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February 14, 2005 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Libertines (NSFW) would frown on the idea of Valentine's Day and devoting yourself to your one true love; they were all about fun, all the time. Think free love (or polyamorism as current practitioners would call it) is a product of the swingin' 70s? No way. The libertine philosophy has been around since at least the 17th century. Notable practitioners include John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, who wrote some juicy poetry on the topic; Choderlos de Laclos of Les Liaisons dangereuses fame; the Marquis de Sade; the fictional Don Juan; and the poster boy for libertinism, Charles II of England. In fact Rochester once had to flee court for making fun of Charles's appetites (though Rochester was no angel himself).

Fast forward to the current day, when Johnny Depp is starring in a new movie, "The Libertine," in which he portrays Rochester to some critical acclaim. Is Rochester simply a sad, sorry sort who justified a lifestyle that some see as immoral, and got his just deserts when he died of syphilis? Or was he caught up in a way of life that he alternately enjoyed and despised, finding that "Old age and Experience, hand in hand / Lead him to Death, and make him understand, / After a Search so painful and so long, / That all his Life he has been in the wrong." Maybe there's something to be said for abstinence, after all.
posted by MiHail (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Maybe there is something to be said for brief FPPs with the use of the {MI} convention, after all.
posted by dios at 3:03 PM on February 14, 2005


Very interesting post, but yea dios. Ouch.
posted by snsranch at 3:14 PM on February 14, 2005


On second thought perhaps MiHail, as a Libertine, is simply tossing aside standards and conventions.
posted by snsranch at 3:17 PM on February 14, 2005 [1 favorite]


I saw The Libertine when it was produced at Steppenwolf, with Malkovich as Rochester (he's playing Charles II in the film). Chicago acting style didn't suit the faux-Restoration prose at all. From the IMDb description, it sounds like Jeffreys has done quite a bit of tinkering; the play's second act turned Rochester, somewhat oddly, into a Byronic hero.

In any event, Samuel Johnson had something to say about Rochester. I'm fond of Lord Byron's Don Juan, although it fell flat when I tried to teach it (too many topical references to English politics). There's a really terrific multilingual site devoted to the Don Juan legend.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:22 PM on February 14, 2005


...brief FPPs with the use of the {MI} convention...

The cranky whiner in me thinks this sounds like a nerdtastic little freakout, but having no idea what those acronyms mean, I can't be sure. Please enlighten me!
posted by MaxVonCretin at 3:28 PM on February 14, 2005


Did de Laclos practice libertinism, or simply write about it? I was under the impression that his private life was largely unknown.

Also, free love and polyamory are not exactly the same thing; free love is a subset of polyamory.
posted by kyrademon at 3:37 PM on February 14, 2005


FPP = Front Page Post
MI = More Inside

HTH. HAND.
posted by Justinian at 3:38 PM on February 14, 2005


tjw: Thanks for that Lives of the Poets link. I've been meaning to look at those for ages.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:43 PM on February 14, 2005


And then, of course, there are The Libertines.
posted by jokeefe at 3:44 PM on February 14, 2005


(Sorry for the link to the NME and for any popups that may ensue, but something weird seems to have happened to the band's own site.)
posted by jokeefe at 3:46 PM on February 14, 2005


"Prisons are built with bricks of law, brothels with bricks of religion."
posted by gimonca at 4:08 PM on February 14, 2005


Laclos was no libertine. Les Liaison Dangereuse was a cautionary tale against such behaviour. He liked women, liked to talk to them, didn't like to see them ill done by.

His wife to be read his book and said he would never set foot in her house. Not one to miss a challenge, he laid seige to her and within six months they were wed. Twenty years later he still declared that ll his happiness he owed to her.

But if it's amusingly squalid behaviour you want, it's hard to beat Francis Dashwood.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:06 PM on February 14, 2005


Perhaps it would be better to identify Laclos as associated --unwillingly--with the libertine lifestyle. His novel (though meant to attack, not promote, what he saw as degeneracy) associated him with the scandalous behavior of his characters (not unlike the way in which everyone thinks of The Jungle as a critique of the meat packing industry).

He liked women, liked to talk to them, didn't like to see them ill done by.

