Memoirs of Antonina
The Memoirs of Antonina is a scandalous memoir meant to satirize Marie Antoinette and the court of Louis XVI. A handwritten note on the copy in the British Library says that the original "coarse, false and infamous libel was published in Paris, early in the Revolution" and that it was translated by a reformer and police magistrate by the name of John Giffard, a friend of William Pitt, Britain's Prime Minister. (This fact was apparently exposed by William Cobbett in his Political Register for 1804, part 2, pp. 336-45.) It is very easy to unravel the political allusions, because the names of the protagonists are spelled in reverse, the simplest of coding. For example, the Countess Yrrabud (i.e. Dubarry) becomes mistress to the throne of the Snobruob (i.e. the Bourbons), and resides in the capital Sirap (i.e. Paris). Antonina’s mother Airam-Asereht (i.e. Maria-Theresa) has three daughters, Antonina Queen of Abo (her's is the only name not included in the coding system); the Queen of Selpan (i.e. Naples); and a third, married to the Duke of Exas-Neticset (i.e. Saxe-Tesciten). The Prime Minister is the Duke of Luesiohc (i.e. Choiseul). Antonina marries the Nihpuad (i.e. the Dauphin), but takes several lovers, both male and female. The main theme of the attack is the portrayal of Marie Antoinette as a lesbian. The satire is particularly striking for exhibiting a clear recognition of a lesbian sexual orientation, which is variously indicated by terms such as "women of that stamp" "inclinations", and "a lover of her own sex". And lest there be any misunderstanding about what the author is talking about, he (or possibly she) makes things quite clear by also using the classical term for a lesbian, "Tribade". At one stage the point is made that Antonina is bisexual, but throughout most of the book her passion for her own sex is shown to be stronger than her passion for men, and she is said to have deliberately disguised her love for women by taking men as lovers.
(The memoirs are two volumes long, and the following are excerpts.)
Memoirs of Antonina, Queen of Abo
Displaying the Private Intrigues, and Uncommon Passions. With Family Sketches, and Curious Anecdotes of Great Persons1791
. . . The Countess Yrrabud [Dubarry] excited universal astonishment in Sirap [Paris] (the capital of Abo) by the most low and disgusting debauchery, as public as possible. The debauchery of Antonina is equally great; the effervescence of her passions equally strong. Man or woman ’tis the same to her nothing comes amiss to her; and her want of skill and reflection renders her misconduct as public as the profession of the countess. (vol. i, p. 4)
Even if Antonina had not brought with her to the court of Abo, the gem of every vice, even that of an unbridled love of her own sex, it would not have been surprizing, at her age, surrounded by such people, and witness to such disorders, if she had preferred the seducing path of pleasure, to that dull and even life which her august and stupid husband was likely to make her lead. In fact, how could it be expected that a young princess, of a constitution uncommonly warm, could confine herself to a husband without passions as without taste, who left her to the company of women destitute of honour, that were influenced by different motives, either to seduce her, or else to secure her heart, which, though yet innocent perhaps, was strongly inclined to become otherwise. (i, 14)
The Count of Siotra [Artois] is well made, and graceful enough; but blunt, imperious, and passionate; never opening his lips, in the company of women, but to excite their blushes by his obscenity; . . . This prince only loves women, play, and wine that is, at the same time; he is addicted to debauchery of every kind, which he enjoys in the company of his worthy friend the Duke (i, 22) of Sertrahc [Chartres], the most base and stupid of all the princes of the blood, who unites in his ugly person every possible vice . . . . The Count of Siotra’s houshold [sic] is composed of people of his own stamp; the Prince of Nineh [Henin], captain of his guards, is truly worthy of the honourable office of pimp and catamite, in which he is daily employed by his patron. This gentleman was formerly maitre d’hotel and purse-keeper to Sophia Dluanra [Arnauld], first singer at the opera, and the first Tribade* of the age. (* A woman fond of her own sex.) (i, 23)
[Antonina attaches her self to the Count of Siotra’s court.] She soon became tired of the impotent caresses of her husband, and, as much from natural inclination, as (i, 23) for the purpose of deception, gave way to the licentious and impassioned caresses of her women. She had long formed the design of giving an heir to the throne; that, indeed, was the chief end of those obstructions which she had received from the knowing empress, her mother, previous to her departure from Anneiv [Vienna]. She suffered her august husband to exhaust all his endeavours for this purpose, which were equally short and ineffectual. It was necessary, therefore, to have recourse to a lover; . . . Not daring to trust to herself in an object of such importance, Antonina dispatched a private courier to Anneiv, for she could not place a confidence in General Icrem [Merci], with whom, too, a long conference might excite suspicion. The courier returned, and brought the following answer from the Oracle, which we have transcribed verbatim:
