research for Frederick the Great, she found that the locals didn’t share her enthusiasm for “Fred.” She wrote in a letter,

    Nobody in the least bit interested in any historical figures exc: Kafka. I never got to the battlefield of Kollin but you can be sure if Kafka had fought there I wld have been taken the first day!

    So, you see, Joseph Epstein, this has been going on for some time now.

  5. “A husband, finding his wife in bed with her lover: “Madame! Is this prudent? Supposing somebody else had seen you!”

    — Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford, on the social climate of the French court (via marginalutilite)

  6. "Judge me for my own merits"

    Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that great scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do. It may be that there are metaphysicians and philosophers whose learning is greater than mine, although I have not met them. Yet, they are but frail humans, too, and have their faults; so, when I add the sum total of my graces, I confess I am inferior to no one.

    —The French Englightenment scientist Emilié du Châtelet writing to Frederick the Great, quoted in Jenny McPhee’s review in Bookslut of Nancy Mitford’s Voltaire in Love, a book about the productive and scandalous relationship between Châtelet and Voltaire.

  7. Happy Birthday Nancy Mitford

    Voltaire in Love still stands as a portrait of the French Enlightenment as it really was, with intrigue and idealism in strange but fizzy solution.Why did Nancy Mitford have the insight into the nature of French intellectual life denied to so many others? Many English people live for a long time in France, and though they often love it, they rarely ‘get it’ in quite this way. It may be significant that all of the Mitford girls had to go elsewhere to find an identity. Aristocrats raised aristocratically, they ‘took’ better elsewhere than in England: Unity pitifully and horribly in Germany, Jessica in America. France saved Nancy, much the best pure writer of the sisters. She grasped, and sets out here in exquisite detail, the other side of the constant vendettas and intrigues of Parisian life. She saw the workings of a society rooted in a set of manners designed, at whatever cost in truthfulness, on making other people feel comfortable and valued, a set of manners based on compliments and what the English call ‘affectations.’

    —Adam Gopnik, from his introduction to Nancy Mitford’s Voltaire in Love, which went on sale on November 6th. Mitford was born on this day in 1904 at 1 Graham Place, Belgravia, London, and was the eldest of the notorious Mitford sisters.


  8. Voltaire in Love, original jacket design by Cecil Beaton

    In April Hamish Hamilton submitted Voltaire in Love to the Readers’ Union…. Their director wrote back: “I am afraid Voltaire in Love won’t do. The book calls, I think, for a degree of sophistication, even cynicism about sex, which I am afraid does not exist, and which would be considered undesirable in any case, by our members. I hope you will understand.” [Nancy Mitford] photocopied this and in her accompanying letter wrote, “Is this not delightful, throw away when read.”

    From The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street: Letters Between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill 1952-73

  9. “The family are in a terrible financial crisis. However we continue to eat as before (however humbly) drink and drive about in large Daimlers. Mitfords are like that.”

    — Nancy Mitford in a letter to her brother (via nicolebonnet)

    (Source: nellgwyns)

  10. More from Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King

    In his youth, Monsieur was partial to battles. He would arrive rather late on the field, having got himself up to kill; painted, powdered, all his eyelashes stuck together; covered with ribbons and diamonds – hatless. He never wore a hat for fear of flattening his wig. Once in action he was as brave as a lion; only afraid of what the sun and dust might do to his complexion.

     - some more from Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King, which published today. The monsieur in reference is Phillipe I, Duc d’Orléans, Louis XIV’s younger brother (it was traditional to call the younger brother of the king “Monsieur”). Another description from Mitford of the Monsieur: “In spite of being one of history’s most famous sodomites, Monsieur had two wives, a mistress and eleven legitimate children of whom seven died in infancy or were born dead; and he is the ‘grandfather of Europe.’” Makes the English monarchy look rather dull.

  11. Publication Day for Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King

    When Mme de Montespan and Louis XIV were known to be together behind these windows, the couriers would do anything sooner than pass underneath them—they called it going before the firing squad. Both she and the King frightened people; she was a tease, a mockingbird, noted for her wonderful imitations and said to be hard-hearted… . She received a message to say that her children’s house was on fire. As she was in Saint Germain-en-Laye and the house was in Paris there was nothing she could do about it—she remarked that no doubt it would bring the children luck and went on playing cards.

    Today we publish Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King, the story of Louis XIV, the building of Versailles, and the court that lived there and surrounded him. Of course, as anyone who read our previous Mitford history, Madame de Pompadour, will know, there is no lack of court gossip. Written in a style that is distinctly Mitfordesque.