Schloss Trautsmannsdorf Meditations 2: Jean-François de Bastide’s La Petite Maison and Architectural Seduction

Following my exploration of the somewhat unsatisfactory Garden for Lovers at Schloss Trautsmannsdorf ( it may be worth turning to eighteenth-century France for a very different approach to the erotic garden. The key text is Jean-François de Bastide’s La Petite Maison, first published in 1758 and available in an English translation as The Little House. an Architectural Seduction.[1]

As Anthony Vidler writes in the preface, Bastide’s little book is the product of ‘the marriage of two literary genres: the erotic libertine novella and the architectural treatise’.[2] The subtitle, which is an addition to the 1996 translation, refers to ‘seduction’, and the book is indeed about the way the Marquis de Trémicour uses architecture and gardens to seduce Mélite. ‘Seduction’ has two distinct inflections. Today it brings to mind a woman dressed to kill in slinky nightwear. It is about how women attract men, and can be seen as being empowering for women. In the eighteenth century it was all about men getting women to yield against their better judgement.[3] Eighteenth-century erotic stories—such as Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereux, filmed as Dangerous Liaisons (1988)—were preoccupied with the seduction of young virgins by older roués. This makes them problematic today, when the definition of rape is expanding, and when it can be argued that seduction in this sense is little different from rape in that it is not an act that it framed in terms of the woman’s interests. But the distinction should nevertheless be maintained, as rape is non-consensual, and often violent, whereas sex that results from seduction is consensual, although the woman may regret it afterwards.

Seduction is essentially a process of persuasion. In always involves argument, but the male seducer does not only rely on words to get the woman to consent: he has other weapons in his arsenal.[4] Alcohol can be one of these, and may be considered by the moral seducer to be legitimate insofar as it lowers the seducee’s inhibitions but does not render her incapable of making decisions for herself. This is summed up in Flanders and Swan’s comic song Have some Madeira, m’dear: ‘If it were gin, you’d be wrong to say yes / the evil gin does can be hard to assess / and besides it affects me prowess / so have some madeira, m’dear’. In the last stanza: ‘until the next morning, she woke up in bed / with a smile on her face, and an ache in her head / — and a beard at her earhole that tickled and said, ‘Have some Madeira, m’dear’, the point is that she has a consensual smile on her face, but also a hangover.

The moral slur on seduction is a legacy of a world where it was socially disastrous for a woman to have sex with the wrong man. It also reflects the fact that eighteenth-century seduction stories are obsessed with the contrast between the sexual experience of the seducer and the virginal innocence of the seducee. In a modern society where sexual partners are equal we do not talk of seduction, but perhaps we should. When two people are in a situation where pairing is a possibility, but when an affectionate bond does not yet exist,[5] both people will employ strategies of seduction to encourage the other. There is no need for the degree of sexual experience to be asymmetrical. Insofar as one person is committed to the idea of having sex with the other, and the other is not yet committed, the term ‘seduction’ can be applied without any distortion of meaning. But seduction strategies are also likely to be employed by both parties as part of the process by which each makes up their mind. Both may employ the weapons of a seducer’s arsenal, such as dress, deportment, and other forms of sexual display, as well as behavioural stratagems of one kind or another, to win the other over.

What makes Bastide’s novella interesting is that the weapons in the seducer’s arsenal come together in the space of a building and the gardens that surround it; indeed, it is architecture and gardens that seduce. Moreover, the seducee, Mélite, is seduced willingly. This may seem to be a contradiction in terms, but, having resisted the Marquis’s advances, she agrees to the wager that she would visit the Marquis’ petite maison without succumbing to his advances. In the end she does yield to him (although in an alternative ending she resists) because she underestimates the seductive power of the petite maison.

But who, or what, is Mélite? Whitehead calls her a courtesan; Scott an ingénue.[6] The fact that she agrees to a wager, one outcome of which is her own seduction, implies a worldliness that a true ingénue like Cécile de Volanges in Dangerous Liaisons clearly did not have.[7] Yet perhaps she is not quite a woman of the same class as her seducer like Cidalise in Crébillon fils’s The Opportunities of the Night. Mélite is certainly not a married woman. Parents and family are suspiciously absent. Bastide tells us that ‘she took to the company of men with great ease’ and, in a tortuous display of double negatives, calls her a flirt (p. 57). Proof of this was ‘her uninhibited manner, her airy talk, and a certain abandon’. At the same time ‘she had never played the coquette, and had yet to take a lover’ (p. 70) but ‘had been courted before, hundreds of times’ (p. 102). She is also young, and has educated herself in the arts. All this does rather sound like a courtesan at the beginning of her career, yet the point of her ‘wager’ with the Marquis was not financial. Or was it? Was it simply a way of assessing whether the Marquis would be a suitable ‘protector’? If he, in the form of his petite maison, can succeed in seducing her against her will, then he is a man who will be able give her what she wants. On this reading our understanding of the novella as a tract about how architecture can affect our sensations runs the risk of collapsing: it becomes a story about how a sexual transaction is effected through the medium of luxury goods. That Mélite recognises that the woodwork is by Pineau demonstrates neither the power of art to affect our sensations nor Mélite’s education, but merely the ability of a woman on the make to recognise a luxury brand name, and the willingness of her sugar daddy to offer them.

