“Etiquette at Versailles” by Daria Galateria

Daria Galateria is a university professor in Rome and writes for la Republica on French literature. She is standing here on her Rome terrace near the Pantheon

A specialist of Marcel Proust and 17 th century French litterature, Daria Galateria has always followed the French scene for Italian newspapers and her Sapienza university students. She shares her life between Saint German des Près in Paris, the Pantheon in central Rome and the city of Trappani where she writes and swims on the islands of Southern Sicily. Her latest book on “Etiquette at the court of Versailles” is just coming out in Paris.

The French edition is wonderfully translated by Françoise Antoine

It is not an easy topic for today’s readers but Daria Galateria managed to transform the very stern rules of Louis XIVth reign into something of a comic book. Based on Saint Simon’s Memoirs and many Italian visitors such as Primi Visconti or diplomat’s accounts of court, her book describes with great sense of humor the precedence of Royal blood over any other aristocrat and tells wonderful anecdotes about the invention of the “baise main” a French habit of kissing married ladies hands which Jacques Chirac was constantly using. “Bailler la serviette” of the king was a huge honor (tying the napkin) and one was not allowed to ever lie on the queen’s bed. The King invited you to “faire appartement”, to play games with him three days a week. The ceremonials of who would walk in or leave first a room, all the rigid rules of Versailles ended up dividing society more than any other law. Courtiers would fight for “Le Pour” meaning that you could have a room or an apartment in Versailles.

The originality of the book comes from the distance that this Italian scholar takes in studying French society. It is written in short chapters and in alphabetical order, and very well illustrated by engravings of the time done by Nicolas Arnoult. (Flammarion, L’Etiquette à la cour de Versailles, 24€)

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