“The Countess of Tende is a woman in udder desperation.”

Did my student think that the words “utter” and “udder” are the same word? or maybe that the verb “utter” means “say” but the noun “udder” and the adjective “utter” are the same word?

Possibly, of course, he had never heard of an udder. Like the old I.Q. tests that were (probably unintentionally) biased against city-dwellers, rewarding the answer linking “cow” and “milk” but not the answer linking “store” and “milk,” I may also be assuming a knowledge of farm things that my mostly-suburban students simply do not have.

So, on with a little naughtiness for a Saturday morning.

The Countess of Tende is the main character in Madame de Lafayette’s literary precursor to a soap opera, a story of unrequitable (well, mostly) passion, honor, sacrifice, and death among the French nobility. Consumed by love for a man she cannot have—a man whose marriage to another she has actually advocated and enabled—she is certainly in despair; once she becomes pregnant by him, she is in true desperation, and I am tempted here to let myself think that the physical pain on which she blames her storms of tears may very well be painful udders. Or maybe those udders, longing for the touch of the Prince of Navarre, drove her into his arms in the first place.

Well, enjoy. Here’s the story so you can read it for  yourself, if you’re up for some melodrama. It’s probably more compelling in French, but my computer insists on replacing all the accents with question marks in blue diamonds, and I can’t quite make myself plow through it; my six years of French are far in the past, and, while I can still read most French texts with the friendly aid of my Larousse, the diamonds are one obstacle too many for pleasure reading.…

This is the cover of an audio book of "La Comtesse de Tende." Flirty, isn't she? And see how she covers those desperate udders? You can buy the audio and listen to the story without little blue diamonds at http://www.audiocite.net/livres-audio-gratuits-nouvelles/madame-de-la-fayette-la-comtesse-de-tende.html

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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