Little is known about Marianne, a 17th-century Portuguese nun who wrote these letters to her lover, Noel Bouton de Chamilly, a French officer whom she met in about the year 1663. Chamilly, a nobleman from Burgundy, appears to never have loved Marianne with the tenacity of her love for him, but the two began a correspondence between intermittent visits. Marianne suffered terribly in her abbey while Chamilly was free to travel, but her letters are remarkably eloquent and forceful in their declarations of love for him.
A PORTUGUESE ABBEY - 17th CENTURY
WILL YOU, THEN, always be cold and listless! Can nothing have power to interrupt your repose! What must be done to disturb it? Must I, in your presence, throw myself into the arms of a rival? For, except this last act of inconstancy, which my love will never allow me to commit, I have given you reason to apprehend every other.
I accepted the arm of the Duke d'Almeida on the promenade; I contrived to sit near him at supper, and even whispered in his ear some trifles, which you might have taken for subjects of importance: yet I could cause no change in your countenance. Ingrate! Have you really the inhumanity to feel so little love for her who so well loves you? Have not my cares, my favours, and my truth, been worth one moment of your jealousy? Does he, who is more dear to me than peace or fame, so little value me, that he regards my loss without dismay? Alas! I tremble at the bare idea of losing you! You cast not a look upon another woman that does not cause me a dreadful shuddering; you offer not a civility upon the most trifling occasion that does not cost me twenty-four hours of despair! Yet can you see me converse under your eyes a whole evening with another, without betraying the least disquietude! Ah! You have never loved me; for too well I know what it is to love, to think that sentiments so different from mine should bear the name of love.
What would I not do to punish you for this coldness? There are some moments when I am so transported with vexation, that I could wish to love another. But how? Amidst all this displeasure, I see nothing amiable in the world but yourself. Even yesterday, when your coldness seemed to rob you of a thousand charms, I could not help admiring all you did. In your disdain, there was I know not what of greatness that expressed the character of your soul, and it was of you I was speaking while whispering to the duke, so little am I mistress of occasion to offend you! I was dying with the desire of seeing you do something that might afford me a pretext of openly affronting you; but how should I have been able to do so? My very anger is but excess of love, and at the moment I am most incensed at your being so phlegmatic, I plainly feel I should find reasons to excuse it, did I not love you to distraction. In fact, my brother was observing us; the least attempt on your part to address me would have been my ruin: but could you not have felt jealousy without making it conspicuous? I understand the glances of your eyes; I could easily have read in your looks what others could not perceive as I did: but alas! I saw in them no appearance of what I wished to see: I own that love was there; but was it love that should have shewn itself as such a time? Rage and displeasure should have darted forth: you ought to have contradicted every thing I said; have thought me ugly; have flattered another woman before my eyes. In short, you ought to have been jealous, since you had every apparent cause to be so.
But instead of thee natural evidences of real love, you bestowed on me a thousand praises. You took the same hand that I had given to the duke, as if it had given you no cause of displeasure, and I expected that you were going to congratulate me on the attachment of the most respectable man of our court. Insensible being! Is it thus that love is shewn? Is it thus you are beloved by me? Ah! Had I thought you so cold before I loved you as I do! What then? Though I had perceived all that I now perceive, and more, if possible, I could not have resisted the impulse of loving you. It is a bias of soul over which I had no power, and which... but when I think of the moments of delight this passion has afforded me, I cannot repent of having conceived it.
What should I not do, then, if I were satisfied with you, since I am so transported with love at the time I have most cause to complain! But you know the difference; you have seen me satisfied, you have seen me displeased, I have uttered complaints to you, yet in anger or in joy, you have always seen me the most affectionate of women.
Will so noble a disposition inspire with you no emulation? Love, my dear Insensible! Love as ardently as you are loved. The soul finds not true pleasure but in love. The excess of bliss springs from excess of passion; and indifference is a greater foe to those who cherish it, than to those whom it withstands. Ah! Had you once really known the genuine transport of affection, how would you envy those who feel it. Even for the possession of your heart I would not be the owner of your cold tranquility. I prize my raptures as the greatest blessings that were ever mine, and I would rather be condemned to see you no more, than to see you without feeling those emotions which your presence inspires.
I WRITE TO YOU for the last time; and I hope to convince you, by the difference of the style and manner of this letter, that you have at length persuaded me that you no longer love me, and that, therefore, I ought not to love you any longer.
I shall accordingly send you, by the first conveyance, all that I yet possess of yours. Fear not that I shall write to you; I will not even write your name on the packet. I have charged Donna Brites with the whole of the arrangement, her in whom I have been accustomed to place confidence of a very different kind; her care will be less suspected than mine; she will take every necessary precaution, in order to assure me that you have received the portraits and the bracelets that you gave me.
I, however, wish you to know that I have for some days felt strongly inclined to burn and destroy every relic that would remind me of you, those pledges of your love that were so dear to me; but I have already discovered so much weakness, that I am convinced I could never be capable of proceeding to these extremities. I am determined, therefore, to endure all the anguish of parting with them, and give you at least a little chagrin.
I will acknowledge, to my shame and yours, that I have found myself more attached to those trifles that I am willing to describe, and I felt that I stood in need of all the arguments reason could muster, to enable me to part with any of them, even when I could no longer flatter myself with your attachment; but perseverance in any one design works wonders. I delivered them into the hands of Donna Brites. How many tears this resolution cost me! After a thousand emotions, and a thousand incertitudes which you are a stranger to, and of which I shall assuredly render you no account... I have conjured her never to mention them to me, nor restore them to me, though I should only ask to look upon them once more, and to send them to you without my knowing anything of it.
I never knew the excess of my love until I exerted every effort to cure myself of it. I believe I should never have undertaken such a task, could I have foreseen the difficulties and the obstacles to its success; for I am persuaded that I should have felt less disagreeable sensations in loving you, ingrate as you are, than in abandoning you for ever. I have proved that you were less dear to me than my passion, and I have had strange emotions to struggle with, after your injurious conduct had rendered your person odious to me.
The natural pride of my sex has not assisted me in forming any resolutions against you. Alas! I have suffered your contempt, I could have supported your hatred, and all the jealousy which your attachment to another could have given me; I should have had at least some passion to struggle with; but your indifference is insupportable to me; your impertinent protestations of friendship, and the ridiculous civilities of your last letter, have shewn me that you have received all mine, that that they have been incapable of inspiring the least emotion in your heart, and yet you have read them! Ingrate, I am yet weak enough to be distracted at the idea of not being able to flatter myself that you never received them.
I heartily detest you. Did I ever ask you to tell me sincerely the truth? Why could you not suffer me to enjoy my passion? You had only to desist from writing me; I should not have sought the fatal truth. Am I not indeed unfortunate, in that I could not oblige you to take some pains to deceive me, and to be no longer able to excuse you? Know that I perceive you are unworthy of my sentiments, and that I have discovered all the dark shades of your character....
From Letters from a Portuguese Nun to An Officer in the French Army, translated by W.R. Bowles, Esq., Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, London, 1817, second edition.