"Since, my dear child, you have a passion for women, you must certainly gratify it; (i, 24) but be constant, moderate, and discreet in your amours. Constancy protects reputation; and moderation and discretion are essential to the preservation of health since nothing spoils the person, and hurts the constitution so soon, as an intercourse of this nature. Your husband is unable to make you a mother, and ever will remain so; ’tis doubtless a great evil, since a sterile queen is equally destitute of consequence and support. You must therefore follow my example, and take a substitute. . . . Your lover will be an additional protector to you; in which you will be more fortunate than I was; the whole world were acquainted with my gallantry and its effects. Your’s may be easily concealed beneath your passion for your own sex; but let me again repeat Take care of your health." (i, 25)
The late Duke of Noyuguav [Vauguyon], that mortal enemy to the Duke of Luesiohc [Choiseul], against whom he had declared open war, was seeking, at this period, to strengthen his tottering party. He imagined that if he could contrive to place his daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Saint Nirgiam [Maigrin], in the bed of Antonina, she might promote his designs against his enemy, and obtain for herself the place of tire-woman [dressing-woman, woman of the bedchamber]. This dutchess, one of the most beautiful, and most lovely women of the court, was highly worthy to enjoy the post of favourite which she speedily acquired; but though she gave the most perfect saisfaction in those amorous exploits to which she was destined by her lascivious mistress, her reign was short. . . . (i, 26)
She was succeeded by the Dutchess of Essoc [Cosse], who was made tire-woman, at Antonina’s request to the king; which was accompanied by a particular supplication, that her late lover might be excluded from this post. The third mistress would have experienced more constancy and favour than either of her predecessors, if her serious disposition which inclined her to reason and philosophize would have permitted her to consult, somewhat more than she did, Antonina’s taste for frigality and vicious pleasures. Their connection finished with the year. (i, 27)
[Eventually Antonina takes as a male lover the rather stupid Count Nolid [Dilon], but very quickly they are separated as he is sent off with his regiment.] The separateion was pathetic on both sides; but the Princess of Eenemeug [Guemenee] soon dried up the tears of Antonina; and Nolid consoled himself for her loss, in the arms of a chambermaid.
The queen’s love for the vigorous and wanton Eenemeug was so powerful, as to make the best-informed courtiers imagine that her reign would prove long. Their rendezvous followed each other with astonishing rapidity; they were frequently shut (i, 30) up together for two hours at a time; it seemed impossible to calm the violence of their passions; for even in public, and in presence of the female domestics, they carressed each other in the most lascivious manner. But Nolid’s return from his regiment, procured the dismission of his female rival, which he repayed by joys more solid and substantial. . . . The moment it was known that the queen had no aversion to the male sex, all the noblemen of the court aspired to obtain her. The insipid Marquis of Valal [Lalav], at one time, believed himself the favoured object; but the queen only encouraged his hopes, that she might fix her affections elsewhere with less danger of discovery. (i, 31)
At length the wishes of Antonina were crowned with success; by openly giving a loose to her inclinations in one respect, she imagined that she had effectually concealed the real object of her pursuits; she now became pregant; an event which supplied ample matter for conversation, as the whole court seemed to think themselves interested in it. . . . (i, 32) The women whom Antonina had enjoyed, felt themselves particularly offended; having thought her solely attached to her own sex, they could not firgive this instance of inconstancy On those points, women of that stamp, it is said, are implacable. The hero of such a glorious exploit was soon discovered; and the Duke of Yugioc [Coiguy] was universally regarded as the happy man. (i, 33) . . . The Princess of Eenemeug, deeming herself the most insulted, because the most recently possessed by her, commented with so much freedom on the subject, that she fell into disgrace, was banished from court, and was succeeded in her post of gouvernante, by the Princess of Nasram [Marsan]. (i, 34)
The queen, doubtless, either regarded her intrigues with the men as an act of necessity, or else pursued them from mere caprice. She could not satisfy her burning desires, without having the object that gave rise to them perpetually with her; wherefore she determined always to have a woman with whom she could live in habits of the strictest intimacy. The Princess of Ellabmal [Lamballe] had long been her friend, but she had not been initiated into her amorous mysteries (i, 34) till after her rupture with Eenemeug. This lady had received the most unequivocal marks of her bounty and affection. The Dutchess of Selliaon [Noailles] was no sooner placed about the person of Antonina, than her mistress conceived a dislike toher, which was not at all surprising. (i, 35)
[Volume ii is narrated entirely in Antonina’s own words, partly in the form of a letter to her mother.]
During this interval, I had found little Caegnal [Langeac], and a certain penchant which I discovered in her a penchant in which I had indulged myself to excess, at the court of Ynamreg [Germany] made me eager to attract her notice; the language of the eyes, half-smothered sighs, palpitation of the heart, all tended to betray the sentiments of each to the other; an explanation ensued, and I was blessed with the possession of a person endued with every charm that could excite desire, and animated by that extreme ardour of lasciviousness which so greatly enhances the joys of gratification.