Libertinism didn't necessarily equate "doing ill by" women. There were female libertines as well, notably Aphra Behn (one of the first professional female writers, author of "The Rogue," and numerous poems, including one answering Rochester's "The Imperfect Enjoyment"). It was much more about a lifestyle or an attitude toward life, and not about abusing women (see Rochester's poem Signior Dildo).

As far as the FPP criticism goes, I'll note two things: (1) this is the first FPP I've done, and wanted to at least provide some interesting links, because (2) I wanted to avoid the other frequent FPP criticism: "You call that a good post? One link?!" I certainly don't think that my FPP is the longest I've seen; and I must say at least I didn't do what is (to me) far more annoying: creating a separate link for every single damn word. Though perhaps this is a conversation best suited for MeTa.

However, I've also noticed that it seems to be de rigueur to receive criticism if one is not a frequent FPPer, and most particularly if one is posting their first FPP. I'll chalk this up to experience, will consider myself duly hazed, and will hope that in future the content rather than the style of my posts will receive attention.
posted by MiHail at 7:28 PM on February 14, 2005


My most recent relationship was poly and a lot of the people I hang around with are likewise poly. I'm kind of surprised to hear polyamory equated with "free love" and downright shocked to hear it equated with libertinism. I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but most poly relationships have rules that are just as strict as those in monogamous relationships. They can be a bit more complex, certainly, but the basic concept is the same. And you'll find that the nail-anything-that-moves philosophy and the sex-as-conquest mentality are about as common among people like us as they are in the general population.
posted by Clay201 at 8:02 PM on February 14, 2005


Johnny Depp is playing Lord Rochester?! That's wonderful! John Wilmot is one of my favorite poets - not because of his poetry, but because of his character and biography. John Dryden wrote a bad review of one of his poems (or insulted him in some similar way), so Wilmot hired a bunch of guys to beat Dryden up. Wilmot was always circulating in and out of the Tower of London for his misdeeds. If only poets today were this colorful.
posted by painquale at 8:50 PM on February 14, 2005


I think the point, MiHail, is that Les Liaisons Dangereuses isn't really about libertinism at all . . . it's about what intelligent women become when they are given no healthy outlet for their intellect.

I've always admired Laclos. An early feminist, and a writer who decided he wanted to write one brilliant, earth-shattering book, and proceeded to do so.
posted by kyrademon at 9:55 PM on February 14, 2005


As far as the FPP criticism goes....

Never apologize, never explain.

Seriously, it's a fine post. Interesting links that prompt serious commentary, commentary laced with new links, genuine conversation, nice change from the wearisome mudslinging that makes the political and news-of-the-day posts so predictable. Never knew J. Depp had made such a movie. Now I have to go find it.

And note that the naysayers brought nothing to the table but nay. They want one click instant gratfication, I say, go to Fark.

Post on, MiHail, post on.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:18 PM on February 15, 2005 [1 favorite]


I'm a bit late to add a comment here, but I couldn't help wanting to add my praise of the FPP, and to also high-five the mention of Aphra Behn. I brought The Disappointment in to a class a year or two ago as a bit of a corrective to the almost entirely masculine contents of the prof's reading list, and it went down a bomb.

With the girls, anyway.

In this so Am'rous cruel strife,
Where Love and Fate were too severe,
The poor Lisander in Despair,
Renounc'd his Reason with his Life.
Now all the Brisk and Active Fire
That should the Nobler Part inflame,
Unactive Frigid, Dull became,
And left no Spark for new Desire;
Not all her Naked Charms cou'd move,
Or calm that Rage that had debauch'd his Love.

Cloris returning from the Trance
Which Love and soft Desire had bred,
Her tim'rous Hand she gently laid,
Or guided by Design or Chance,
Upon that Fabulous Priapus,
That Potent God (as Poets feign.)
But never did young Shepherdess
(Gath'ring of Fern upon the Plain)
More nimbly draw her Fingers back,
Finding beneath the Verdant Leaves a Snake.

Then Cloris her fair Hand withdrew,
Finding that God of her Desires
Disarm'd of all his pow'rful Fires,
And cold as Flow'rs bath'd in the Morning-dew.
Who can the Nymphs Confusion guess ?
The Blood forsook the kinder place,
And strew'd with Blushes all her Face,
Which both Disdain and Shame express;
And from Lisanders Arms she fled,
Leaving him fainting on the gloomy Bed.

posted by jokeefe at 1:13 PM on February 16, 2005


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