“The late autumn sun laid a radiant haze over the new sodded winter grass of the lawn, and even in the woods the sun shone through places where the leaves were not so dense, to make fiery golden patterns on the ground. The suddenly the sun was gone. There was a chill in the air and a light, pure wind. It was time for retreat. From far away came the sound of the bugle, clarified by distance and echoing in the woods with a lost hollow tone. The night was near at hand.” ( Carson McCullers, Reflections in a Golden Eye)
It was the autumn of the glory of France, before it all came crashing down with the weight and deadliness of a guillotine; “the great equalizer”. Cardinal Fleury, Louis’s prime minister , had resisted the foolish War of the Austrian Succession as long as he could, but died in his ninetieth year, ending an era of relative tranquility….
It was deduced that each girl cost the public treasury a million Livres. “If only two a week came (little enough), this mounts up in ten years to a thousand and the result is thus ten thousand million Livres. And even then the great number of children born in the Deer Park is not figured, a matter of no little account.” It is accordingly viewed by many historians that the initial cost and upkeep of the Deer Park was the main cause of the financial ruin of Louis XV. Many rumors flitted about concerning the organized orgies in the Deer Park, which in any case have not been unduly exaggerated.
Was France on the brink of ruin? No matter-apres nous le deluge! The king must have a place to play, and have it he did, two steps away from the stuffy magnificence of Versailles.
“The Deer Park, that gorge of innocence and virtue in which were engulfed so many victims who when they returned to society brought with them depravity, debauchery and all the vices they naturally acquired from the infamous officials of such a place.” ( Mouffle d’Angerville’s Private Life of Louis XV by Norman Mailer as preface to his own Deer Park )
The prototype of Mailer’s Deer Park; that amalgam, he says, of all the Hollywood’s that ever existed, if only in the heated imagination, still exists at Versailles, at No.4, rue Saint Médéric, a discreet stone’s throw from the palace.A story and a wing have been added to the hotel, known as Louis XV’s Parc aux Cerfs ( literally, Stag Park ). The interior has been remodeled, but the garden may be the same. The house is shabbily distinguished, yet somehow disappointing: it is too small for the legends that cluster around it, stocking the grounds with two legged does who wait for a Pan-like, cloven hoofed Louis XV to slip through the rear gate and bring to grass one of them after another.
The very notion of a deer park evokes a nostalgic memory of Eden and sin, of lost innocence in a green shade. In its heyday as Louis XV’s private bordello, the place was a political powder keg. Paris mobs, inflamed by rumors that their daughters were being spirited there to appease the royal lust, rose in riots that foreshadowed the revolutionary upheaval to come. The story of the Deer Park under the “ancien regime” is mailer-made. “eroticism with social significance,” leading to, and ending in, the regime’s fall.
Louis XV was in his early forties when the first mention of the Parc aux Cerfs was made in the early 1750’s. “Beautiful as Eros” as a boy, he had become a handsome, easy going, Adonis-like King. He had been married at fifteen to Marie Leczinska, the penniless, pleasant, but very plain daughter of the sometime Polish king. Although she was his senior by seven years, Louis had entered wedlock with a Bourbon enthusiasm, and byage of twenty-seven had given her ten children. But the pleasures of domesticity palled.
It was sad, old Maréchal de Villars remarked to him one day, to see a king of France, so young and lacking nothing, so bored. Why did not His Majesty add such diversions as music or the theatre to his near madness for hunting? Such things, replied Louis, were not to his taste, and he turned soon afterward, to what was.
To the Marquis d’Argenson the cause of Louis’s ennui was clear: “The Queen behaved like a prude.” The courtier’s “Journal” quotes her complaining, “Always in bed, always pregnant, always having babies.” Marie swathed herself in bedclothes and feigned ill-health; worn out by childbirth and miscarriages, and running to fat, she made her corner of Versailles into a kind of convent to which she increasingly withdrew. There, with her entourage, she ate, played at painting and cards, sewed for the poor, chatted, and ate, dinners of twenty-nine dishes, not counting the fruit.
