[(essay date 2006) In the following essay, Hogg traces “Jouissance,” one of Villedieu’s early poems, “through its various oral, manuscript and print incarnations.” Hogg considers the circumstances of the poem’s composition, its notoriety in relation to Villedieu’s career, and its popularity in the eighteenth century.]
C’est le plaisir qui t’a tiré du néant.Diderot, “Jouissance”, Encyclopédie
Émile Magne is not the first critic to whom one turns for credible scholarship on Marie-Catherine Desjardins, Mme de Villedieu. What his purple prose account of the composition of Villedieu’s notorious sonnet, “Jouissance”, lacks in accuracy it makes up for in inspiration. Taking full advantage of his subject—a scandalous poem penned by a scandalous woman—Magne describes “Jouissance”’s creation in a paroxysm of titillated moralizing. The source of these details, Tallemant des Réaux, recounts that Villedieu composed the sonnet at the Duchesse de Chevreuse’s country estate, Dampierre, at the request of Mme de Morangis.1 Magne’s version goes beyond the facts as relayed by Tallemant, to imagine the erotics of desire and knowledge at the sonnet’s inception. Animated by “l’intime et lubrique soif de savoir,” Mme de Morangis “souhaita même une preuve tangible” of the young woman’s “félicité” with her lover (Magne 158). Morangis wants proof of pleasure; Villedieu fulfills her patron’s request with a “Jouissance”.
Inspired by Magne’s suggestive account, this essay traces the circulation of pleasure and knowledge (the “lubrique soif de savoir”) as Villedieu’s “Jouissance”, through its various oral, manuscript and print incarnations, becomes multiple. As the piece that launched Villedieu’s career of literature and self-promotion, the poem merits scholarly attention beyond that of the enjoyable footnote or passing mention. To this end, I will consider the poem at three moments of its literary life: the verse composed at the Duchesse de Chevreuse’s estate to please a female audience; the succès de scandale that gave the young author her entry into literary notoriety and print; and finally, the ever-popular addition to collections of galant verse that extended the poem’s print life well into the eighteenth century. “C’est le plaisir qui t’a tiré du néant,” Diderot writes in his Encyclopédie article “Jouissance,” extolling the virtues of procreative sex. Pleasure of a different kind marked Villedieu’s coming to writing and to print through strategies unique among seventeenth-century women writers—starting with her own “Jouissance”.2
While Villedieu (the poet) addresses her lover in the opening line of the poem, “Aujourd’hui dans tes bras j’ai demeuré pâmée,” the sonnet itself is, at its inception, destined for Morangis.3 The scene of “Jouissance”’s composition recounted by Tallemant—a woman describing her pleasure for another woman—suggests the classic structure of the early modern pornographic text, the female dialogue about sex rendered popular by Aretino’s Ragionamenti (1534-1536) and the pornographic novels L’École des filles (1655) and L’Académie des dames (∼1660).4 By presenting her “Jouissance” to the older, married Morangis, the unmarried Mlle Desjardins adds a twist on the dialogue “between an older, experienced woman and a younger, innocent one,” the form that, as Lynn Hunt writes, “completely...