Illness and health as strategies of resistance and identity formation in the letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz.
Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchess d'Orleans (1652-1722), more commonly known as Liselotte von der Pfalz, has often been called a dissident voice at the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King (Brandes 53). A pawn in her father's ambitious political plans, she found herself married against her own convictions (1) to the brother of the Sun King. As Madame, Duchess d'Orleans, she was second in rank only to the queen of France. In spite of her rank and the nobility of her birth, Liselotte--as woman, foreigner, and outsider--was increasingly excluded from decision making at the court. Bitter and disappointed, she retreated, physically into her private quarters and mentally into melancholia. This separation from court enabled the German princess to create a body of about 60,000 letters, of which 5,000 have survived. (2)
The letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz abound with both descriptions of her robust physical health and complaints of melancholy. In these carefully crafted artifacts, Liselotte employed the rhetoric of health and illness to develop subjectivity and exert authority in the Franco-German discourse she sought to shape. One the one hand, the letters elevate the maintenance of health to a strategy of survival at a court hostile to her. On the other hand, representing herself as melancholic allows Liselotte to articulate her alienation, and, ultimately, to develop her artistic creativity.
By accentuating her excellent physical health, Liselotte defined herself as different from her French relatives, i.e., healthy and German. She argued that, based on her physical superiority, she had no need for French physicians and remedies. This strategy allowed her to maintain a certain distance from the court and its medical representatives. Her insistence on being robust and strong can be seen as a strategy of cultural resistance to the rarefied court of Louis XIV that viewed her as culturally inferior and expendable.
Despite Liselotte's self-representation as healthy, she fell ill from time to time. She ascribed the symptoms of her various ailments to the melancholia she had been experiencing since coming to France in 1672. For Liselotte, physical and mental health were intimately related, and she remained convinced that the anguish inflicted on her by court intrigue and the devastation of her native Palatinate through French soldiers in 1674 and 1689 manifested itself in the fevers she experienced.
Employing a discourse of melancholia in her letters served several purposes for Liselotte. To begin with, it allowed her to maintain claims of physical superiority over her French relatives. Indeed, she made her extended stay in France responsible for any sickness she experienced. Secondly, it enabled her to portray her various bouts of illness as evidence of the wretched life she led at the French court. In this context, melancholia serves as a metaphor of displacement and exile that draws attention to her alienation from the French court, in particular after 1680. In addition, it offered a way to display her dissatisfaction with her position at court and to participate in ongoing discourses that questioned the stratification of power at the court of Louis XIV. Finally, with this strategy she was able to retreat from some of the expected representational functions of the French court to the "private," (3) intimate, and, above all, "German" counter-world of her letters. Melancholy comes to serve as the very reason for writing and artistic creation.
The discourse on health and pathology in Liselotte's letters must be viewed both as an actual description of her physical condition and as a cultural paradigm that enabled her to develop subjectivity as a woman and as a writer. A close reading of these letters shows that she used both her melancholia and her robust physical health to draw attention to her role as the unwelcome foreign consort.
Liselotte's use of illness and health as strategies of resistance and identity formation is embedded in a larger symbolic context. The seventeenth century particularly privileged material practices of the body to define and delineate the symbolic order. In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault describes how the body itself serves as the sign through which compliance with and resistance to the absolutist order could be signified. For example, Liselotte, increasingly excluded from the inner circle of power around Louis XIV, became quite obese toward the end of her life. With this outward sign of robust health and an attentiondemanding corporal presence, she not only defied the beauty norms governing her environment, but also positioned herself in opposition to her enemy, the ethereal and thin Madame de Maintenon. (4)
Michel Foucault asserts that power relations govern all production and dissemination of discourses. In his History of Sexuality and in numerous interviews, he maintains that power and resistance constitute a discursive system. For Foucault, there is no power without resistance to it; the two are coexistent: "As soon as there is a power relation, there is a possibility of resistance. We can never be ensnared by power; we can always modify its grip in determinate conditions and according to a precise strategy" ("Power and Sex" 122-23). This definition of power and resistance as interdependent proves useful for the analysis of Liselotte's letters. Despite her growing disenchantment with the French court, Liselotte continued to participate in the consolidation and maintenance of the king's absolute power and attended the required poweraffirming court ceremonies. Indeed, Liselotte's position at court exemplifies Foucault's assertion that "resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power" (History 95-96). Like the Foucauldian subject, she was "neither entirely autonomous nor enslaved, neither the originator of the discourses and practices that constitute its experiences nor determined by them" (Sawicki 104). Rather, Liselotte must be viewed as deeply embedded in the absolutist matrix of her time with its faith in hierarchy and rank. Yet while her ideological world-view originated in the same belief system, her experiences of alterity led her to question the French manifestation of absolutism.
Liselotte's approach to medicine exemplifies Foucault's notion of a subject's simultaneous interiority and exteriority to power. Though Liselotte remained highly skeptical of the elaborate medical system at the French court, her understanding of contemporary medicine did not significantly differ from the accepted practices of her days. In her article "From the Patient's Point of View: Illness and Health in the Letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz," Elborg Forster notes: "Generally speaking, [Liselotte's] discussions are firmly embedded within the theory of the humors and temperaments, which held that every person has a specific temperament that makes him or her susceptible to specific ailments" (303). In general, Liselotte accepted conventional medical explanations of her ailments, but she disagreed with her court-appointed physicians over the appropriate remedies.