From that time we became inseparable, and our pleasures were incessant; our intercourse however proved as prejudicial to the reputation of my lover as to the honour (vol. ii, p. 11) of my husband, who first fought, by tender reproaches, to put a stop to it; but finding these ineffectual, he issued a solemn prohibition which I was compelled to obey, at least in appearance; in future therefore I could only enjoy, in secret, the animated caresses of this object of my love. (ii, 12)
But wherever he be [i.e. her lover Nonairt/Trainon], let him not imagine that he monopolized my person, at this period. With him, indeed, I enjoyed the solidity of pleasure, but I seasoned it with the enjoyment of others. Miss Tavrod [Dorvat], one of my attendants, after gaining my confidence by her merit, had fixed my attention by her beauty. The brilliancy of her eyes, and the delicate whiteness of her bosom, excited my desires; the impulse soon became irresistable, and I determined to gratify it. The mode I adopted is too curious to be omitted. As she was one day attending me in my closet, I observed a mole on her right cheek, and immediately remarked that she must consequently have another mole beneath her right breast. It was in vain she assured she had not, I persisted in my assertion, and declared that nothing less than ocular demonstration could convince me that I was wrong. I therefore desired she would pll off her stays, which she did with a blush, and discovered to my enraptured sight the most lovely pair of snowy orbs that woman was ever blessed with their firmness bespoke their purity; I moulded them with my hands sucked their rosy nipples and, in short, acted the part of an impassioned lover. I soon perceived that I had communicated (ii, 29) some sparks of the fire which raged within my own bosom, into that of this sweet girl. * * * * * Never was woman better formed for amorous disport; and never did any one sacrifice to Venus with greater zeal and ardour than this sweet girl.
It was in this manner, that, varying the frolics of love, to the enjoyment of which my constitution continually invited me, I prevented them from becoming insipid, and incessantly exerted the privilege accorded me by nature, of being equally sensible to the caresses of either sex. . . . (ii, 30)
My dear Siotra [her husband Artois] was not jealous; no! very far from it; but one day when he was in an ill humour he took the liberty of calling me to account for those clandestine practices, with the particulars of which he was unacquainted. The connections between us, and some other trifles of a similar nature, had taught me the absurdity of blushing. I did not hesitate, therefore, in making him acquainted with my passion for the beautufiul Tavrod, exhorting him, at the same time, not to be alarmed at it. My candour by no means displeased him; he only appeared to doubt the possibilitiy of this familiar intercourse, and asked me ironically how I could possibly interest any other woman.
"I am going to astonish you, my dear court," said I; and here I actually told (ii, 31) him the whole of my proceedings with Tavrod, after quitting his embraces.
"Nothing," replied the court, "but ocular demonstration can convince me of the truth of what you say; yes, my dear sister, you astonish, but do not convince me: nay, I’ll go still farther; I’ll bet you a thousand guineas that the thing is not possible!" "A thousand guineas! I accept the wager, count; and if you chuse, we’ll decide it without further delay."
Having retired to a private apartment, voluptuously furnished, the count, who knew he could not avoid half losing the wager, manfully endeavoured to prevent any further inclination in me of a similar tendency, for the present at least. But as soon as I found myself at liberty, I rang the bell, and Tavrod, who was in waiting, made her appearance. The moment she entered the room, I took her in my arms the count being present and kissed her with rapture. She blushed at first; but inspirited by my advances, the idea of shame vanished, and she even exceeded me in a desire of shewing the astonished count that his thousand guineas were in a perilous situation. (ii, 32)
My lover was not convinced of the danger of setting me at defiance, and acknowledging he had lost his wager, declared he would willingly pay as much every day, to be present at such a delightful scene.
I had afterwards reason to suspect that the voluptuous transports of Tavrod, had made a deep impression on the heart of my lover. And upon examining with the precision of an accoucheur, I found my suspicions confirmed I willingly, however, forgive the count for this instance of infidelity the amnesty should be reciprocal. (ii, 33)
. . . In the long list which I could produce of my male and female lovers, if I followed the chronological order, I could prove that I was no sooner disgusted with the commerce of women, than I had recourse to that of men. There was scarcely a female about court, who had adopted a (ii, 46) taste for her own sex, but I had enjoyed. The frequent visits of the insipid Nussod [Doffun] soon tired me; besides I was afraid of her, I knew that beneath an appearance of meekness she concealed a jealous and mischievous mind; in short, whe was a dangerous companion, and I had already experienced the bad effects of her indiscretion. On whom then could I fix my eyes as a successor to the colonel? (ii, 47)
I was represented by the whole court as having the most ungovernable passion for my own sex; but public (ii, 58) opinion was to me of little consequence; to follow my inclinations and gratify my desires was a privilege which no consideration could induce me to forego. (ii, 59)
SOURCE: Memoirs of Antonina, Queen of Abo. Displaying the Private Intrigues, and Uncommon Passions. With Family Sketches, and Curious Anecdotes of Great Persons. Translated from the French. Two Volumes in One. London: Printed for E. Bently, No. 22, Fetter Lane, 1791.
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Memoirs of Antonina [Marie Antoinette], 1791",
Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 24 July 2002