(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

On returning home after three years of travel, Vandome was greeted with two pieces of bad news. First, he heard that his friend Marcellina, the wife of Count Vaumont, had gone into voluntary exile: shutting herself in her curtained chamber, she had resolved never again to be seen in the light. This unusual behavior had been her response to the unjust accusations of her husband. Before Vandome left on his travels, Marcellina had carried on with him a circumspect and perfectly acceptable platonic affair. When he left, she had spoken of him with such passion that Vaumont had been filled with jealousy and had asserted that the relationship went beyond the purely spiritual. Vaumont later realized that he had made an error, but it was too late to dissuade Marcellina from her action.

Vandome’s second piece of bad news concerned the equally eccentric behavior of the Count St. Anne. St. Anne’s wife, who was Vandome’s sister, had died. His devotion to her was so great that he refused to have the corpse buried. Instead, he had her body embalmed and placed in a chair in his chamber. With sad music playing in the background, he was weeping out his life at her feet. When Vandome learned of these problems, he determined to find solutions.

Forcing his way past the servants, he entered Marcellina’s chamber. He called her course of action stupid and implored her to abandon it, but she was unmoved and refused to answer him. Sharing her isolation was her sister Eurione, who had been a close friend of St. Anne’s wife. Eurione claimed that she had gone into seclusion in honor of the dead woman. In reality, however, she had become a recluse because of her love for St. Anne, a love that developed from her observation of the amazing fidelity of the bereaved husband for his dead wife. Eurione now revealed to Vandome her feeling toward St. Anne, and asked his help.

Meanwhile, measures to help St. Anne were being contemplated in another quarter. Duke Philip had decided to ask the King of France to intervene. He planned to petition the king, who was the uncle of St. Anne’s wife, to demand the burial of the corpse. Since it was necessary to send an emissary to the king, Monsieur d’Olive was recommended for the post. Two courtiers, Roderigue and Mugeron, had suggested d’Olive, partly for selfish reasons and partly for amusement. D’Olive—an idler, wit, and man about town-had agreed to consult with the duke, mostly for amusement. In his interview with Duke Philip, d’Olive declined to accept advice about the mission. Instead, he gave a learned talk on the advantages and disadvantages of using tobacco. Duke Philip, pleased with his wit, appointed him the ducal envoy.

Vandome, who had a...

(The entire section is 1111 words.)