Author: Anne Plantagenet; translated from the French by Willard Wood
(Originally published as Seule au rendez-vous in 2005 by Éditions Robert Laffont, Paris).
ISBN: 978-1-59051-278-4 (pbk.). ISBN: 978-1-59051-372-9 (e-book)

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The Last Rendezvous is the fictional autobiography of the dedicated poet and reluctant actress, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, who lived from 1786 to 1859. As Plantagenet notes in her “Acknowledgments” to the novel, “[t]his novel distorts historical reality throughout. The actual life of Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, French woman of letters (b. Douai, 1786; d. Paris, 1859) was likely quite different from the one recounted here. And Marceline Desbordes-Valmore would not have told her story as I have. She would not have told it at all.”

Marceline definitely is not portrayed as a shrinking violet in The Last Rendezvous. In fact, she appears to wallow in her emotions, while disregarding those of her husband, Prosper Valmore, as well as those of her lover and inspiration for most of her poetic genius, Hyacinthe Thabaud de Latouche, more familiarly known as Henri. For a large portion of the novel, Marceline portrays herself as being torn between the stability that her husband provides and the intoxication of her romantic involvement with her reclusive and eccentric lover. The intensity and depth with which Plantagenet reveals the quandaries that beset Marceline are dwelt on as though they come from the personal explorations of an intimate journal.

Plantagenet alternates chapters between the young Marceline, who is torn away from her father and other siblings in her mother’s elopement of the spirit to the Antilles islands, where her mother succumbs to ill health, and the older, more emotionally drained, Marceline, who can only find respite in the arms of her physically unattractive, though intellectually astute, lover. Readers are inevitably encouraged to compare the older and the younger Marceline, which facilitates their becoming involved in the sequence of events. The dichotomy between present and past is not only intriguing, adding to the multi-layered feel of the text, but also mirrors the spirit of the correspondence on which Marceline spent much of her life, even coming to refer to it as her “religion”.

Marceline’s own waywardness, as it is portrayed in the pages of this novel, seems to be part hereditary, part due to her unusual upbringing. She appears to feel no remorse about her actions, which were far from conventional at the time. However, her compassion for social outcasts, as well as for her alcoholic father and brother, reveal traits of kindness, to which she makes only passing reference, as she does to the political and social upheaval of the revolutionary times in which she lived. Anne Plantagenet’s personal knowledge of the French landscape, including that of the distinction between Parisian and small town life, adds resonance to the text.

The work ends with a selection of poems by Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, which are given both in their original French and in their English translation by Louis Simpson, with the assistance of Willard Wood. Included are “Elegy” (“Élégie”), “If He Had Known” (“S’il l’avait su”), “No Longer” (“Je ne sais plus, je ne veux plus”), “The Last Rendezvous” (“Le dernier rendez-voux”), “Apart” (“Les séparés”), “Waiting” (“l’Attente”), “Are You Asleep?” (“Dors-tu?”), “The Sincere Woman” (“La Sincère”), “Go in Peace” (“Allez en paix”), “The Roses of Saadi” (“Les roses de Saadi”), and “Intermittent Dream of a Sad Night” (“Rêve intermittent d’une nuit triste”).

Anne Plantagenet was awarded the 2005 Award for Narrative Biography by the Académie internationale des arts et collections for Seule au rendez-vous. This novel should appeal to all who are interested in the Romantic Movement and to the literary outpourings of women. However, it can also be read as a straightforward period romance, so The Last Rendezvous should be blessed with a wide reading audience.

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