Madame Victoire and Lent

I told you we would return to the daughters of Louis XV before long.  So let’s go back once again to Madame Campan’s remembrances of Madame Victoire:

Madame Victoire, kind, sweet-tempered and affable, lived with the most amiable simplicity within a society that cherished her; she was adored by her household. Without quitting Versailles, without sacrificing her downy chair, she fulfilled the duties of religion with punctuality, gave to the poor all she had, and strictly observed the fasts and Lent. True, one faulted the table of Mesdames for acquiring a reputation for dishes of abstinence, spread abroad by the parasites who assiduously attended that of their maître d’hôtel. Madame Victoire was not indifferent to the pleasures of food, but she had the most religious scruples respecting dishes allowed at penitential times.

Madame Victoire Roslin

Madame Victoire by Roslin

I saw her one day exceedingly tormented by her doubts about a water-fowl, which was often served up to her during Lent. The question to be determined irrevocably was whether it was lean [allowed] or fat [forbidden, as all meat during Lent]. She consulted a bishop, who happened to be of the dinner party: the prelate immediately assumed the assured tone of voice, the grave attitude of a judge who
is about to pronounce a final sentence. He answered the Princess that, in a similar case of doubt, it had been resolved that, after the bird was cooked, it should be pricked over a very cold silver dish; if the gravy of the animal congealed within a quarter of an hour, the creature was to be deemed fat; but if the gravy remained in an oily state, it might be eaten at any time without scruple.

Madame Victoire immediately made the experiment: the gravy did not congeal; and this was a source of great joy to the Princess, who was very fond of that sort of game. The abstinence which so much preoccupied Madame Victoire was so disagreeable to her, that she waited with impatience for the hour of midnight on Holy Saturday; and then was immediately supplied with a good helping of fowl and rice and other delicious dishes. She confessed with such amiable candour her taste for good food and the comforts of life that one must have been as severe in principle as insensible to the excellent qualities of the Princess, to fault her for it.

Dear Madame Victoire, torn between her heartfelt devotion and her love of creature comforts…

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