By Susan K. Foley, Charles Sowerwine (auth.)
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Additional info for A Political Romance: Léon Gambetta, Léonie Léon and the Making of the French Republic, 1872–82
Léon’s paternal grandmother, Adélaïde Goupille, was born on the island of Guadeloupe, in what was then the French Caribbean, the child of a slave mother and the Frenchman who owned her. This lineage counted against Léon in such a racialist age. 13 Adélaïde Goupille was deserted by her first husband. She obtained a divorce, legalized by the French Revolution, and married Jacob Léon, a Jew. Their son Émile, who was to be Léonie’s father, was born in Guadeloupe in 1795. At the age of fourteen, Émile Léon enlisted as a cabin boy in the French navy.
His father, an Italian from Genoa, ran a successful grocery store in Cahors and married the daughter of the local pharmacist. Thus Gambetta bore an Italian name, but his mother was a quintessential product of provincial France and his upbringing was entirely French. He attended the local Catholic school until his father placed him in the state secondary school in Cahors. 40 Gambetta obtained the baccalaureate of letters in 1856: one of only 2071 young men in France to pass that year. The ‘bac’ not only opened professional careers like law, but also opened the door to bourgeois status.
You have initiated this soul born of your breath to such divine mysteries, and what adoration does it not owe you in exchange for the ineffable delights with which you fill it? 26 Letters like these certainly suggest the sexual ardour of the union between Gambetta and Léon. 27 Chastenet neglects the role of hyperbole in achieving the love letter’s primary goal, that of reaffirming and validating all aspects of a relationship. There is no doubt, however, that sex played a major role in their relationship.
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