Yet we should not go so far. Bastide’s story is at pains to demonstrate Mélite’s fear of succumbing to the Marquis (and, implicitly, losing her virginity to him), while the Marquis clearly sees her seduction as a challenge to his prowess as a seducer. But Mélite is also an abstraction, a character who embodies the essence of a situation, without needed to be situated precisely in a social context. So perhaps we should take the story at face value: Mélite is a simply a woman with a flirtatious streak who likes to play with fire and who, as it turns out, over-estimates her capacity to resist.

Interestingly, according to the introduction by Rodolphe el-Khoury, the etymology of the term petite maison is not as obvious as it seems. While one tends to assume it is indeed a small house, like a garden pavilion, in the eighteenth century the term applied not only to these to what was often a substantial house and garden in the suburbs, used, at least in theory, for clandestine encounters. The etymology apparently is that such retreats were called “folies”, ‘in reference to the shield of foliage erected against the voyeurism of passers-by.’ But owing to ‘a chain of semantic slippages in popular Parisian humour: ”folie” literally means madness, and the Hôpital des Petites Maisons was the residence of choice for lunatics.’ [8] This explanation does seem rather complicated. The etymology usual given for the English ‘folly’ is rather different, for which see elsewhere.

Character and Sensation

The plot of La Petite Maison, driven as it by the ability of architecture to seduce, only became possible as the result of new developments in architectural theory (and the book is also an architectural treatise). These new ideas are most clearly set out a little later by Le Camus de Mézières in his The Genius of Architecture; or, the Analogy of that Art with our Sensations, first published in 1780.[9] Camus sets the Orders, the basis of architectural theory since Vitruvius, in a larger context. They are but elements of a whole, a whole which has a certain character, and which produces certain sensations. One responds emotionally to the effect of the whole. Hence at the theatre:

we see the enchanted Palace of Armida: all in splendor and delight; we guess that it was built at Love’s command. The scene changes: the abode of Pluto strikes horror and dread into our souls. We see the Temple of the Sun, and we respond with admiration. A view of a Prison inspires sadness; Apartments ready for a festival, surrounded by gardens, fountains, and flowers, excite gaiety and prepare us for pleasure.[10]

In this passage the emphasis is on the building type, but for Camus particular forms, especially lines, produce particular sensations. Taking his cue from Charles Le Brun, he argues that

every object possesses a character, proper to it alone, and that often a single line, a plain contour, will suffice to express it. The faces of the lion, the tiger, and the leopard are composed of lines that make them terrible and strike fear into the boldest hearts. In the face of the cat, we discern the character of treachery; meekness and goodness are written on the features of a lamb; the fox has a mask of cunning and guile: a single feature conveys their character.[11]

The aim of the architect is to arouse emotion, and he does so by combining forms selected for their character:

The arrangements of forms, their character, and their combination, are thus an inexhaustible source of illusion. We must start from this principle whenever we intend to arouse emotion through Architecture, when we set out to address the mind and to stimulate the soul, rather than to build by piling one stone on another …. .[12]

The task of the architect of a petite maison, then, is to produce in the seducee emotions that prompt her to yield to her seducer.

Designing for Seduction

In Bastide’s novella, the building is the prime site of seduction. This is understandable. Edenic sex is not popular when more private spaces are available; besides, it can be argued that it was the eighteenth-century that created the notion of sexual privacy. It has been pointed out Bastide’s building is in large part inspired by the Pavillon de Boissière of 1751, designed by Mathieu le Carpentier.[13] Plans of the pavilion (Fig. 1) and garden (Fig. 4), and elevations of the pavilion (Figs 2, 3), are available and are reproduced in the 1996 edition of Bastide. Yet this connection is not always pushed as far as it could be, and in what follows I will map the itinerary of Mélite and the Marquis onto these plans whenever possible.

The visit of Marquis and Mélite is framed by the experience of the garden. The spatial experience is quite complicated: after proceeding down a patte d’oie and avenue (which appear on the garden plan) they arrive at the forecourt where they find the service buildings—carriage houses, stables, dog kennel, but also a menagerie and a dairy (which do not). These are screened by a ‘simply decorated façade of a rustic and pastoral character that owed more to nature than to art’. ‘Ingeniously arranged openings in this wall allowed glimpses of endlessly varied orchards and vegetable gardens.’ These beckon, but the Marquis wants to lure Mélite inside, while she, to fend him off and irritate him, insists on exploring ‘the beauties closer to hand’, presumably the menagerie, dairy and so forth within the courtyard. She teases the Marquis by almost going indoors, then going back to examine something she had already seen.

Eventually they arrive at the main courtyard, which is surrounded by ‘fragrant trellises’. This might be identified with the garden to the right of the pavilion. Architecture and garden begin to work their magic: Mélite gasps at the sight of it. Evidently on the far side is the petite maison. The Marquis dismisses the servants and leads her up flights of steps to a salon ‘unequalled in all the universe’ opening onto the garden, readily identifiable with the Salon d’Eté at the Pavillon de Boissière, which is indeed an impressive round space with eight openings, five opening to the staircase and garden, the other three giving onto the first three rooms. This, too, begins to work its magic on Mélite: ‘so voluptuous was this salon that it inspired the tenderest feelings, feelings that one believes one could have only for its owner’ (p. 67). This is evasively and passively phrased, but is a remarkable statement that a building can evoke love (or lust).

Fortunately the light is failing, as the full effect of the salon required darkness. A valet appears to light the candles in the chandeliers and sconces (evidently not all servants had been dismissed). Their light is reflected in the mirrors, and ‘this added brilliance’ made the salon seem larger ‘and restated the object of Trémicourt’s impatient desires.’ What does Bastide mean by this curious statement? Is the object in question his goal of seducing Mélite?