Humoral medicine, based on the theories of Galen and Hippocrates, had been rediscovered in the sixteenth century. It provided a system of impeccable internal logic with complete anatomical explanations and cures for all diseases (Eccles 17). In this system, body and mind were considered intimately connected, indeed, the word humor not only designated the fluid substances that made up the body, but also a person's temperament (Forster, "Patient" 303). Humoral medicine strove for the balance of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water, each of which represented a certain physical quality. (5) Within this paradigm, each individual was born with a particular complexion; one of the humors usually dominated the others, thereby rendering the person's temperament sanguine, choleric, melancholic, or phlegmatic. Any imbalance of the humors translated into disease, which was treated by deciding which way they were disordered and redressing the balance on the principle of opposites (Eccles 18). Treatment was expensive, unpleasant, and complicated, a full-time occupation for both patient and physician and clearly not available to the majority of the population at that time.
At the court of Louis XIV, health management was highly ritualized and symbolic. The king went to great pains to have his mortal body represented as virile and healthy, even though monarchies tend to deemphasize the ruler's mortal body in favor of his symbolic body. This certainly had to do with the necessity to represent the monarchy as healthy after the country's experience with the Fronde, the aristocratic uprising under Louis XIII (Zanger 33). Furthermore, in the absolutist paradigm, bleeding and purging fulfilled the function of maintaining royal purity, comparable to the constant washing and bathing practiced by the highest Brahmin circles in the Indian caste system (Forster, "Introduction" xxvi). Indeed, undergoing frequent medical treatment was a prerequisite to being affiliated with the court's inner sanctum. This lead to "unusually aggressive medical practices" to which the royal family was subjected (Forster, "Patient" 310). The king, for example, took 1500-2000 purgatives and received several hundred enemas between 1647 and 1715 (Daremberg 201).
Liselotte was by no means prepared for such elaborate medical practices; her provincial upbringing had only acquainted her with the less invasive principles of the folk medicine of her region (Forster, "Patient" 301). Oft-quoted evidence for this fact is Madame de Sevigne's astonishment that Liselotte, at age nineteen, had never been bled or purged (Forster, "Patient" 309). While Liselotte, in principle, agreed with the doctors that the evacuation of harmful humors (bleeding, purging, etc.) constituted a means of keeping a body healthy and curing an illness, she objected to the artificial nature of these treatments at the French court. (6) Such induced purging or bleeding interfered, in her opinion, with the natural evacuative processes of the body (Forster, "Patient" 309).
Almost immediately after her arrival in France, Liselotte and the court clashed over the correct maintenance of physical health. Since she was not allowed to choose her own physician, she regarded the courtappointed doctors with deep mistrust (Forster, "Patient" 315) and sought to protect the integrity of her body from the French medical experts. In one of her first letters home, Liselotte reported how she found it necessary to guard herself against intrusive procedures, like bleeding and artificially induced purging, which she not only connoted as French, but also as public and symbolic, i.e., as absolutist procedures. On 4 February 1672, she wrote to her old governess:
I was to be bled under all circumstances, and they wanted to give me medicine, but I did not want it. When they no longer knew what to do with me, the King and Monsieur announced their visits. One was going to hold down my arm, the other my other hand and my head. I was lucky to be visited by a maiden [menstruation], and that prevented the bleeding (Briefe 37). (7)
In the context of absolutism, resistance to the medical establishment, an extension of the king's absolute power, carried highly symbolic meanings, as the king required submission and loyalty from all members of the royal household. The incident above reveals that Liselotte was aware of the symbolic meaning of blood in French absolutism and framed the struggle over managing her health in terms of how blood should be shed in the royal family. (8) She portrays French medical treatment not only as intrusive and violent, but also as male. The threatened treatment is juxtaposed with an alternative that is non-intrusive and based on the female body's inherent powers of evacuation: natural blood flow. Menstruation enables Liselotte to change her position from that of victim to that of agent. The king and his physicians must capitulate in the face of uncontrollable female nature and eventually leave her to herself. The incident shows that Liselotte was conversant in the symbolic discourses at the French court and knew how to use them to her advantage. While Liselotte ended up shedding blood, she did so according to her own medical beliefs.
From the outset of her correspondence, Liselotte realized the disposable nature of royal consorts after they had fulfilled their duties to bear an heir, and, in her own case, to serve as a legal pretence for the French invasion of the Palatinate. (9) Resisting the medical establishment became more urgent for her as she observed other women at court surrendering to male medical authority and dying. In 1683, she witnessed the queen's death and wrote:
On Monday night [she] was taken with a fever and on Friday last at three o'clock in the afternoon she expired. And that through the ignorance of the doctors, who killed her as surely as if they had thrust a dagger into her heart. She had an abscess under the left arm, which by repeated bleeding they pushed back into the body. And at the end, last Friday, they gave her an emetic, which caused the abscess to burst open inside the body. Thus she died a quick and gentle death (A Woman's Life 40-41).
