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Probably the worst snob and best memoirist who ever existed,
This review is from: Memoirs of the Duc De Saint-Simon: 1691-1709 v.1: 1691-1709 Vol 1 (Lost Treasures) (Paperback)Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-Simon (not - as he would immediately have pointed out - your average, two-a-penny Duc, but a Duc et Pair de France) was practically a midget, had a hump and was a ferocious snob. This did not in any way make him unacceptable at the Court of the Sun King, though it gave plentiful opportunities to his many enemies to poke malicious fun at him.
However, he got his own back in his renowned Memoires - written up in 1740-46 from notes he had kept at the time. Almost no-one of any importance escaped his sharp tongue and barbed assessments. In fact many of the characters he describes would be just dry names on tombs but for his work.
From the King himself (who completely pervades the first two volumes of Lucy Norton's excellent translation) to the Duchess who could never contain her bowels at long card games, and left a trail across the floors of Versailles like a snail, Saint-Simon breathes squirming, intense life into the stiff portraits of periwigged worthies and tight-bodiced noblewomen.
Ironically, he is often at his funniest when describing pompous snobs (the Bishop who has two huge family trees painted on his walls showing his descent from both the Roman and Byzantine Emperors, the infamous bore who was appointed to the Academie Royale solely so that the King and the entire court could laugh at his fantastically vain acceptance speech).
But he is also capable of providing images that fix themselves indelibly in the mind, such as the aged Archbishop, exiled from court to his country estate, walking in his gardens with his mistress - whilst behind them his servants sweep away the traces of their footsteps.
If you can cope with the truly vast numbers of names and titles that fly about these pages you will get a feel for the times that is remarkably vivid and surprisingly modern (I viewed office politics where I work with a new eye after reading the Memoires).
Ultimately, the Memoires record the complete failure of Saint-Simon's attempt, after the death of Louis XIV, to encourage the aristocracy to limit royal power and recover (as he saw it) their proper role in the government of France. He would have been horrified that his grand-nephew Henri, Comte de Saint-Simon was one of the most influential of the first socialists...