Monday, 2 November 2009

The Chevalier D'Eon

While I was on leave over the last few weeks I watched Le Chevalier D’Eon (2006–7), a twenty-four episode anime series.

The series begins in Paris, when the body of a woman named Lia de Beaumont is found in a casket floating along the Seine. The only clue regarding her death is the word "Psalms," which is written in blood on the lid of the casket. D'Eon de Beaumont, Lia's younger brother and a knight in service of King Louis XV, takes it upon himself to investigate his sister's mysterious death, along with the strange disappearances of a number of French women.

The scriptwriter, Shotaro Suga, explains, "the intended atmosphere [was] of a cathartic drama of people who were and were not loyal to their country 'on the eve of the French Revolution'." Most of the action occurs in Versailles, Paris, Moscow and London and involves a range of historical figures appropriate to these locations: Louis XV, Robespierre, Cagliostro, Empress Elizabeth and Catherine II of Russia, Princess Caroline of Great Britain, Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord Sandwich etc.

The central character is loosely based on the extraordinary historical figure Chevalier d'Eon (Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont, 1728–1810), a French diplomat, spy, soldier etc who lived as a man until 1777, but as a woman thereafter. (See the Wikipedia entry here.)

The Chevalier d'Eon's lived in London from 1763–77 and from 1785–1810. Questions about the Chevalier's sex started circulating reasonably quickly. Not surprisingly, a number of works about the Chevalier appear in my Checklist of Eighteenth-Century Erotica:

An Elegy on the Lamented Death of the Electrical Eel … as placed on a Superb Erection, at the Expence of the Countes of H---------, and Chevalier-Madame d’Eon de Beaumont, by Lucretia Lovejoy, sister to Mr. Adam Strong, author of the Electrical Eel (London: Printed for Fielding and Walker, 1777).

An Epistle from Mademoiselle D'Eon to the Right Honourable L[or]d M[ansfiel]d, C[hie]f J[ustic]e of the C[our]t of K[in]g’s B[enc]h, on his determination in regard to her sex (London: Printed for M. Smith, 1778).

A Sapphick Epistle, from Jack Cavendish to the Honourable and most Beautiful Mrs D['Eon] ([London]: Printed for M. Smith, and sold by the booksellers near Temple-Bar, and in Paternoster-Row, [1778]).

When the Chevalier died in London in 1810, doctors examined the body and discovered that the Chevalier-Madame had been anatomically male (the Chevalier had previously stated that such an examination would be dishonouring, whatever the result). Whether the Chevalier had a hormonal condition that prevented the function of his sexual organs, or the development of other sexual characteristics, is unknown. Consequently, it is impossible to know whether the Chevalier was an intersex individual or a cross-dressing male. Given the lack of evidence, and the Chevalier's preference that the subject be left unexamined, the less said the better.

* * * * *

When I saw this DVD on the shelves—knowing what I did of the real Chevalier-Madame—I found it impossible to resist, even at the thumping price of $70.00. Having watched it, I am not sure I'd recommend the expense to anyone less interested in the real Chevalier-Madame than I am.

The animation is okay, in fact some of the backdrops and effects are great, but the plot is pretty confusing, most of the characters are not very appealing, and some of the few who appealing at the outset do not stay that way. The stand-out character, the Madame D'Eon, does not get anywhere near enough screen time. I liked the magics but there was no real exposition, or explanation, about them: the source of the power of the Psalms or the powers of those who wield the magic.

It is also obviously difficult to escape the depressive atmosphere that results from depicting a large number of frivolous, stupid, ambitious, duplicitous and disloyal characters who are "on the eve of destruction" (i.e. revolution).

Of course, now that I am clear about the plot-line and the motivations of the major characters I am tempted to watch the series again and see if I enjoy it any more, but there is so much else to watch and read and do … so it might have to wait at least until I reach my vampire movie target (two hundred. Forty to go.).

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