At this point Mélite puts away coquettishness and reveals her education, taste and knowledge by demonstrating her connoisseurship. ‘She [had] learned to recognize the works of the best artists at a glance. She looked on their masterpieces with respect and awe, while their true value was lost to most other women’ (p. 72). She can name the artists and craftsmen whose works she finds in the Marquis’s petite maison, and can recognise the nature of their skill. As Ganofsky explains, ‘aesthesis (etymologically, ‘sensation’, had to be perfected by aesthetics (intellectual, artistic judgement) in order to lead to a pleasure beyond animal enjoyment’.[14] This is the philosophical underpinning of connoisseurship generally, and the idea that it is important to be able to discriminate on matters of quality in art. It is a sign of the degeneracy of our times that this has been reduced to brand recognition. In the eighteenth century the ‘brand’, the name of a famous artist, is only an indicator of quality; the point is to be able to discern quality.

Mélite’s recognition of the quality of the artistry and workmanship of the petite maison causes her to lavish praise on the Marquis, the man whose taste and discrimination had brought them into being. Mélite’s admiration of works of art is transferred from them to the Marquis. The Marquis may not prompt admiration in himself; but admiration for his beautifully crafted house rubs off on him. In this way the first step in Mélite’s seduction has been taken. But a less cultured woman would be less easy to seduce, because she would be incapable of understanding the artistry, and consequently could not truly admire it, and by extension the Marquis.[15]

The Marquis is well pleased that he has made such progress with the first room, and he ‘had better yet to show her. He trusted that she would be touched even more by more touching objects and thus hastened her to her destiny’ (p. 73).

They enter the bedroom at the right, a direction that corresponds precisely with the chambre à coucher in the Pavillon de la Boissière, as does its chamfered corners and the placing of the bed in a niche facing a window that overlooks the garden, here across the Grand Perron. To enter this they would need to pass through the Sallon à l’Italienne, which is the next room on the central axis, and which is effectively a vestibule that connects the four main spaces. In terms of the narrative it may seem strange that the Marquis should take Mélite straight to the bedroom, which ought to come at the end of his amorous itinerary. But, as we shall see, the bedroom is not the primary site of sedution. Presumably at the Pavillon de Boissière the bedroom is a bedroom for sleeping in, not a representational one, given that it is a suburban retreat, although a very grand one, but nonetheless it clearly here retains much of the function that bedrooms had had since Louis XIV as representational, rather than private, spaces. And indeed the Marquis has run the danger of frightening her off, because although this is also exquisitely decorated and furnished, Mélite is now aware of what is happening to her, and becomes nervous and silent.

But perhaps the Marquis’s strategy is to introduce her to the female quarters, since the next room is the boudoir. This corresponds to the petite chamber à coucher in the Pavillon de Boissière plan, which has a daybed corresponding to one Bastide describes. This can be reached though a vestibule at the top left corner of the bedroom, as well as from the Salon de Stuc. In Bastide this room has an extraordinary decoration which is described in detail in a passage that would be plagiarised by Le Camus almost thirty years later. Bastide writes that:

The walls of the boudoir were covered with mirrors whose joinery was concealed by carefully sculpted, leafy tree trunks. The trees, arranged to give the illusion of a quincunx, were heavy with flowers and laden with chandeliers. The light from their many candles receded into the opposite mirrors, which had been purposely veiled with hanging gauze. So magical was this optical effect that the boudoir could have been mistaken for natural woods, lit with the help of art.’[16]

Le Camus, also describing the boudoir in his room by room account of how to design a hotel, writes:

The boudoir would be still more delightful if the recess in which the bed is placed were to be lined with looking glasses, their joints concealed by carved tree trunks artfully arranged and leafed and painted to resemble nature. This would repeat to form a quincunx, which would be multiplied by the glasses. Candles, their light softened by gauzes in various degrees of tautness, would improve the effect. One might believe oneself to be in a grove; statues painted and suitably placed would enhance the pleasure and the illusion.[17]

This description may have been supplied by Blondel,[18] and apparently reappears frequently in the eighteenth century.[19]

I find it difficult to fully understand what Bastide is describing. The translation is not quite right: when it states that ‘mirrors whose joinery was concealed by carefully sculpted, leafy tree trunks’. The term ‘joinery’ implies woodwork, but the original French makes it clear that he is talking of the joins (joints) between the mirrors (et les joints de celles-ci masqués par des troncs d’arbres artificiels).[20] This is interesting because one associates mirrors with paintings covering the joins with the seventeenth century, as with the painted mirrors of the Palazzo Colonna. There the pieces of mirror glass are irregular in shape. For some reason Bastide’s words suggest to me regular panes of mirror glass arranged in a grid, although I could be wrong. But what does he mean by ‘the trees, arranged to give the illusion of a quincunx’ (Ces arbres sont disposés de manière qu’ils semblent former un quinconce)? A quincunx (the four points of a square with one in the middle) was the usual way of laying out an orchard, but that is in plan, and what the room showed was evidently in elevation. Or did he mean that there were five mirrors, each composed of smaller mirror panes, which were arranged in a quincunx pattern on the wall? Or is it description of something like the interior of the salon or winter garden in Ledoux’s Pavillon Guimard of 1770, as the 1996 edition of Bastide indicates (p. 77) (Fig. 5). This shows bays between columns alternating between curtains and trees apparently painted on mirrors. These consist of tree trunks in the lower half with foliage filling most of the upper part. There are some indications of perspective and in one there are, significantly, five tree trunks (the other seem to have six or more). So perhaps this is what he meant: an orchard-like group of trees that could form a quincunx in plan and seen in elevation with a little perspective. And perhaps the term ‘quincunx; was used as shorthand for a grove of trees.