But unlike the queen or the first Dauphine, (10) Liselotte refused to die conveniently. In a letter dated 8 February 1690 to her aunt Electress Sophie of Hannover, she outlined her particular strategy of survival and resistance to the court and its demands:
They are doing everything they can to reduce me to the same state, but then I am a tougher nut than Madame la Dauphine and before the old women have eaten me up, they may well have lost a few teeth. ...I am taking very good care of my health, just to make them mad. The old woman is at least fifteen or perhaps even twenty years older than I, therefore I think that if only I am patient and take care of my health I shall have the pleasure of seeing her depart for the next world before me (A Woman's Life 69).
Liselotte very clearly equated her own health with her physical survival at court and frequently referred to the many ways in which she took care of her health in order to survive "the old hag," Madame de Maintenon. Indeed, Liselotte viewed the death of Madame de Maintenon as a personal triumph and as a token of symbolic victory over the kind of court she despised. (11)
In the course of her letters, health not only became a strategy of resistance and survival, but a strategy of identity formation: illness came to signify the decadent and corrupt French court, health the morally pure Germany. Even fifty years after her arrival at the French court, Liselotte wrote in a letter dated 19 September 1722: "They tried to treat me like a Frenchwoman, and never considered that French jokes like bleeding and purging aren't fit for a German knight-of-the-rustlingleaves. Now I have sworn off all this, and am much better" (Letters from Liselotte 243). (12) Indeed, Liselotte made an explicit point of emphasizing her German health and compared herself favorably to the "sickly"--one can safely assume morally and physically sick--French women. Triumphantly, an aging Liselotte reported the French court's admiration for her continuous good health.
It has become the fashion here to complain about the air; the Princess de Conti does not want to go out at all and never takes a walk, and neither does [my daughter-in-law]; they are forever having ing purgess, bleedings, acidulous water, and baths; and what is really exquisite is that they all keep oohing and aahing about my good health. I tell them every day that if I were to live as they do, I would be even sicker than they are, and also that I am healthy because I do not use any medicines and get a lot of fresh air and exercise. But they simply do not want to believe it (A Woman's Life 163-64).
This notion of physical health and robust presence grew particularly important for Liselotte as she aged. Frequently her letters reflected on the French court depriving her of everything she cared about: her homeland, her inheritance, her children, the position assigned to her by birth, and her good health. (13) Precisely by displaying herself as a healthy and robust German, who had no need for French medical treatment, Liselotte managed to uphold a sense of national identity and individuality in an environment that was based on self-renunciation for the sake of the crown. (14)
Liselotte believed that before her marriage to Philippe d'Orleans she had been of cheerful, i.e., sanguine temperament, and that her extended stay in France was turning her into a melancholic. (15) While she sought to present herself as physically healthy in order to avoid the French physicians, the experience of exile and deep unhappiness at the French court translated into frequent bouts of melancholia for Liselotte. She had left the Palatinate at the age of nineteen, never to return, and found herself in the position that Joseph Strelka defines as constitutive for exile: torn between isolation from and assimilation to the new country (22). (16) In addition to feelings of isolation and alienation, the exiled suffers from feelings of rejection by the "fatherland." While Liselotte was not forced to leave her home--and with it her language and her culture--for the sake of her own political convictions, she was sent to France in order to represent her father's political strategy of neutralizing the French threat to the Palatinate. For Liselotte, the fatherland was literally embodied by her father, who had forced her to go abroad. Many years later, in a letter to Electress Sophie from 6 July 1710, she remarked bitterly that a truly loving father would not have sent her to France against her will. (17) Her sense of resignation and despair was compounded by the fact that her new homeland nonetheless invaded and devastated her native Palatinate in 1689. To Liselotte's chagrin, her father, unable to afford a large dowry for his daughter, had signed an ambiguous marriage contract that gave France claims to the Palatinate. When Liselotte's brother died without an heir, Louis XIV occupied the Palatinate under the pretext of conquering it for his sister-in-law. More than a decade after her arrival in France, Liselotte found herself unable to champion the Palatine cause successfully, since court intrigues instigated by her husband's homosexual lovers and her own continued contempt for Madame de Maintenon, the king's mistress, had estranged her from the king. On 20 March 1689, she wrote an anguished letter to her aunt Sophie:
The horrendous and piteous calamity was visited upon the poor Palatinate, and what pains me most is that my name is being used to cast these poor people into utter misery. ...But to save my life I cannot stop lamenting and bemoaning the thought that I am, as it were, my fatherland's ruin, especially when I see all of the Elector's, my late father's, hard work and care suddenly reduced to rubble in poor Mannheim. ...It also grieves me deeply that the King waited to inflict the ultimate devastation precisely until I had begged him to spare Mannheim and Heidelberg (A Woman's Life 61).
