Betsy Prioleau on Sirens in Spectacles
I'm so jazzed for today's post! I came to know and love Betsy Prioleau's work long before I wrote my first book, when some lovely person gave me a copy of her Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love. What a tremendous read it was...filled with all kinds of interesting women and fascinating tidbits from a long history of smart, sexy females. I am fairly clamoring for the book she has out today -- Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them -- in part because I know it's going to be another fascinating look at an undiscussed part of history, and in part because (and this will come as a surprise, I'm sure) I love a rake. I love a scoundrel. I love a rogue. I'm a swooner. And so, this book is clearly about me. And, I'm guessing, not a little bit about you.
When I spoke to Betsy about joining Girls Who Wear Glasses month in celebration of the heroine of One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (and her swoony hero), she knew immediately who she would write about...and I knew immediately that it would be a fabulous story.
A Bespectacled Siren of Eighteenth-Century Paris
Paris in the mid-eighteenth century was not a time for girls who wore glasses. Spectacles had large, round steel frames, often without stems, and were such objects of shame that a lady would sooner leave home in her shift as wear eyeglasses in public. Yet the bespectacled Sophie Volland edged out all the 20/20 beauties and won the most desired, handsomest ladies’ man in Europe.
Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot was a celebrated favorite of women and veteran of many affairs when he met Sophie in 1756. He was forty-three and she, three years younger—a “spinster” (perhaps due to a past indiscretion) from a prosperous family who lived with her mother in a Parisian townhouse.
Diderot fell “suddenly, violently, and enduringly” in love with her at first sight, and remained faithful until her death. Little is known about her because her letters to him have vanished, but she was a great reader and a lively, angular free spirit who spoke her mind with “manish” authority.
Their passionate liaison lasted twenty years with stolen assignations in her Paris bedroom and her country house in Isle-sur-Marne. He adored her just as fervently over time, he wrote, and when he pictured her most lovingly, he imagined her “chattering,” and “standing erect” behind an armchair with “her spectacles on her nose.”
I love this story -- because it just goes to show that girls who wear glasses most definitely get passes. Thanks so much for joining us today, Betsy!
Let's talk about famous rakes, shall we? I know...I'm twisting your arm! Tell me which famous scoundrel (historical or otherwise), you'd like to try your hand at seducing in comments. One lucky commenter (US only, sorry!) will win Betsy's Seductress! (Winner chosen on Wednesday!)