Friday, February 26, 2010

Amélie and Henriette

I was fascinated to read the account of Marie-Amélie of Naples (1782-1866), Queen of the French from 1830-1848, by her great-granddaughter, Princess Henriette of Belgium (1870-1948), Duchesse de Vendôme. In two moving and thought-provoking volumes, La jeunesse de Marie-Amélie reine des Français, d'après son journal: (1800-1814) (1935), and Le journal de Marie-Amélie, Duchesse d'Orléans:1814-1822 (1938), Henriette piously and tenderly traces the life of her illustrious forebear, ending eight years before her rise to the throne.

To tell the story, Henriette draws primarily on Amélie's diaries, translated into French from the original Italian and quoted amply throughout the text, supplemented by Henriette's historical commentary and oral family tradition. The first volume describes Amélie's youth as a Neapolitan princess maturing amidst the tragic and tumultuous era of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, her marriage to Louis-Philippe, Duc d'Orléans, and her early years as a wife and mother in Sicily. In 1814, the fall of Napoleon makes possible the return of the exiled Bourbons to France. The second volume discusses Amélie's life under the Bourbon Restoration (1814-1830), during the reign of Louis XVIII.

I was deeply impressed and touched, both by Amélie and by Henriette. Both appear to have been very noble, refined souls, of profound faith and ardent charity, all too often afflicted by suffering and tragedy. I had very much wanted to write a fuller review of Henriette's account, but it is quite subtle and complex, and there are too many aspects to cover in a single post. Instead, over the next week or so, I will be doing a series of posts on different themes in the work and sharing some of my favorite passages. Meanwhile, I leave you with these lovely portraits of Amélie and Henriette, and Henriette's beautiful dedication of her first volume. It brought tears to my eyes:

tendrement et douloureusement
 à la mémoire de mon bien-aimé Frère,
 qui m'a encouragée à publier ces pages.
Il a poussé jusqu'au sublime
 l'esprit du devoir
que notre arrière-Grand'Mère légua
 à sa descendance.

 tenderly and sorrowfully
 to the memory of my beloved Brother,
who encouraged me to publish these pages.
 He elevated to the sublime
 the spirit of duty
 that our great-Grandmother bequeathed
to her descendants.

(*I have since discovered a third volume, continuing the story to 1830, and dealing with Amélie's life during the reign of Charles X)


JK said...

"translated into French from the original Italian" Were the diaries indeed originally in Italian? If La Jeunesse says so, I must have missed it. From what I can tell Marie Amelie's mother, Maria Carolina Queen of Naples, at least, wrote and spoke mostly in French. An interesting book either way.

May said...

Hi JK,

Welcome !

Yes, Marie Amelie originally wrote the diaries in Italian. But you are right, Maria Carolina favored French and her children were raised with it as well.