Is this room an invention, a word-picture by Blondel-Bastide like the architectural descriptions in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili? Or does it describe an actual room, or possibly an unexecuted design for a room? The lack of clarity of the description suggests the latter: you would not write about quincunxes unless you were searching for words to describe something that existed.

Mirrors and Music

Mélite is impressed, but also suspicious of a person who could orchestrate ‘so many talents’. His sighs and gaze seem sincere, but she knows how well he can feign sincerity, and a boudoir is a dangerous place to be when her resolve is weakening. So she moves away to look in a mirror to adjust a pin in her coiffeur to gain a breathing space. But the Marquis is looking at her from the mirror opposite: ’in seeking a moment’s respite from Trémicour’s charms, Mélite had fallen into an even deeper trap’ (p. 79). It is interesting that the function of the mirror here is not to generate a sense of wonder , but the disorientation and vulnerability that a multiplicity of mirror images can produce. Mélite thinks that she is dealing with a simple, functional mirror; but the fact that mirrors face each other means that the Marquis can spy on her.[21]

This rattles her further, and the Marquis declares himself and grips her hand. He deems the moment right to have hidden musicians play. Trying to flee a space (the boudoir) that had become too threating, she enters a bathroom. There is no such room on the plan of the Pavillon de la Boissière, and the only spaces where it could possibly be fitted is the aforementioned vestibule, which clearly has a door in it, and another spatially wasteful vestibule towards the Salon de Stuc. The bathroom opens to a dressing-room, again not identifiable with a space on the plan. This suggests that in 1751, the date of the Pavillon de la Boissière, the need for a full-blown boudoir/bathroom/dressing-room complex was not yet felt, but that by 1758, the date of the first publication of La Petite Maison, these were felt to be a necessary adjunct at least to an ideal boudoir. Again, the exquisite workmanship and named artisans work their spell on Mélite:

… she felt weak, stifled even, and was forced to sit down. ‘I cannot take this any longer’, she said. ‘This house is too beautiful. There is nothing comparable on earth …’. (p. 83)

The Marquis then makes a long and curious speech. The issue between them has been the inherent insincerity of a known roué like the Marquis. He argues that because his imagination can create beautiful spaces that inspire love, he should receive some credit: ‘you will at least concede that so many things here capable of inspiring it [love] should honour my imagination’ (p. 84).

Which is, of course, not quite enough. He then goes on to assert that he is not really inconstant; to appear so is socially necessary:

‘there are objects made to arrest us and bring us back to the true, and when we happen to encounter them, we are more in love and more constant than others ’. (p. 85)

What are the objects he refers to? Mélite herself? Beautiful architecture? Or is this purely an abstraction? This seems to be the crux of the Marquis’s argument: because these ‘objects’ have brought him back to the ‘true’, he is in fact loving and constant. Nice try.

The Garden

The Marquis is interrupted by Mélite pointing out that she can still hear the music in the distance: ‘”I thought I had escaped it, yet from afar it is but more touching”. (What a confession!)’ (p. 85). The house having become so overpowering, Mélite now insists on going into the garden. On the way, in an action that to a modern reader (and seducer) may seem to be unerotic, he shows her a water-closet. In part this may be Bastide/Blondel taking the opportunity to show off the latest technology, but this space is a beautifully decorated (and pleasantly scented) space, and is clearly intended to be understood as something appropriate to an erotic journey. There may be two aspects to this. One is that, in an era when good hygiene was not easily attained, the prospect that even the most squalid side of being human could be framed by beauty can work on Mélite’s emotions like the rest. The other is that women bathing their private parts is an important theme in eighteenth-century French erotic imagery. But it may also be simply a test, such as the one that is useful with restaurants: if the toilets are good and clean, the restaurant will be a good one. This is more or less what Le Camus is saying when he writes of the ‘closet of ease’ (a room with a close-stool) that ‘when a closet is pretty, one does not suppose the other rooms neglected.’[22] Le Camus gives a separate entry for the water-closet, which ends: ‘but, once again, this room must not offer an elegance that would be out of keeping with the rest; without a just relation between the parts and the whole, there is no architecture’:[23] that is, it is necessary for all parts of a building, including the toilet, to be equally beautiful.

They ‘exit’ and go through a ‘wardrobe’ (garderobe) which might be a ‘closet for clothing’,[24] although this did not normally constitute a passageway. This might correspond to the aforementioned vestibule between boudoir and Salon de Stuc. But it has a stair leading down to a ‘mysterious mezzanine’, and there is a narrow passageway leading to a service stair at the top left of the boudoir plan. It is not very clear how many stories the Pavillon de la Boissière has. The service staircase could be interpreted as leading either down or up, with the return flight shown dotted, and on the other side of the Sallon de Stuc is a noble staircase that can only be read as leading up. An inscription at the top left of the plan refers to a mezzanine above the Petite chamber à coucher and the Cabinet.[25] The entrance elevation (Fig. 2) shows three discrete roof sections corresponding to the Salon d’Eté, the Chambre à coucher and the Sallon d’Hiver, the last two shifted slightly towards the central axis. The garden elevation (Fig. 3) shows two wider roofs of the same height each corresponding to the second bay of the peristyle and the one next to it, and a lantern that must light the Sallon de Stuc as the plan shows a corresponding dotted circle here. None of these roofs, however, would seem to permit much of a mezzanine. The main floor is labelled the ‘bel-étage’ and is raised on a high plinth that would permit a semi-underground basement for kitchens and so forth, which might receive natural light from windows along the side elevations which were not engraved by Le Carpentier.

