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Literature’s Toast-Lady?

“Walk as children of the light”
(Ephesians 5:8)

Parents, leaders, and educators, we have a mission, a duty to lead children's souls toward the Light which will be their guide and their happiness. In order to illuminate the way that lies before each one of us, once a week we invite you to discover some of the words of certain wisemen and witnesses, measuring their worth by the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: “Do not consider the one who speaks, but whatever good you hear from him, confide it to your memory.” (from The Sixteen Ways to Acquire the Treasure of Knowledge by St. Thomas). Happy reading!

“It seems to me that reading also teaches one to write… drink hot chocolate, like that, even the worst company seems good.”

Madame de Sévigné (1626-1696)

“(…) In his History of French Literature, Kléber Haedens calls her Literature’s Toast-Lady. Does she merit such name-calling ? (…) At 18 months old, she loses her father who dies heroically in the battle of Ré. At seven she loses her mother. At eighteen she is married to a handsome Breton gentleman. He is brazenly unfaithful. At twenty-five she becomes a widow with a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son: the fickle marquis is killed in a duel for the beautiful regard of a certain Madame de Gondran. This young mother loves her daughter like crazy. She says it, she shouts it, she sings it. (…) Her letters raise her to the level of our greatest writers. Never two alike, from letter to letter she changes tone, allure, genre, with dizzying variety. (…) Like little girls jumping on one foot to their nursery rhymes peter-piper-picked-a-peck-of-pickled-peppers, she amuses herself by unraveling a string of superlatives: “I’m going to let you in on the most surprising, the most marvelous, the most… the most…”, then she jumps onto the other foot and starts off with a riddle : “Mr. de Lauzun is getting married, Sunday, at the Louvre, to guess whom! You have one chance in ten, in a hundred to guess… It’s Mademoiselle de la Vallière, you say?… Not even close, Madame. Oh, so it must be Mademoiselle de Retz then, you think? Not at all, you’re quite provincial my dear…” She asks the questions and she gives the responses like a little girl playing with her dolls. Her voice is drawn out by the expression on her face, by her mannerism…: “…He is going to marry – Sunday, at the Louvre, with the permission of the King – Miss, Miss de… Miss… guess the name! He’s marrying Mademoiselle, for heaven’s sake! Good heavens! Heavens to Betsy even! Mademoiselle, the Great Mademoiselle…” (…) you’ll find in her writing cookie-cutter words, inventiveness, delightful style, earthy originality, flashes of brilliance, enough to bring you to your knees. Madame de Sévigné, Literature’s Toast-Lady? Perhaps, but only if that toast is buttered with genius!

Paul Guth (1910-1997)
Novelist and Essayist

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