Liselotte continued to insist on her Palatine identity and affiliation during the conflict between the Palatinate and France, and by so doing, she violated a central premise of the absolutism of Louis XIV, who demanded absolute loyalty from his family and his courtiers. To punish her for her perceived obstinacy and disloyalty, news of the victorious French troops was promptly related to Liselotte, often by the king himself. This created in her a sense of double exile: absence from her beloved native country in addition to increasing estrangement from her adopted home; it also contributed in her mind to the changing of her disposition from sanguine to melancholic.
Liselotte never doubted that the many injustices she experienced at the French court caused harm to her health. Already on 1 January 1682, on the occasion of the French invasion of the free imperial city of Strasbourg, she had written to her half-brother Karl Ludwig about the changing balance of her humors:
You are well enough acquainted with this country and this court to know that one can meet with a great deal of injustice, and that one can have plenty of reasons to become melancholy, however cheerful one may be by nature. But since I am beginning to feel that this is most harmful to my health, I am trying to put all of this out of my mind as much as ever I can (A Woman's Life 32).
Liselotte based her interpretation on the principles of humoral medicine that viewed mental and physical health as a closely connected system. One the one hand, melancholia could be caused by an imbalance of the four humors, i.e., by a physical ailment, and on the other hand, melancholia could cause physical ailment. In her interpretation, Liselotte followed Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621, which explained the relationship between mental and physical health as follows:
For as the body works upon the mind by his bad humors, troubling the spirits, sending gross fumes into the brain, and so per consequens [sic] disturbing the soul, and all the faculties of it ... with fear, sorrow, & c., which are ordinary symptoms of this disease; so on the other side, the mind most effectually works upon the body, producing by his passions and perturbations miraculous alterations, as melancholy, despair, cruel diseases, and sometimes death itself (qtd. in A Woman's Life 334-35).
It may be assumed that Liselotte was familiar with Burton's work. Her library included many medical texts such as Poincet's Histoire des drogues, Burnet's Practique de la medicine, and several pharmaceutical reference guides in German and French (Van der Cruysse, 527). Her letters to her aunt Sophie abound with medical explanations for her symptoms and reflect a thorough understanding of plants and their therapeutic uses. Indeed, she described her symptoms (18) in terms similar to those used by Burton: "When I am cranky my spleen swells up, and when that is swollen it sends vapors into my head, which make me sad, and when I am sad, I get sick" (Forster, "Patient" 33).
Liselotte's resistance to the aggressive medical practices in France was congruent with Burton's recommendations. He disagreed with other medical experts of his time and cautioned against rash administrations of intrusive maneuvers, such as hot baths, bleeding, and artificially induced purging, which he considered unreasonably and immoderately used (I: 313). In his view only severe cases warranted the use of these conventional remedies. He advocated changes in diet and exercise and the company of friends, who should surround the patient at all times and "set [him] about some business, exercise or recreation, which may divert his thoughts" (II, 219).
While complaining about her melancholia and its physical manifestations in her letters, Liselotte continued to refuse medical intervention for her fevers. This suggests that for her melancholia was more than just a physical ailment. Rather, the display of melancholia appears to have offered Liselotte a stance of critical distance from the court. Melancholia also allowed her to retreat from some of the required functions at court. She wrote: "I am disgusted with society, and therefore I am rather alone. I do not allow myself to become bored, I either read or write." (19) This retreat did not involve her physical removal from court, for absence was strictly forbidden. Moreover, Versailles palace was constructed in such a way as to render privacy in the bourgeois sense unattainable. Rooms opened into other rooms, and family members and courtiers were constantly passing through her chambers. While physically remaining among the members of the court, Liselotte shifted her attention to her writing desk, her library, and her laboratory. Within the world of her letters, she created and publicized the persona of the sad and melancholic German princess.
Liselotte's display of melancholia can be viewed in the larger context of seventeenth-century melancholia. In his study Melancholy and Society, Wolf Lepenies maintains that the display of melancholy at the French court of Louis XIV was a common phenomenon. Melancholy arose as a form of resignative behavior that passively resisted the surplus of order established by the absolutist state (Lepenies 47). After the Fronde, Louis XIII had deprived the aristocracy in France of any real influence and had established a two-tiered system of power: the first tier, consisting of actual power, was reserved for the monarch and his government; the second tier, consisting of intricate rules and etiquettes for the aristocracy at the court, served to deflect attention from their actual loss of power (Lepenies 38). Entertainments and courtly ceremonies were staged to channel the nobility's energy into politically nonthreatening avenues (34). Participation in the prescribed entertainment and court ceremonies was mandatory, and absence or the display of boredom and melancholia could result in substantial monetary losses, as Liselotte frequently experienced (Elias 84, 235-36).
As a result, Lepenies claims, the public display of disenchantment and melancholia was perceived as threatening to this system and the first tier of power. Indeed, such behavior attacked the very core of the absolutist state, since "the aristocrat who betrayed his boredom was blatantly documenting his powerlessness; the king for his part, sensed that boredom was the sign of an impending rebellion" (40). (20) Boredom could only be held in check by keeping busy all members of the court: those evading the king's supervision constituted a possible threat to the king and the system he embodied. (21)
Despite her insistence on her good physical health, Liselotte represented herself as melancholic in her letters. In 1687, when life at court had become very difficult for her because of the Franco-Palatine political tensions, she began filling her letters with references to the very boring court life she witnessed. "I am also bound to tell Your Grace that court life is becoming so dull [langweilig] that one can hardly stand it any longer" (A Woman's Life 53). Insistence on her ennui and displeasure at court remained a central trope in Liselotte's writing, even after her son had become regent and she a much more well-respected member of the court. By publicly questioning the ability of the most powerful court in Europe to keep its members entertained and occupied, Liselotte pointed to the constant threat of absolute power eroding, even within the ruler's inner circle.
