Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Historical TMI

It has occurred to me that, should I happen to meet certain historical figures in the afterlife, our conversations might prove a bit awkward.

It’s the TMI factor, you see. What do you say to a man when you’ve seen the love letters he sent to his wife in the early days of their marriage? Letters which contain such revealing passages as:

"Come soon; I warn you, if you delay, you will find me ill. Fatigue and your absence are too much. You are coming, aren't you? You are going to be here beside me, in my arms, on my breast, on my mouth? Take wing and come, come! A kiss on your heart, and one much lower down, much lower!"

Well, all right, then. Good to know this guy--we’ll call him General X--could be so generous and amorous when his passions were engaged.

And then there’s General Y. A more circumspect soul, he left us no correspondence allowing us to deduce just what he planned to do to his woman of the moment next time he got her into bed. And when one of his brothers was being a bit too scandalous in his womanizing, General Y complained in a letter to another brother that he wished their errant sibling was ”castrated, or that he would like other people attend to his business & perform too. It is lamentable to see Talents & character & advantages such as he possesses thrown away upon Whoring.”

Though don’t let that fool you into thinking General Y was any kind of model of chastity. Among other things, he had at least two mistresses in common with General X, one of whom was generous enough to the salacious curiosity of posterity to publicly state that Y was better in bed.

And who are our amorous generals? X is Napoleon and Y is Wellington--and speaking as someone who’s read stacks of biographies of both, it’s amazing how much of their personalities and voices come through in those two brief quotes above.

Do you know any good historical TMI? And would you prefer Napoleon or Wellington for your Valentine? (I’m on Team Wellington all the way--he’s much better-looking by my tastes, I like cool-headed, reserved, snarky personalities like his, and on the whole I prefer my Secret Historical Boyfriends to NOT try to take over the world.)

Susanna Fraser is the author of The Sergeant's Lady (available now) and A Marriage of Inconvenience (April 11, 2011). The lovely lady in the picture is NOT her, but the French actress Mademoiselle George, our informant on the relative sexual prowess of Napoleon and Wellington. You can visit Susanna's website here.


Taryn Kincaid said...

What fun! A friend of mine has lately been running loveletters of the historically famous on her blog, Tao of Liz,
and recently ran a loveletter from Napoleon to Josephine:
Paris, December 1795

I wake filled with thoughts of you. Your portrait and the intoxicating evening which we spent yesterday have left my senses in turmoil. Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart! Are you angry? Do I see you looking sad? Are you worried?... My soul aches with sorrow, and there can be no rest for you lover; but is there still more in store for me when, yielding to the profound feelings which overwhelm me, I draw from your lips, from your heart a love which consumes me with fire? Ah! it was last night that I fully realized how false an image of you your portrait gives!

She's got Nelson and Winnie Mandela up there currently.

Great topic for this time of year, Susanna!

Erastes said...

Excellent post, I'd never thought of that. It does seem rather intrusive as we dig into the past (and often dig UP the graves!) But then we do it for modern celebs too! LOL

Wendy Soliman said...

It just goes to show how language envolves and can mean something completely different years later. I agree with Taryn, it is a great topic for this time of year.

Liz said...

I enjoyed the post and thanks Taryn for the shout-out!

Patricia Preston said...

Very entertaining! I love Napoleon's note. I wonder how far down he went? LOL

Claire Robyns said...

Spot the difference between the Frenchman and the Englishman, lol. Lookswise, I'd take Wellington, but for a little romance...? la la

Susanna Fraser said...

Well, Napoleon only wrote like that during the early stages of his relationship with Josephine--he wasn't that romantic/sexy about anyone before or after her. But for all that, even his military dispatches are in the same voice. The same sentence rhythm and sense of his life as a grand drama.

@Erastes--Yes, if anything it's even worse now, since the internet is forever, and too bad if you wish your younger self had had the sense to keep your big mouth shut on usenet.

Reina said...

Wellington all the way! ;)

Nicole North said...

Wonderful, entertaining post! I love reading things like this and taking a peek into the private lives of people of the past.

Louisa Cornell said...

Oh definitely Wellington. Those guys who "protest too much" are generally the wild ones you have to watch !! And I like a little height on my guys, thank you very much!!

Great post, Susanna! Really enjoyed it!

Marcelle Dubé said...

Great post, Susanna. Didn't Napoleon ask Josephine to keep an apple in her armpit (or some such thing) so that it would become imbued with the scent of her?

And Louisa, when they're lying down, they'll all the same height...

Susanna Fraser said...

Thanks to everyone who stopped by today. This post was a lot of fun to write, so I'm glad you enjoyed reading it, too!