Quite what is happening at the Pavillon de la Boissière is far from clear, but more to the point, why does Bastide bother to mention this to a ‘mysterious mezzanine’? It hardly seems to contribute to the story. The garderobe opens onto ‘the vestibule’ which they cross ‘again’ on the way back to the salon (p 88).[26] This vestibule may correspond to the Salon à l’Italienne which is in the centre of the building and opens onto both the salon and the Chambre à coucher, though not to the space tentatively identified with the garderobe. This vestibule was not in fact mentioned earlier, but when Bastide writes earlier that ‘they entered into a bedroom at the right’ he must have been thinking of the route via the vestibule/Salon à l’Italienne, even though there seems to be a narrow passageway directly linking the salon and the Chambre à coucher.

But if we look at the plan of the Pavillon de la Boissière there does not seem to be much point in returning to the Salon d’Eté, which is on the entrance side. It makes more sense to enter the Salon de Stuc, which opens to the garden side. Besides, Bastide writes that the Marquis ‘opened the door to the garden’ (p. 88). The Salon de Stuc has one such door, whereas the Salon d’Eté had five.

On the door being opened, Mélite is confronted with ‘the breathtaking vista of an ampitheatrically arranged garden, lit by two thousand lanterns’ (p. 88). On the garden plan of the Pavillon de la Boissière there is what appears to be a grass parterre with an oval pond. The back of the parterre is slightly cut into a rise, and there is a flight of a few steps. Beyond is what appears to be another banks with steps and vases, and a semi-circular grass parterre with a central feature, perhaps a statue or fountain, set against treillage that screens a block of trees. This undoubtedly fits the category of a garden terrace with an ampitheatrical layout, as engraved in Blondel’s Cours and reproduced in the 1996 edition of Bastide (Fig. 6). The absence of trees on the parterres between this and the house would be to give an unobstructed view of the ampitheatre.

To the right of all this on the plan is a solid block of trees containing a bosquet, while on the left is another grass parterre with avenues lined with trees. We might suppose that it is the foliage of these trees, but especially those lining the avenues, that ‘was still beautiful, resplendent in the studied lighting’, although less evident on the plan are the ‘artfully disposed water jets and reflecting pools’. The lighting master (Tremblin) has placed terrines near the house, and ‘lanterns of different sizes in the distance’, the differing sizes perhaps creating effects of forced perspective. There are illuminations at the end of the main allés, fanfares, and a lone voice in the distance singing an aria from Issé. And more (pp. 88-89).

This all works for Mélite, who is enchanted, until the Marquis leads her into a dark path, which leads her to a darker one. One might want to identify this with the bosquet at the bottom of the plan, which has avenues through dense trees. She feels ill at ease, the threat clearly being the Marquis. But he turns this around by arranging for a burst of artillery fire, which frightens Mélite into grasping the Marquis for reassurance. She realises her mistake, but then fireworks reveal in his face ‘a deep and submissive love’. So she fails to pull away from him: she catches ‘a glimpse of her fate in his amorous gaze, and in his expectant sighs, she heard the mighty voice of an oracle decreeing her defeat’ (pp. 92-93).

Return to the Pavillon

But she manages to resist, insisting on leaving the garden. The Marquis knows better than to stop her, but insists that they look at the ‘apartment to he left of the Salon’. The rooms she has been shown, mapped onto the plan of those at the Pavillon de la Boissière, are those on the right (Chambre à coucher and the Petite chambre à coucher/boudoir); the corresponding rooms on the left are the Salon d’Hiver and the Cabinet (Fig. 7). Mélite insists that she has seen enough, but the Marquis points out that will not have fulfilled her part of the wager unless she sees it all. They go back to the Salon —that is, the Salon d’Eté—which on the Pavillon de la Boissière plans involves either going up the garden stairs and through the centre of the house, or—and this better fits my reading of where they are in the garden—up the Grand Perron (staircase) for the second time directly into the Salon. He leads her into a games room decorated in chinoiserie style, which we can identify with the Salon d’Hiver (p. 94).

From the already opened window ‘she recognised in the view the place she had just fled’, that is, the bosquet noted earlier, which is in the right position on the plan. It seems that the Marquis has a deliberate strategy: by leading her into this room where she can see the place where she grasped the Marquis in terror of the cannon fire, when her virtue was most in danger, he can keep alive in her the memory of that dangerous but exciting moment. When Mélite comes back at him he distracts her by getting her to admire the chinoiserie decoration (p. 95).

