3. Men and Women Paying Visits to Country Houses, Town Houses, and Palaces

Long shot exterior Chateau S G en L

Alas, I do not quite know all of the ins and outs of WordPress, for I find that an early draft of this post was published and my last draft before calling it quits on Saturday night is lost.  Hum.  I thought I had saved that last draft.  So, I will be working on this post today to try to get it as I would like it to be.  Here we go.

This past week I spend a good deal of time using email to ask scholars and archivists about 17th-century guest books and visitors’ registers.  I had been hoping to learn about the actual visiting habits of Margaret Cavendish and to compare those habits to the way in which she treats the topic of visiting in her fiction, drama, and published letters.

I was disappointed to learn that guestbooks mostly seem to be kept beginning in the early 19th century, though the stress here should be on “seem.”  I will continue my inquiries but now am in the process of shifting my online search terms to “household + accounts” and “steward’s + books.”   Using a tip from a scholar friend, I found a household account book in the 1853 volume of the Chetham Society publications.   The account book (from the 1580s) does list dinner guests and even goes so far as to say that a play was performed.  Alas, the actors (part of the household or travelling players?) are not specified nor is the play.

While I was busy asking for help from those who know the printed sources and archives, it occurred to me that I might do a quick read-through of Margaret’s letters sent to her future husband when both were in France.  These letters were never intended to be published and are mostly a record of the efforts by the two of them to marry without affronting Queen Henrietta Maria.

Pictured above is the Palace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where the then Margaret Lucas lived with the Court of Henrietta Maria for a time during the Interregnum.  Margaret’s letters to William Cavendish (the future husband, pictured below) often propose meetings with him, which will take place during visits to Paris (about 12 miles away) that she makes as a part of the entourage of the Queen. William had asked her to “send” for him to come to St-Germain Palace, but she in Letter 2 refused, invoking her need to protect her reputation.

William Cavendish Image

She does suggest that he approach Henrietta Maria, but it is not clear whether he did or did not.  Margaret knows that they are being discussed as a couple, but she is not interested in secrecy.  Rather she hopes to conduct their visits according to generally accepted social rules so that there will be no “grounds” for condemnation (Letter 3).  In one of her later letters (Letter 16), she she says that she plans to visit Paris for her own “occasions,” presumably independently of the Queen.  Indeed, she is increasingly dismissive of other people’s opinions as her letters progress.  Pictured below is the Hotel de Carnavalet, the town house of Madame de Sevigne, as it would have appeared perhaps 30 years after Margaret lived at St Germain.  Margaret and William might have met at such a venue.

Carnavalet Garden Jan 2015

In a short story called “The Loving Cuckold” found in Nature’s Pictures (1657), Margaret tells the tale of a wife who is, to use Margaret’s word, “corrupted” by a man who pays visits to her at her home.  This is not a moral tale that adumbrates the novels of Samuel Richardson.  Rather it is an examination of the realities, some of them ironic, of city and country house visiting.  The  man who becomes involved with the wife had come to her house on several occasions to find her husband, and it is the husband’s absence that creates the opportunity for the affair to develop.  Margaret does not condemn either the wife or her lover, but rather finds irony in the fact that the husband begins to take notice of his wife once she has a lover.  The husband does not become angry or enraged.  He simply begins to desire her because someone else does.  It is a bit like wanting an ice cream cone because you see someone else with one.

Let’s return to the problem of real life versus fiction.  Both Margaret’s letters (real life) and her short story (fiction) indicate that visiting by men and women, contrary to what I suggested in my last post, could be arranged quite informally.   Margaret seems to have been able to meet with William in Paris at short notice and when not in an entourage, but she no doubt risked her reputation.  The two married, so no harm done.

The letters from Margaret to William can be found in The Phansies of William Cavendish (ed., Douglas Grant), and in Margaret Cavendish and the Exiles of the Mind (Anna Battagelli).

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