The display of ennui and melancholy threatened to subvert courtly society from the inside out. Yet this gesture of disenchantment was only meaningful as long as the melancholic "Enfant de France" was valuable to the court. In 1682, Louis XIV had declined Liselotte's request to retreat to a convent while she was the wife of the king's brother. In 1704, after the death of her husband, she had no further value to the crown and retreating to her dowager's estate became an option. Liselotte, however, refused and insisted on her presence at court:
If I went [to my widow's seat] I would get stuck in the chateau and lead a most boring life like a lady of the gentry, without any honors or anything. That does not befit me, so I prefer to keep going along here, even though I am not admitted to the inner sanctum and am not among the chosen few (A Woman's Life 154).
Ennui and melancholy without audience are, as Liselotte was well aware, pointless.
The melancholics of the seventeenth century, unlike earlier melancholics, did not flee society; rather they preferred the counterculture of the salon to court society (Lepenies 54). In these salons, the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie began to mingle and individual talents, not hereditary titles, determined social status. While Liselotte employed similar strategies to those described by Lepenies, she did not retreat to a salon, an environment that, after all, lacked structure, order, distinction by rank, and was an inherently French institution. Rather, Liselotte's melancholy served as the generative force for her letters, through which she created her own counterculture to the French court. These letters became the vehicle through which she publicized her melancholia, i.e., her disenchantment with Versailles, and at the same time, her melancholia served as the creative impulse for her frequent letters to her correspondents.
Melancholia as a generative force of artistic creativity has a strangely gendered history. Since antiquity, melancholia, in particular male melancholia, has been viewed as a source of creativity and genius. In "One Hundred Years of Melancholy," Naomi Schor explains that the relationship between melancholia and writing is a relationship that on first thought should not exist at all because "from a strictly clinical perspective a true melancholic suffers from a debilitating writer's block and cannot write" (Schor 2). And yet melancholia's connection to creativity is at the basis of Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy. Burton claims that he is writing "of melancholy, by being busy to avoid melancholy" (I: 32). Writing serves as an evacuative procedure to relieve his mind of melancholy (I: 33). In The Gendering of Melancholia, Juliana Schiesari writes: "Thus as early as Ficino and as late as Freud melancholia appears as a specific representational form for male creativity, one whose practice converted the feeling of disempowerment into a privileged artifact" (8). While both men and women may be sad, the discourse on melancholia has traditionally assigned artistic status solely to the expressions of the male melancholic; female melancholia was viewed as pathological. Indeed, Burton writes that "women misaffected are far more violent, and grievously troubled [than men] (I: 228). In this sense, common explanatory models interpreting melancholia either as a collective cultural malaise that responds to radical historical ruptures or as an individual pathology that arises from personal history are also gendered models. In the "canon of melancholia" (Schiesari 4), the pathology is a discursive practice through which only the male subject is legitimated in the representation of his artistic trajectory (15).
This gendered understanding of melancholia positions the sufferer in different ways: on the one hand, melancholia becomes a generative force for the male genius, being read as a cultural paradigm that allows the artist to describe and define his stance toward the world; on the other hand, female melancholia positions the patient as afflicted and immobilized, making cultural expression impossible. (22) Yet such simple juxtapositions obscure the complexity of cultural signifiers, including melancholia and the discursive practices they allow. In her analysis of the texts of female Italian Renaissance poets, Schiesari shows convincingly that with their texts of lament women writers indeed attempted to appropriate subject positions. (23)
Liselotte's melancholia, I now want to suggest, can be read as the generative force for her creativity. Her letters demonstrate that melancholy is the very condition that makes possible the creation of Liselotte as an author. The letters may be autobiographical in nature, but they must be viewed as carefully crafted texts that emerge as a comprehensive body of works defined by plot, structure, repetition of tropes, and deliberate linguistic selection.
Scholarship on epistolarity, as well as autobiography, has begun to include correspondence written by women in the literary canon of a given period. (24) Elizabeth C. Goldsmith, for example, maintains that the longstanding correspondence between Madame de Sevigne and her daughter offered Sevigne a means to describe her life and write her autobiography in a less conspicuous form. More recently, definitions of narrative have been broadened to accommodate the genre of correspondence. Elisabeth MacArthur claims that authentic letters too must be viewed as mediated and constructed (45). Like any narrative, correspondence is defined by structure, plot development, conflict and resolution, and, most of all, by inner cohesion. Letter writers do not merely reproduce the sentiments they feel and the events they observe, but--consciously or unconsciously--transform them "into written texts whose organization, style, vocabulary and point of view generate particular meanings" (118). In this context Liselotte's "down-to-Earth, ... rude language" that is "even today ... hilariously funny" (Brandes 52) needs to be re-evaluated as a consciously employed literary device in the construction of her narrative.
