I have always been the moody and broody type.
I wish it weren’t true, but I think it’s part and parcel of being an “artist”. If I weren’t moody, I would have no music to write, no reason to run out adventuring, no deep thoughts to sit up writing about on the balcony in the middle of the night. It’s all part of the game.
One particular favourite circle-thought I LOVE to torture myself with when I have really nothing better to do is the notion of dying before I have been able to do something worthwhile with my life. I blame entirely my obsession with great historical figures on this particular circle-thought. The more I learn about fascinating, noteworthy historical figures, the more fuel is added to the fire that I want to be as courageous/self-assured/bold/intelligent/insert-any-extraordinary-adjective-here.
However, this week, after a solid week of learning about Catherine the Great and every Julio-Claudian Emperor of Rome, I have been voraciously learning everything I can about Julie d’Aubigny, and I have had a sudden change in swing.
Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely still would love to be as courageous, skilled and just downright insane as she was. But I have had this notion in my head that to achieve something worthwhile and great, I must focus all my attentions on it and know from the start exactly what I want to achieve. That, with the doggedness of Hannibal crossing the Alps, I must devote myself solely in one direction and strive for it with all my might to defeat all the odds and obstacles stacked against me.
Anyone who knows me will know that this is an almost impossible feat. I am a woman who has 2884 hobbies, a couple of side-projects, a few part-time and freelance jobs, and is on the never ending hunt for new ideas to become involved in. To focus on one thing? To be passionate about only ONE thing? I don’t even know how to begin.
Enter Julie d’Aubigny:
Not only is she a queer legend and a genius, but she was also a woman with many, many talents and skills; skills she honed and crafted over her entire (short) lifetime. From her beautiful singing voice, to her skills with a sword, to horseback riding, seduction, oratory – you name it, Julie could probably figure it out and master it.
If you have not heard of La Maupin, I urge you to go look her up. She is absolutely fascinating. One of my favourite tales of her life goes roughly like this:
One night, La Maupin is invited to a ball. While there, she flirts with a desirable, single woman and they kiss publicly. The three suitors who were courting the young woman are enraged and threaten Julie, telling her she must leave immediately. Instead, Julie challenges them to a duel outside.
These duels had become illegal because they meant the people were handling matters themselves and not deferring to the Law or the King & also because they were, obviously, very, very dangerous. Unbeknownst to the three suitors, Julie spent her life training by the sword in the court of King Louis XIV. She defeated all three suitors, and unscathed, returned to the party, coyly informing others that there were three men who needed medical attention.
This was not the first time Julie had fought and won by the sword against men. However, her antics must have entertained the King somewhat, for he pardoned her on many, many counts of what could be considered assault, murder, and even an arson.
She was an absolute legend.
What I love most about her life story (well, perhaps how it has been told throughout the centuries) is that Julie had no grand schemes for power or office. She was not looking to become queen of anywhere nor did she have a dogged ‘greater purpose’ that has been carried through legends of her life. If anything, her greatest scheme was to pull some strings to get into the Paris Opera while there was a death warrant out for her, which she did, as with all of her greatest acts, by seducing, charming or by falling in love. Iconic.
La Maupin gives hope to all Jack-of-All-Trades types that to be flexible, to be multi-faceted and to be driven solely in the direction of what is best for you, right then, right there, can in itself lead to an extraordinary life. Without her many skills and talents, Mademoiselle Maupin would not have been able to provide herself with so many opportunities, would not have been able to travel so widely as a woman at the time, and would not have been able to defeat a bunch of pompous, entitled men at their own game.
Moreover, she gives me hope that to do something extraordinary with one’s life is not always about what you actually do, but how you do it.
As she is said to have herself wrote: ‘I am made for perils, as well as for tenderness.’
Ciara O’Síoráin (chi desidera diventare la bella donna figa come gli italiani)