Next door is a cabinet used solely for taking coffee, which corresponds to the Cabinet in the plan. This, according to Bastide, opens onto the boudoir, which it does not in the plan. The chinoiserie room also opens onto ‘a dining room preceded by a pantry that was also accessible from the vestibule’ (p. 96). The vestibule appeared earlier, as was noted above, when it made sense to suppose it was the Salon à l’Italienne. Although it is hard to fit the pantry in, and we need to ignore the curved staircase, it is nevertheless possible to identify the dining room with the Salon de Stuc, specially as it is later described in detail as being decorated with stuccoes and reliefs. Once again Mélite is impressed, but less through her sensations than by price and brand: ‘asking the prices of things and the names of artists and artisans’ (p. 96). She is so impressed that ‘she truly forgot where she was, that she was in a petite maison, in the company of a man who had wagered to seduce her with the beauties she now contemplated with so little inhibition and praised with so much candor’ (p. 97).

In the dining room, a servantless meal is laid out, the next stage in the Marquis’s carefully planned seduction strategy. That this is the climactic scene is suggested by the fact that this is what was chosen for the only illustration in the 1879 edition, which shows a table with a tureen or something similar on it (Fig. 8). The illustrator, Adolphe Lalauze,[27] shows a room that seems to be round or oval, with stuccoes or frescoes above the cornice line, and wall panels ornamented with presumably gilded wood-carvings surrounding painted single figures. There is an overdoor in an rococo frame, candle sconces, a console and parquet flooring.

Melite starts brooding, but is startled back into her appreciative, seduction-ready frame of mind by the table disappearing into the floor to be replaced by one coming down from above. The table coming up from the floor is conceivable in the Sallon de stuc; the one coming down from above is not, as there is a lantern here. This is another instance of Bastide making his petite maison as feature-rich as possible. The Marquis declares his love, and is making headway, because ‘nothing alarmed her defences, for she was not being attacked. She was being adored, and adored silently’ (pp. 102-3).


The space of the final seduction seems to emerge from the narrative rather than the plan of the Pavillon de la Boissière. Implicitly Mélite and the Marquis are still in the dining room/Salon de Stuc. In her confusion, Mélite attempts to flee, but opens the wrong door into ‘a second boudoir’. From the plan this room could as well have been the first boudoir, but evidently Bastide wanted to create a room yet more perfectly suited to the final moments of a seduction. As if anticipating (or originating?) the cliché of ‘come up and see my etchings’, this is furnished with framed etchings, dimly lit. Although described as a ‘boudoir’, this room is in a sense a masculine one. Traditional masculine rooms, however, like smoking-rooms, were designed for men exclusively to engage in male pastimes and employed male furnishing iconography. Conversely the boudoir was exclusively female territory. This makes the boudoir a problematic space for a seducer: the woman is too much in control. (The main bedroom, as we have seen, still had too many ceremonial associations to be suitable.) This room Bastide describes is something else: it is male territory, but needs to be attractive to a woman and a place where she can be comfortable. It is a room that Mélite would not have entered willingly, since it would on sight have signalled to her its function as a seducer’s den, so the Marquis employs the stratagem of standing on her dress, so that ‘in turning her head to disengage her dress, she would not see the place she was entering’ (p. 106). This is what Lalauze’s illustration carefully describes: the Marquis gestures towards Mélite and places one foot delicately on her dress. She arches her back as if moving in retreat from him and parts a door-curtain in order to enter the next room, which will not be visible to her until she has passed through the curtain.

Hence the need for Bastide to invent a room that is not in the the Pavillon de la Boissière. [27a]. Its furnishing iconography is mixed: framed etchings, such as one would find in a man’s cabinet or study, and dimly lit in a way suitable for seduction. The wall hangings are extremely luxurious (which, as we have seen, works for Mélite) and soft: it is hung with ‘thick green gourgouran’, a striped silk fabric where the stripes are alternately shiny and matte (Fig. 9). This is the only room in Bastide’s description that is hung with fabrics. It has ‘ottomanes’, ‘duchesses’ and ‘sultanes’; in other words, a lot of upholstered furniture for lying on, such as was to be found in boudoirs. ‘Shaking with fear, Mélite felt faint, she collapsed almost into a bergère’ (p. 108). A bergère’ is an upholstered chair, signifying that even at the bitter end Mélite chooses a respectably upright place to collapse into. After much dialogue ending in ellipses, ‘Mélite shuddered, faltered, sighed, and lost the wager’ (p.110). Presumably at this point the ‘ottomanes’, ‘duchesses’ and ‘sultanes’ were brought into play.


What emerges from all this? First, as an account of how architecture can be experienced, it is surprisingly limited. Mélite is seduced, essentially, by her appreciation of beautiful crafted and expensive interiors by important artisans. These interiors evoke the same kind of wonder that makes Mélite forget her situation, go weak at the knees, and forget her resolve. The Marquis’s strategy is to dazzle her with his building or garden so that her resistance wavers, then back off when she becomes twitchy, before revealing another wonder. But is not as if each room evokes a different emotion according to its decoration. This line of thinking owes much to the pathognomics of Le Brun, who distinguished between emotions recorded in facial expressions with great specificity; Le Camus and Bastide /Blondel do not go so far.

Rather, the architecture of sensation as described by Le Camus de Méziéres is most strongly aligned to discrete building types, so that, while the emotion induced by the petite maison differs from, say, those induced by a prison or tomb, this emotion is not discriminated further. To be sure, Le Camus does address the question of the relationship of one room to another, but is more concerned with not boring the visitor with too much repetitive opulence (‘too much opulence is burdensome; it flatters the vanity, but we easily tire of it).[28] He writes that:

A progression in the richness of the ornament is prescribed; but this is a delicate matter, and it requires great taste and prudence. Always pass from simplicity to opulence: thus, the vestibule is less ornate than the antechambers; the antechambers less so than the salons and cabinets, etc. . . .[29]

In Bastide’s book there is no awareness of such distinctions: the first room described, the salon, is as opulent as any of the others. Indeed, I would argue that the absence of such sequencing limits the possibility of his narrative. The narrative is propelled by events, especially sounds, while each episode of architectural description has essentially the same function of generating a sense of wonder in Mélite that can be transferred to the Marquis.