Liselotte frequently asserted that she wrote for emotional reasons, rather than for artistic intention. Writing served as a gentle purgative process that could help maintain her health. Nevertheless, she took her work as a writer seriously and frequently reflected on her style and command of language. "If one knows how to write in German, it is not necessary to learn the epistolary style. A person can only write what comes into her head, like I do; for if I had to write a forced style, I could never resolve myself to write" (Briefe 184). She proudly mentioned that Leibniz, for example, admired her epistolary talents, (25) and she felt a great affinity to Pascal, whose natural style she praised (Van der Cruysse 515). Liselotte's correspondents and others who read her letters deeply admired her talent for writing. Karl Ludwig von Pollnitz, who visited Liselotte in 1713, reported that Liselotte's letters easily comprised twenty to thirty sheets of paper (Bogen). These letters, he continues, were worthy of being printed. Never before had he read better German. (26) Indeed, recent scholarship into epistolarity and narrativity has confirmed Liselotte's pivotal role in the development of a more natural and conversational literary style. Reinhard Nickisch, for example, asserts that Liselotte's letters are indispensable for the history of German epistolarity. (27) They contributed to the formation of German national identity and helped develop a more fluid German writing style during the eighteenth century. Most importantly, Liselotte's letters show how it was possible for a female writer to construct authority and subjectivity in and through her texts.
While certainly plagued by sadness and melancholy, Liselotte realized how illness and health informed the symbolic fabric of the French court. By representing herself as melancholic, Liselotte successfully invented an identity for herself that allowed for the development of a narrative voice centered on her experience. Melancholia served as justification to authorize and distribute an analysis of court life under the Sun King that focused almost entirely on Liselotte's subjectivity. The ambiguous nature of seventeenth-century French melancholia, on the one hand a disease of the body, on the other a deliberately chosen stance of defiance, allowed Liselotte to negotiate the prescribed functions of aristocratic womanhood, and develop individuality, subjectivity, and agency. The story she set out to tell is one not of absolutist grandeur and tight control, but one of fissures, erosion, and constant jostling for power.
Yet we should be careful not to romanticize female resistance. Resistance is not necessarily a sign of the ineffectiveness of power. Systems of power are multiple so that resistance at one level might lead to domination at another. Liselotte may have successfully disseminated criticism of the French court, but she remained embedded and constricted in the absolutist system. Her letters were opened and read, and the king responded to her defiance by forcing her to submit to various court rituals without rewarding her for her compliance. Indeed, most often the friendly nod of the king, so crucial for a courtier's social status, was lacking. On 2 September 1696, Liselotte reported: "I am being treated in a very rude fashion. Every day I am forced to wait a half hour at the King's door before I am allowed to enter, and sometimes I am even sent away, although at the same time all the King's bastards and even Monsieur himself are in the room" (Letters from Madame 140). (28) These snubs caused Liselotte genuine hardship. French law and customs gave exclusive power over a couple's finances to the husband. Since Philippe d'Orleans refused to support Liselotte and her large entourage, she was financially dependent on Louis XIV, who often used financial and social pressure to force her into submission. Liselotte's constant battles with the court and its different levels of power show very clearly that her increasing refusal to participate in court life corresponded to tendencies already present at court; nevertheless, this refusal to cooperate eventually marginalized and ostracized her, making an improvement of her situation impossible. Liselotte's astute observations of seventeenth-century medical practice illuminate attempts to control the troubled and troubling woman through medicine. The power of her letters consists in her acute awareness of illness and health as central issues of power, and her attempt to turn these into creative forces.
I am grateful to the anonymous readers of my original manuscript for their helpful comments. I wish to thank Ruth-Ellen Joeres, who first introduced me to the letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz. My thanks also go to Lynne Tatlock, who graciously read several versions of this paper. Her thoughtful comments and questions greatly contributed to this paper. All errors are--of course--mine. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations from German are my own.
(1) In a letter from 6 July 1710 to Electress Sophie, Liselotte reflects on her life and writes: "Hette mich I[hro]G[naden] der Kurfurst recht lieb gehabt, hette er mich nicht hergeschickt, und E[ure] L[iebden] wissen wohl, daB ich gar keine lust dazu hatte und wohl vorher sahe, wie alles abgehen wurde; aber es war mein verhengnus so, und dem entgehet man nicht" (Briefe 176).
(2) Dirk Van der Cruysse writes that Liselotte is estimated to have written close to 60,000 letters. Two thirds of these letters were written in German, one third in French. Only about ten percent of these letters have survived. Editions of selected letters exist in French and German, as well as in English translation. To date, there is no complete edition of Liselotte's letters in one single language (15).
(3) In the context of absolutist France, "private" does not mean "alone," or away from the court. Rather "private" for Liselotte meant an engagement with a far-flung literary community that was mostly unrelated to the French court.
