I am currently working through one of Jeanne de la Motte-Valois’s memoirs. It is available online through Google Books (click this link to go there). This version is the original English translation, published in London’s Paternoster row in 1791. At this time, Jeanne was living in London. Shortly after the publication of this memoir, she died after a fall from a London window onto the London streets (some say she was pushed).
Presumably, Jeanne told her story in French. Unless her English was very good, someone translated this work. Whoever did it was not a great prose stylist. The wording is clunky at best. Most of the sentences stretch on for a week or two without any reason for doing so. Combined with the fact that the English of 220 years ago was slightly different from the English of today, the language of the memoir itself can be a bit tedious. But once you get used to it, it’s worth the trouble. The story is extraordinary.
Google Books offers a text version of the book. You can highlight, copy, and paste the words. But because the software isn’t perfect, and because the page images have some flaws, the text version is messy. As I go, I am copying the text and cleaning it up. I’m doing it roughly; there’s simply too much work for me to go through it with a fine-toothed comb. However, I will bring to the readers of this blog some of the results of this clean-up.
The first of these posts will be about Marie Jossel, Jeanne’s mother. Jeanne was not, to say the least, her mother’s biggest fan. According to Jeanne, her father–the son of a minor nobleman, descended from the illegitimate child of Henri II, unprepared to support his family in any way–had been intended to marry a young noblewoman practically since his birth. As a young man, he fell for a maid in his household, the lovely but barbed Marie. Jeanne’s father, named Jacques like Jeanne’s brother, wanted to marry Marie, but his father disapproved. In spite of his father’s disapproval, Jacques married Marie (the English translation refers to her as Maria for no discernible reason).
As Jeanne herself puts it:
Maria [or Marie] Jossel, a girl who had the charge of the house at Fontette [meaning she was a maid], was the person who had attracted his [Jeanne’s father Jacques’s] eye. She was solicitous to please him and in a short time became pregnant. My father, wishing at once to make her an honorable reparation and to legitimate his child, was induced to ask my grandfather’s consent to marry her; [Jacques’s father], thinking such a union degrading to an illustrious line of ancestry, gave a pointed and formal refusal. This opposition did but increase my father’s ardor; who, after many unsuccessful efforts to win my grandfather to compliance, and remaining unmarried till he was thirty-six years of age (four years longer than the law required) [until the age of thirty, men were required to seek their father’s approval to marry in France], at length solemnized the marriage at Langres in Champaign, under the names of James de Luz and Maria Jossel, where my father had purchased an estate upon which he resided some time previous to the nuptials. About a year after, my grandfather, upon his deathbed, forgave the indiscretion of his son; after whose decease my father and mother left Langres to take possession of the estate at Fontette [the family estate, where Jeanne herself was born].
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