Gay and Lesbian Review March-April 2018

I WROTE a 600-page novel that was provoked by three words in a throw-away line from Claude Manceron’s majestic history of the French Revolution, the first volume of which describes the Ancien Régime, Twilight of the Old Order, 1774-1778 . The three words, on page 545, were: “Villette, urbane homosexual.” The rest of the sentence describes Villette’s father, a banker who made so much money sup- plying Louis XV’s armies that he was able to purchase for himself and his heirs the title of “marquis.” Manceron’s interest in Villette, fils , arose from the historical fact that, as a friend of Voltaire, the Marquis de Vil- lette became the philosopher’s host in Paris when the old man decided in Feb- ruary of 1778 that it was safe to return home. Louis XV had tired of not only his official historiographer’s utter lack of deference to His Royal Magnificence but also his militant irreverence towards the Church and had banned Voltaire from his realm. The return of the prodi- gal philosopher four years after the death of Louis XV, following an exile of nearly thirty years, fomented pas- sions and disturbances that rippled through Europe. These waves be- came part of the tsunami of 1789 that brought down not only the monarchy but also an institution that Voltaire despised even more: the Catholic Church of France. But who knew this would happen? In 1778, an 83-year-old man, fee- ble, decrepit, and by his own account moribund, came back to Paris and made international news. Monarchs from other lands, tyrants especially, but even enlightened despots, felt a frisson of fear as their eyes turned to Paris when Voltaire re-entered the capital of the Enlightenment. The clergy were in a frenzy: the Arch- bishop of Paris, Christophe de Beau- ESSAY Guess Who Hosted Voltaire in Paris R OY L UNA Roy Luna, a retired professor of French literature living in Miami, is the author of a trilogy of historical novels, of which the third, His Fel- low Librarian , will be out in April. mont, delivered sermon after sermon, a few addressed directly to the King and Queen of France, fulminating against the archenemy of religion. The prelate was like a broken record: Voltaire should not be allowed to return to Paris; his exile needed to be prolonged; the apostate ought to be locked up in the Bastille once again; he was incorri- gible and would continue to attack the Church and the Crown. Why permit this philosopher to come into the capital and sow dissension and doubt? Of course, from Voltaire’s perspec- tive, it was necessary to persevere in his attempts to expose injustice in a society that was run by the immoveable collu- sion of ecclesiastics and government of- ficials. He would continue to spread his mantra of “ Écrasez l’Infâme! ” in illicit publications that sold well all over the realm. Everything the Archbishop al- leged was true: Voltaire wanted to tear religion down. This is what Voltaire did. This is what he had always done. What he had not always done, how- ever, was to live at the house of a known “urbane homosexual.” I was surprised and pleased to find this out, of course, but I needed more informa- tion. Did Voltaire know that his host in Paris was, to use the word of the time, an “ anti-physique ”? Was he aware of his host’s predilection for bringing in handsome young boys from the provinces to serve as his valets, postilions, and scullery lack- eys? Did he also know that a mutual friend of theirs, the Marquis de Thi- bouville—a failed fellow dramaturge with whom he had corresponded for decades and who was another well- known anti-physique —was also liv- ing under the same roof? And did Voltaire know that Villette and Thi- bouville were “ ensemble ”? If he did, then he was flouting religious law to an even greater extent than before. After all, the last sodomites to be burned at the stake had been dispatched quite recently, in 1750. In order to live intimately with these aristocratic fops, Voltaire must also have suspended any personal animosity he may have had for anti-physiques . 12 Th' Gay & L'sb%an R'v%'w / oRLd ide Top: The Marquis de Villette. Bottom: Voltaire in old age.