(4) Francoise d'Aubigne, widow Scarron, Marquise de Maintenon (1635-1719) was the last mistress of Louis XIV. Many speculate that Louis XIV secretly married Madame de Maintenon; in any case, she was the uncrowned queen of the French court. Conflict between Liselotte and Madame de Maintenon arose in questions of religion (Liselotte remained a Protestant at heart), access to the king, and Madame de Maintenon's involvement in securing the marriage between Liselotte's son and Louis XIV's illegitimate daughter.
(5) The function of the four humors is explained in Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy (I: 197).
(6) This view is shared by Burton (I: 313).
(7) "Maiden" (Jungfer) is Liselotte's term for menstruation.
(8) Foucault explains the symbolism of blood for the absolutist context: "[Blood] owed its high value at the same time to its instrumental role (the ability to shed blood), to the way it functioned in the order of signs (to have a certain blood, to be of the same blood, to be prepared to risk one's blood), and also to its precariousness (easily spilled, subject to drying up, too readily mixed, capable of being quickly corrupted)" (History 147).
(9) The marriage contract of Liselotte did not specify the exact amount of her dowry; rather, it gave Liselotte's father wide latitude to pay an amount commensurate with the rank of a German princess. Later Louis XIV would insist that his brother had never received a dowry worthy of the future Madame (Van der Cruysse 126).
(10) Maria Anna Christine of Bavaria (1660-1690), the wife of the first Dauphin.
(11) On 16 April 1719, Liselotte writes: "In diesem morgen erfahre ich, daB die alte Maintenon verreckt ist, gestern zwischen 4 und 5 abend. Es were ein groB gluck gewesen, wenn es vor etlich und 30 jahren geschehen were" (Briefe 218).
(12) "Rauschenplattenkechtgen" [sic] (knight-of-the-rustling-leaves) was Liselotte's childhood nickname.
(13) "Ich scheine wohl destiniert, alles zu verlieren, was ich von meinen verwandte haben sollte" (Briefe 82).
(14) When Liselotte was finally allowed to chose her own physician, she settled issues of power and expertise at the outset: "When I chose my doctor, I told him ahead of time that he could not demand blind obedience from me; that he would be permitted to express his opinion but not to get angry if I did not always follow it; that my body and my health are mine, and I intend to govern them as I myself see fit" (A Woman's Life 313).
(15) On 20 May 1689, Liselotte wrote to her aunt Sophie: "E[uer] L[iebden] sagen, daB man einem alles nehmen kann ausgenommen ein frohligs herz. Wie ich noch in Teutschland war, hette ich es auch wohl so gemeint, seit ich aber in Frankreich bin, hab ich leyder nur zu sehr erfahren, daB man einem dieses auch nehmen kann" (Briefe 74).
(16) While the terms "exile" and "literature of exile" are generally used to describe literature by those exiled from Nazi Germany, the concept of "exile" is much older and includes writers like Ovid, Dante, Madame de Stael, and Heinrich Heine.
(17) See note 1.
(18) Forster writes that Liselotte's suffering, her fevers, and the pain in her spleen could have been caused by frequent bouts of malaria due to the marshy swamps of Versailles (A Woman's Life 303).
(19) "Das hat mir die gesellschaften ganz verleydt, bin derowegen lieber allein, wo ich mir die zeit gar nicht lang lass werden, denn entweder ich les oder schreibe" (Briefe 107).
(20) In Lepenies's explanations boredom seems to be the unreflected disenchantment with the second-tier system of order. Melancholia, on the other hand, is a reflected and deliberate stance of disapproval. Inherent in Lepenies's definition is the contention that the melancholic courtier consciously turned away from the public sphere of the court.
(21) Cf. Louis' angry reaction when Saint-Simon decided to leave the court in Versailles (Elias 136).
(22) Even today, female melancholia, or depression, may become a creative force only after the pathology has been treated. See the books on depression and Prozac by Kramer and Wurtzel.
(23) Schiesari challenges "the over-laden melancholic model" and proposes to "rethink the possibility of women's loss as represented and resituated in terms of mourning" (190). However, while Schiesari's approach suggests a model for understanding women's lament and mourning as specifically situated discursive practices, it re-inscribes the gendering that underlies the discussion of melancholia. For mourning, unlike melancholia, constitutes an affect the ego resolves much more easily. In fact, according to Freud, mourning is a straightforward process in which time and distance will do the healing. Most importantly, within the Freudian framework mourning does not generate the same creative forces as melancholia. Furthermore, employing Freudian terminology reifies a gendered model of melancholia that was not in existence in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
(24) In "Autogynography: Is the Subject Different?" Domna Stanton began to question the conventional definitions of autobiography that "equate ... the ideal of the author with a phallic pen transmitted from father to son" (13).
(25) Liselotte to her half-sister Louise, on 10 December 1715. "Herr Leibniz, dem ich etlichemal schreibe, gibt mir die vanitet, daB ich nicht ubel Teutsch schreibe" (Briefe 204).
(26) "Doch waren es nicht etwan kurtze Briefe, die sie ordentlich abgehen lieB, sondern sie fullete ofters gantz fuglich 20. biB 30. Bogen von ihrer Hand an. Es sind mir deren verschiedene zu Gesichte gekommen, die wohl verdient hatten im Druck zu erscheinen. Denn ich habe in Deutschland nichts gesehen, das besser ware geschrieben gewesen" (Pollnitz I: 289).
