Madame Scarron

Currently reading Max Havelaar (1860), “the Dutch Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” From Chapter 12, in the middle of a dinner party where Max has just wound up one of his long stories:

“Dear Max,” said Tine, “our dessert is so scanty— would you not— you remember Madame Geoffrin—?”

At first I didn’t recognize this name as a reference to anything outside the book at all. But whatever version is on Wikisource includes a footnote from the author:

It seems to me that Mr Van Lennep mistakenly changed this to “Madame Geoffrin.” In the manuscript it was “Madame Scarron.” Madame Geoffrin, being very rich, had no need to augment her meager dishes with storytelling. Moreover, I know for sure that some writers assign the well-known anecdote to Madame Scarron. —EDD

Madame Scarron is (slightly) better known today as Madame de Maintenon, second wife of Louis XIV. Scarron was her first, and poorer, husband. Arsène Houssaye writes:

Little by little, Scarron’s royalty vanished from his house before the splendor of his wife’s. It was no longer his society, but hers, that people sought. She had, says Monsieur de Noailles, “acquired a most winning style of conversation; and every one has heard of the servant who one day at table whispered in her ear: ‘Madam, here’s another capital subject for a story— we have no meat for dinner.’ ”

That’s a slight embellishment of what de Noailles actually wrote, but it’s also funnier, so I’ll take it.

Posted 2018-06-22