Louis had not yet arranged “his” corner of the palace into a bachelor’s retreat of “petits apartements” , complete with suites for resident and transient girlfriends. It was at the little hunting ldge of La Muette, on the edge of paris’s Bois de Boulogne, that he lifted his glass to the winner of the royal sweepstakes in which all women ran. “To the unknown woman,” he said-to his first mistress. She did not remain unknown for long. She was Louise de Nelse,Comtesse de Mailly, one of the queen’s own “dames de palais” . Louise was exactly the same age as Louis, and of an ugliness that put him instantly at ease. Surprisingly, perhaps, the Adonis king suffered from shyness.
When Louis first made Mme de Mailly his mistress, he exercised discretion; the queen, informed , accepted the development. For years Louise was smuggled into the palace late in the evening, then smuggled out. But in 1738 she was installed in an apartment above Louis’s new “petits appartements” , which he reached by what is still known as the Dog’s Staircase and became “maitresse en residence” ….
” The search for pleasure and the sexual debauchery of the monarchy were especially stigmatized by( Marquis ) de Sade. Here, too, he had his prototypes in reality. “When a prince of the blood walks the way of vice he is accompanied by the entire society.” The example given by the French rulers must have had the most corrupt effects on the out and out materialistically minded society of the ancien régime. The time of the Regency created the name and type of roué , which became a characteristic phenomenon of the whole century. The roué par excellence was King Louis XV, famous for the number of his mistresses and for his Deer Park.
…. In time, Louise was replaced by her sister Félicité. According to her sister, Hortense, Félicité ” had the face of a grenadier, the neck of a crane and the smell of a monkey”. Louis seems to have loved her within the limits of his small capacity, but not for long; pregnant, she took to her bed and died. Louise then introduced him to her third sister. Fat, clever and homely, Adelaide amused briefly, but the fourth sister, Hortense resisted him and became a friend of the queen’s. Then there was the fifth sister. Inevitably, Louis’s carrying ons with the sisters Nesle inspired the wits of Paris, and in 1741 a verse began to make the rounds:
“The first is almost forgotten, the second almost dust; / The third is ready to ride, the fourth waiting/To make room for the fifth./ Is it infidelity of constancy/To be faithful to an entire family? …
“His life, as Moreau says, was a “steadfast prostitution.” Hence, his mistresses, in spite of their great number and frequent exchange, could not keep him satisfied. In his famous Deer Park he had built the original of private bordellos, which played an important rôle in the works of Marquis de Sade. Imagine! A king maintaining a whole bordello for his private use! The Deer Park was built in 1750 in the hermitage at Versailles in the quarter called Parc aux Cerfs, by the Marquise de Pompadour who, in order to retain the reins of government, created this new sort of enjoyment for the king.”
… Cleverer and more ambitious than her four older sisters, Marie Anne de Nesle arranged the conditions of her surrender through the Duc de Richelieu. This meant acknowledgement, a bigger apartment and the exile of Louise from Versailles. Louise withdrew into piety, though she did not take the veil. Several years before she died, she went as usual to her parish church. It was crowded, and the sexton obligingly pushed open a path for her. “That”, a man was heard saying, ” is a lot of fuss for a whore!” Louise turned to him. “Sir” , she said, “since you know my faults so well, pray God he will forgive me.” …
The administrator of the bordello was a certain Bertrand; the purveyor of the young girls was called Lebel. In the beginning there were only two or three inmates in the house. After the death of Pompadour it became very crowded (très peuplée). According to another version (Mouffle D’Angerville), “the Marquise de Pompadour, since she was superintendent of his (the king’s) pleasures, had incessantly to levy new and fresh beauties, in order to stock the seraglio, wherein she was sovereign; therefrom developed the so called Deer Park (Parc aux Cerfs), that grave of innocence and virtue, swallower of masses of victims, who, when returned to human society, brought with them depravity, debauchery and all those vices, which they must have been infested with by the infamous keepers of that pleasure resort.”