(27) "[Die Briefe] zeigen, daB es sehr wohl moglich war, personliche Briefe in einem freieren Deutsch schon in einer Epoche zu schreiben, in der es in Deutschland wegen der damals herrschenden Briefmode schlechterdings verpont war, derlei zu praktizieren" (42).
(28) Stevenson elided the immediately following passage: "Umb die wahrheit zu bekennen, so ist das ein wenig hart zu verdauen, daB man tractiert, als wenn man eine kammermagd were" (Briefe 116).
Editions of Liselotte's Letters
The Letters from Madame: The Correspondence of Elizabeth-Charlotte of Bavaria, Princess Palatine, Duchess of Orleans, called "Madame" at the Court of King Louis XIV, 1661-1708. Trans. and ed. Gertrude Scott Stevenson. New York: Appleton, 1924.
Letters from Liselotte: Elisabeth Charlotte, Princess Palatine and Duchess of Orleans, `Madame,' 1652-1722. Trans. and ed. Maria Kroll. New York: McCall, 1971.
Briefe der Liselotte von der Pfalz. Ed. Helmut Kiesel. Frankfurt a.M.: Insel, 1981.
A Woman's Life in the Court of the Sun King. Ed. Elborg Forster. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1984.
Brandes, Ute. "Baroque Women Writers and the Public Sphere." Women in German Yearbook 7. Ed. Jeanette Clausen and Sara Friedrichsmeyer. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1991. 43-63.
Burton, Robert. The Anatomy of Melancholy. 1621. 3 vols. New York: W. J. Widdleton, 1875.
Daremberg, Charles. La Medicine: Histoire et Doctrine. 2nd ed. Paris: Didier, 1865.
Eccles, Audrey. Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Tudor and Stuart England. Kent: Kent State UP, 1982.
Elias, Norbert. Die hofische Gesellschaft: Untersuchungen zur Soziologie des Konigtums und der hofischen Aristokratie mit einer Einleitung. Berlin: Luchterhand, 1969.
Forster, Elborg. "From the Patient's Point of View: Illness and Health in the Letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz (1652-1722)." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 60.3 (1986): 297-320.
Forster, Elborg, ed. "Introduction." A Woman's Life in the Court of the Sun King. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1984.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 1977. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1995.
--. History of Sexuality. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.
Goldsmith, Elizabeth C. "Giving Weight to Words: Madame de Sevigne's Letters to her Daughter," The Female Autograph: Theory and Practice of Autobiography from the Tenth to the Twentieth Century. Ed. Domna Stanton. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984. 107-15.
Kramer, Peter. Listening to Prozac. New York: Viking, 1993.
Lepenies, Wolf. Melancholy and Society. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992.
MacArthur, Elizabeth J. Extravagant Narratives: Closure and Dynamics in the Epistolary Form. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990.
Nickisch, Reinhard. Brief. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1991.
Pollnitz, Karl Ludwig, Freiherr von. Neue Nachrichten: welche seine Lebens-Geschichte und eine ausfuhrliche Beschreibung von seinen ersten Reisen in sich enthalten. 2 vols. Franckfurt a.M.: Gedruckt auf Unkosten der Gesellschafft [Varrentrapp u. W], 1739.
"Power and Sex: An Interview between Foucault and Bernard-Henri Levy." Michel Foucault: Politics, Philosophy, Culture. Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984. Ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman. New York: Routledge, 1988.
Sawicki, Jana. Disciplining Foucault: Feminism, Power, and the Body. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Schiesari, Juliana. The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992.
Schor, Naomi. One Hundred Years of Melancholy. The Zaharoff Lecture for 1996. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1996.
Stanton, Domna C. "Autogynography: Is the Subject Different?" The Female Autograph: Theory and Practice of Autobiography from the Tenth to the Twentieth Century. Ed. Domna C. Stanton. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984. 3-20.
Strelka, Joseph. Exilliteratur: Grundprobleme der Theorie, Aspekte der Geschichte und Kritik. Bern: Lang, 1983.
Van der Cruysse, Dirk. "Madame seyn ist ein ellendes Handwerk": Liselotte von der Pfalz--eine Deutsche am Hof des Sonnenkonigs. Munchen: Piper, 1990.
Wurtzel, Elizabeth. Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Zanger, Abby. "Lim(b)inal Images: `Betwixt and Between' Louis XIV's Martial and Marital Bodies." From the Royal to the Republican Body. Ed. Sara E. Melzer and Kathryn Norberg. Berkeley: U of California P, 1998. 32-63.
Karin Baumgartner received her PhD from Washington University in St. Louis in 1999, and is Assistant Professor in German at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She has published articles on fashion as a language of female political commentary around 1800 and on cross-dressing and the female warrior in early nineteenth-century literature. She is currently completing a book on the development of women's political commentary in the early nineteenth century. Her research and teaching interests include historiography, theories of the public sphere, and interpretations of female violence in German literature.
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|Publication:||Women in German Yearbook|
|Article Type:||Topic Overview|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2001|
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