Le Camus does refer to the particular character of rooms, but tells us nothing about the particular sensations individual rooms might generate, only that each gives us an appetite for the next:

Each room must have its own particular character. The analogy, the relation of proportions, decides our sensations; each room makes us want the next; and this engages our minds and holds them in suspense. It is a satisfaction in itself.[30]

Would it have be possible to do today what Bastide and Le Camus failed to do? Could we argue that something corresponding to the stuccoed Sallon de stuc can generate a different response from something corresponding to the chinoiserie Salon d’Hiver? To ask this question we run the risk of moving from an architecture of sensation to an architecture of association: a Sallon de stuc, if modelled on the stuccoes of the Golden House of Nero, might generate associations with ancient Rome, while a Salon d’Hiver might generate associations with China. But this would be to move beyond the world of Bastide, Blondel and Le Camus, for whom decorative genres were but variations on the theme of exquisite artifice.

What is crucial to the seduction process is the Marquis’s carefully planned itinerary through building and garden, so that each new wonder, revealed at a crucial moment, serves to weaken Mélite’s resolve. It involves a series of carefully staged events, many of which involve music or sound of some kind. Matters approach a climax when he leads her down a dark alley in the garden and startles her into clinging to him for reassurance when cannon go off. He keeps matters on the boil by showing him the second part of the house, reminding her of the excitement of their garden embrace by having its site in view from the window, and putting pressure on her by offering her a meal. All the while he pleads his case. On multiple occasions Mélite tries to get away, but is not very determined about it. At the end, in confusion, she goes by error into the Marquis’s softly upholstered inner sanctum, where she succumbs.

As far as the garden is concerned, it is primarily a site of wonder. Ampitheatrical terraces and garden lighting make it so. But it is also a place with dark corners that offer opportunities for physical contact. These dark corners appear to Mélite to be a greater danger than the pavilion, though in this she is mistaken. The final seduction takes place as far from the garden as possible, in a darkened room (no windows are mentioned) in the heart of the house.

[1] Jean-François de Bastide, La Petite Maison, in Le Nouveau Spectateur, no. 2, 1758, pp. 361-412, republished in Jean-François de Bastide, Contes, vol. II, Paris, 1763, pp. 47–88. The translation of Bastide is based on the 1879 edition. There do not seem to be any variations between the editions. Jean-François de Bastide, The Little House: an architectural seduction, translation and introduction by Rodolphe el_Khoury, preface by Anthony Vidler, Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. Useful are: Paul Young, ‘Looking inside: The Ambiguous Interiors of “La Petite Maison”’, South Atlantic Review, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Winter, 2006), pp. 20–41; Mark Taylor, Planting for Pleasure: The Eighteenth-Century Erotic Garden, Interiors, 2:3, pp. 357–371.

[2] Bastide, 1996, p. 9.

[3] It is interesting how the two senses of ‘seduction’ tend to be mutually exclusive. The slinky nightwear version is the exclusive theme of Caroline Cox, Seduction, a celebration of sensual style, London: Mitchell Beazely, 2006, whereas the other variety is the exclusive concern of Robert Meister (ed.), A Literary Guide to Seduction, London: Elek Books, 1963.

[4] Literature can be one of these. Leslie A. Fielder, in the introduction to Meister, 1963, discusses how literature ‘has been used to soften literarily-inclined ladies for the erotic kill’. Leslie A. Fielder, ‘Introduction’, in Meister, 1963, pp. 9–14, on p. 9.

[5] Robert Meister, writing in 1963, asserts that ‘the existence of an affectionate bond between the seducer and the object precludes seduction; if such a bond exists the relationship belongs in the category of courtship’. Robert Meister, ‘Foreword’, in Meister, 1963, pp. 15–20, on p. 16.

[6] Katie Scott, The Rococo Interior, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1995, p. 159. John Whitehead, French Interiors of the 18th Century, London: Laurence King, 2009 (first ed. 1992), p. 73.

[7] The seduction of Cécile de Volanges by the Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons is morally dubious, given her extreme innocence and the greater knowledge and power that Valmont has by virtue of his experience and his indifference to the consequences for her of their relationship. In Crébillon fils’s The Opportunities of the Night the relationship between Cidalise (the woman) and Clitandre (the man) is far more equal and more like that between Melite and Trémicour: both are fully conversant of the rules of the game they are playing to the extent that it is more foreplay than seduction, except that if Clitandre plays his cards wrong he may be sent packing.

[8] El Khoury, in Bastide, 1996, p. 21.

[9] Le Camus de Mézières, Nicolas, The Genius of Architecture; or, the Analogy of that Art with our Sensations, Santa Monica: The Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1992 Introduction by Robin Middleton. Originally published as La Génie de l’Architecture, ou l’analogie de cet art avec nos sensations. Paris, 1780.

[10] Le Camus, p. 71.

[11] Le Camus, p. 70.

[12] Le Camus, p. 71.

