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Literature / The Little House

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Mélite and Trémicour in the Gardens, Watercolor Preparation from the 1905 edition, artwork by Adolphe Lalauze

At last, the Marquis challenged Mélite to come to his little house, a "petite maison". She answered that she would come, and she would not fear him there, nor anywhere else. So they called it a wager and there she went, knowing not what a "petite maison" was, only the name. She did not realize that no other place in Paris or all of Europe was as charming and as artfully contrived for love. Let us follow her there, then we shall soon see how she fared with the Marquis.
— from the English translation by Rodolphe El-Khoury

First published in 1758 (with a revision published in 1763), La Petite Maison (translated: The Little House) is the work of French author and playwright Jean-François de Bastide. The work is a short story that combines the genres of salacious romance and architectural treatise.

The plot details a private tour of the Marquis Trémicour's luxurious petite maison (literally translated this means "little house," but in the 1700's it was slang for a love-nest or a set of apartments kept for a mistress) provided to Mélite, the beautiful girl Trémicour has made it his mission to seduce. Mélite is virtuous but naïve, fully confident in her ability to resist Trémicour's flirtations. Trémicour is likewise convinced that his refined tastes and aesthetic sensitivity will convince the recalcitrant Mélite of his affections. Thus their battle begins, fought amidst the splendorous gardens and sumptuous furnishings of Trémicour's sensual personal retreat.

The full text of the original French publication is available on Wikisource. English quotes on this page are taken from the 1996 translation produced by Rodolphe El-Khoury.

Spoilers below are unmarked.

Tropes Found in The Little House Include:

  • The Casanova: Trémicour is notorious for his sexual conquests, many of whom were seduced at the very petite maison Mélite is convinced to visit.
  • Distracted by the Luxury: Played Straight, Exaggerated, and Justified.
    • Played Straight: Trémicour's immaculate good taste and the luxurious furnishings of his love-nest win out over Mélite's hesitancy to respond to his romantic advances.
    • Justified/ Enforced: The work was written to titillate and educate the reader in equal parts, and an introduction to the masters of high end design and décor was part of that package. The fictional petite maison decorated with the works of real artisans who were considered the best of the best in their field served as a guided tour for author de Bastide's own ideas regarding luxury interior home design. (The modern equivalent would be a novel describing an apartment decorated with works by Picasso and Frida Kahlo, extoling the painters' mastery over color, form, and symbolism to beautify and enliven a living room or foyer. It doesn't hurt that the inclusion of such works by famous, well-regarded artists demonstrates the wealth and exquisite taste of the works' owner.) The Little House was written to guide readers towards their own appreciation for home design. By including references to painters and ceramicists and gardeners and stage designers who were renowned throughout France, the story's praise for the work of real artists and the effect their work has on the fictional Mélite served as a model for how de Bastide believed interior decorating could capture and seduce the senses.
    • Exaggerated: Mélite, herself no stranger to flirtation, willingly visits the petite maison with determination to resist Trémicour's heavy handed advances. The combined impression of the top-dollar artistry and Trémicour's taste overpower Mélite's chaste nature, so that by the end of the house tour she has fallen head over heels for the notoriously amorous Marquis — having been convinced by his exquisite taste in interior design that he truly possesses the enlightened soul of an artist and that his passions for her must be genuine.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The story takes place in the span of the few hours taken up by the tour, from the time Mélite arrives at the petite maison note  until the sun has set and dinner has passed.
  • Garden of Love: Downplayed and Invoked.
    • Downplayed: The first part of the tour winds through the manicured forecourt (front lawn) of Trémicour's property, where he keeps an impressive menagerie of exotic animals, farm creatures, and hunting dogs. The dairy, stables, and lawn are all designed in a charming pastoral style that hardly hints at the luxurious apartments within the maison. Mélite is so distracted by the delightful gardens (and more than happy to tease Trémicour) that she has to be cajoled away from the gardens to begin the house tour proper - not so much a garden of "love" as one of "flirtation."
    • Invoked: Once night has fallen, Trémicour guides Mélite to the back garden for a spectacular concert and fireworks show. The narration mentions that he sought out the help of Carle Ruggieri to design the fireworks (of the Ruggieri family, whose fireworks spectaculars had earned them appointments to the court of Louis XV) and Tremblin (a former set designer at the Paris Opera) to illuminate the gardens with beautiful lanterns.
  • Purple Prose: The nature of the text's effusive praise of the fine craftsmanship and finer collocation of Trémicour's furnishings and décor — which mirrors Mélite's discovery and admiration of the beautiful setting.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: Zig-Zagged — When Trémicour's pleas aren't able to soften Mélite resolve, he threatens to kill himself unless she yields to his amorous advances.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: In the final passage, Mélite is said to have "lost the wager." The wager being that she could withstand the charms of Trémicour's petite maison... and by extension, Trémicour's sexual advances.
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: Overlaps with Scarpia Ultimatum — Trémicour threatens to kill himself if Mélite refuses his advances.
  • The Tease: The very first sentence of the short story reads "Mélite took to the company of men with great ease, and only kindly souls and the best of friends did not consider her a flirt." In the original French, And certainly Mélite enjoys the power she holds over Trémicour when it is she who dictates the pace of the tour, or when she can frustrate his advances — but de Bastide goes out of his way to remind the readers that her intentions are innocently coquettish, never malicious.