Fiançailles pour rire, FP 101

Trois poèmes de Louise de Vilmorin, FP 91

Louise de Vilmorin (1902-1969), the French heir to a seed fortune dating back to the reign of Louis XIV, had a private life which often eclipsed her recognition as a poet, novelist, and journalist between the 1930’s and the 1960’s. Vilmorin seems to be remembered more for her string of high-profile marriages and lovers, as well as her chic fashion sense, than the impact of her writing. She had well-documented affairs with a number of powerful men: author of The Little Prince and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, actor and filmmaker Orson Welles, aristocrat Count Paul Esterházy de Galántha, British ambassador Duff Cooper, and French Cultural Affairs Minister and author André Malraux. She also married Las Vegas real-estate heir Henry Leigh Hunt and Hungarian playboy Count Paul Pálffy ab Erdöd. Carrying herself with a slight limp due to childhood tuberculosis of the hip and dressed in the designs of Azzedine Alaïa, Jeanne Lanvin, and Christian Lacroix, Vilmorin epitomized a certain French aristocratic charm, elegance, and razor-sharp wit.

Il voleNoelle McMurtry, soprano; Joseph Yungen, piano
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Vilmorin was a complicated figure, rife with philosophical contradictions; although she believed feminists to be a “herd of vain she-asses,” questioned why young women would wear pants, and thought women who rejected using their "feminine" charms in society as “worringly pretentious,” she applied the same bruising commentary to her relationships with men, stating “I have no faith in my fidelity.”[1]

 

Vilmorin began her writing career in her thirties, publishing her first novel Sainte-Une fois in 1934. A year later, Vilmorin gifted the poem Aux Officiers de la Garde Blanche to French soprano Marie-Blanche de Polignac, who shared her friend's work with composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). Utterly drawn to her words, Poulenc insisted that Vilmorin compose more poems, and their interaction resulted in the texts for Poulenc’s Trois Poèmes de Louise de Vilmorin, which he set in 1937. In Trois Poèmes de Louise de Vilmorin, one finds a potential self-portrait of the poet and her long list of relationships: an addict to the spontaneity of desire, to the come-what-may attitude, who dives head first into love despite the pitfalls. Comparing Vilmorin to the likes of Paul Éluard and Max Jacob, both celebrated poets in the Symbolist and Surrealist movements, Poulenc wrote, “Few people move me as much as Louise de Vilmorin: …because she writes French of an innate purity, because her name evokes flowers and vegetables, because she loves her brothers like a lover and her lovers like a sister. Her beautiful face recalls the seventeenth century, as does the sound of her name.”[2]

 

In 1939, Vilmorin published her first poetry collection, Fiançailles pour rire, from which Poulenc chose and  set six poems. Journalist Matthew Guerrieri writes, “The pervasive loneliness of Fiançailles pour rire. . . the title of which might be translated as “getting engaged for laughs,” a flourish of ironic bravado — could also be read as rueful clarity, a realization that love, often a means of escape, just as often turns into the thing to be escaped from.” As one examines Vilmorin’s long list of conquests, one finds in these poems a distant, abstract, and often brittle tone, which longs for something intellectually and emotionally deeper, although it seems eternally unattainable.

 

[1] Petkanas, Christopher. “Chichi Devil.” The New York Times. February 19, 2009. Accessed November 21, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/22/style/tmagazine/22vilmorin.html.

[2] Johnson, Graham. Liner notes to Francis Poulenc: The Complete Songs, Hyperion Records, CD (2012).

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