[13] El-Khoury, in Bastide, p. 24. There seems to be surprisingly little literature on this. The source of the four engraving (plan and two elevations of the pavillon and a plan of garden are given in Bastide 1996 as the Bibliothéque Nationale, but the images are not on Gallica. There is a copy of the image of the pavillon plan on the White House website, which informs us that it was later purchased by the American president James Monroe: ‘This plan was published by Georges-Louis Le Rouge around 1773-1777. The plan shows the main floor at the Folie de la Bouëxière, the estate future president James Monroe purchased on March 28, 1795 while serving as the United States Minister to France under President George Washington. The floor plan, with oval, round, and octagonal shaped rooms, is designed for entertaining and receptions, not the day to day family life of that time. / Monroe purchased the estate for 350,000 francs and lived there with wife Elizabeth, daughter Elizabeth “Eliza” Kortright Monroe, seven servants, a chef, a coachman, and a gardener for two years. The Monroes entertained at the estate, inviting a social circle that included other Americans and French officials.’

[14] Ganofsky, p. 220.

[15] Bastide and Blondel make this point in another book, not yet consulted, but cited in Ganofsky, p. 219: Jean-François de Bastide and Jean-François Blondel, L’Homme du monde éclairé par les arts, Paris: Monory, 1774. Ganofsky: ‘the hero is baffled as he discovers that the lady who inhabits one of Paris’ most elegant and artful houses is in fact absolutely insensitive to, and unaware of, its beauty. … her perception … never becomes an aesthetic appreciation which would comprise a superior form of judgement at once voluptuous and intellectual.’

[16] Bastide, pp. 75–76. Bastide, 1879: ‘Toutes les murailles en sont revêtues de glaces, et les joints de celles-ci masqués par des troncs d’arbres artificiels, mais sculptés, massés et feuilles avec un art admirable. Ces arbres sont disposés de manière qu’ils semblent former un quinconce; ils sont jonchés de fleurs et chargés de girandoles dont les bougies procurent une lumière graduée dans les glaces, par le soin qu’on a pris, dans le fond de la pièce, d’étendre des gazes plus ou moins serrées sur ces corps transparens, magie qui s’accorde si bien avec l’effet de l’optique que l’on croit être dans un bosquet naturel éclairé par le secours de l’art.

[17] Le Camus, p. 116.

[18] Young, p. 25 and note 18. On Blondel and Bastide, see Vidler in Bastide, 1996.

[19] Young, p. 24 and note 12, p. 25 and note 17, cites Vivant Denon and Jean-François de Bastide, Point de Lendemain suivi de La Petite Maison, Paris, 1777 edited by Michel Delon, Paris: Gallimard, 1995, p. 94 and p. 199, note 2, where the narrator finds himself in a room resembling: ‘un bosquet aérien, qui, sans issue, semblait ne tenir et ne porter sur rien; enfin je me trouvai comme dans une vaste cage entièrement de glaces.’

[20] This is not the only problem with the translation. On p. 70 ‘Le jour finissoit : un nègre vint allumer trente bougies que portoient un lustre …’ is translated as “The day was drawing to a close and the light waned; a valet came to light the thirty candles held by a chandelier …’. ‘Nègre’ has been sanitised to ‘valet’ and the economical ‘Le jour finissoit’ has been filled out to ‘the day was drawing to a close and the light waned’.

[21] Katie Scott (The Rococo Interior, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1995, p. 159), referring to this passage, observes that ‘architects manipulated and exaggerated the effects of parallax by combining mirrors, painted perspectives and fenestration in such a way as to surprise and disorientate—at Bastide’s Petite Maison, the scene of an ingenue’s seduction, to quite devastating immoral effect.’ This makes the passage sound like something other than what it is.

[22] Le Camus, p. 121.

[23] Le Camus, p. 122.

[24] Le Camus, p. 32.

[25]Les Pieces A B portent Entre-solles’.

[26] Bastide, 1879: ‘Cette garderobe degage dans le vestibule. Mélite et le marquis repassèrent par le salon.’

[27] Adolphe Lalauze (1838–1906) was an etcher and book-illustrator.

[27a] Ed Lilley, ‘The Name of the Boudoir’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 53, 1994, pp. 193–98 discuses this ‘second boudoir’ but does not distinguish it functionally from the first (pp. 197–98). He notes that ‘the association of boudoir with seduction is commonplace’ and that ‘these boudoirs must surely imply some pre-existing female occupation which, had she stopped to think, might have given her pause’ (p. 198). The accompanying illustration is Nicolas Lavreince, L’heureux moment, engraved Nocolas de Launay, c. 17778) which shows a women receiving the addresses of her lover in her boudoir. But what takes place in Lavreince’s image is very different from what is happening in Bastide. It shows a woman in her boudoir, which is her private space, into which she has invited her lover. She is in control of the space, and although it might technically be a seduction, by inviting her lover into her boudoir she is half-way to accepting him: as with Cidalise and Clitandre in Crebillon fils. In Bastide’s story the whole pavillon in male territory, the territory of the Marquis, including this second boudoir, even though Bastide gives it the name of a normally female space. The first boudoir is a female space, and, as Lilley rightly points out, implies ‘some pre-existing female occupation’. These, of course, are the Marquis’s other lovers; the point of showing her the first boudoir is that it would become Mélite’s private territory should she submit to the Marquis.

[28] Le Camus, p. 89.

[29] Le Camus, p. 88.

[30] Le Camus, p. 88.

©David R. Marshall 2018

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