My Favourite Characters
Dark, mysterious, beautiful, sultry – a woman with FIRE in her eyes! Undisputed Beggar Queen of the Underworld at the Court of Miracles. No-one was her equal among the women and she was equal to any man in that unique community. I liked this woman from the start of our brief acquaintance. My regret is that she is such a short-lived character, disappearing during the night of chaos engendered by the disbanding of the community during an attack by rival gangs and the intervention of Desgrez, the most feared (secret) Police Officer of the time.
Madame Polack, for she should be treated with the utmost respect, earned her “nick-name” by virtue of “lording it over a regiment of Poles, during a whole campaign”. (“Angélique – The Road to Versailles” – translated by Rita Barisse – I use the translators terminology). One can only imagine what the term “lording” conveys, but I like to see her as a bit of a Boadicea rather than the more earthy conclusions that may immediately spring to the mind of the more adult reader.
Polack feared no-one, and in particular no man, I believe she held women in contempt, in the knowledge that she was definitely “lording” it over every last one of them in the Court of Miracles. She met her nemesis with the arrival of Angélique. At the beginning, Polack, perceived that Angélique held no threats for her as she saw her as a bedraggled, weak, uneducated (in the art of survival) wimp – no-one to cause any serious threat to her supremacy. However, she had not reckoned on the stupidity and weakness of the men around her, who lusted after the blonde beauty brought to their community by their then, undisputed leader Calembredaine. Polack suddenly found herself ousted as undisputed “Maitresse on Titre” and demoted to the rank of “pack” female. This did not sit well with her and she decided to claw back her supremacy.
Unfortunately for her, the men were captivated by the newcomer, a point of honour, to them, to possess her body and soul, Polack had reached her sell-by date and was no longer interesting and posed no challenges.
Stoical as ever, begrudgingly, it was Polack who succumbed to Angélique’s undisputed charms, even though she resisted every step of the way – like a community of felines, who cannot stand additions to the pack, eventually one will kill or accept the newcomer – Polack, inadvertently saves her arch-rival and in due course teaches her the art of survival. Not that Angélique needed much tutoring, as she already possessed an animal’s innate and natural instinct but this was not suited to the gutter existence of the Paris underworld. It is Polack who accompanies Angélique to reclaim her child from the gipsies and which leads to his eventual rescue. The women, tentatively, become accomplices with a mutual respect for each other, in due course they may have become friends, but the chaotic night put paid to that and send them cascading into two very separate paths – Angélique’s back to the glitter of Versailles and Madame Polack to obscurity ……..
Anyone knowing Anne Golons’ superb mastery and re-introduction of characters long after they should really have been lain to rest, will relish the thought that somehow, somewhere they may meet up with Madame Polack again. After all, Calembredaine survives the night of chaos and re-emerges in “Angélique and the Sultan”.
But, because the series in the English language ends with “Angélique and the Ghosts” and there is no sign of Polack by that time, one has to assume that her story lives only in “Angélique – The Road to Versailles”.
I will only say this, that if you are an afficianado of Madame Polack, as I am and if you have read beyond “Ghosts” in another language, you might be interested in the story of Janine Gonfarel, who is mentioned by Joffrey de Peyrac in “Ghosts”. Janine Gonfarel’s story is told in “Angélique in Quebec”.
Ambroisine de Madribourg (some versions de Baudricourt)
Supremely beautiful, raven-haired, innocent, virginal, holy, vulnerable – on the surface of it, Ambroisine is the complete antithesis of Madame Polack. I forgot to add that Ambroisine also has all the mesmerising influence and impact of a serpent! I disliked this woman intensely from the start of our relatively brief but intense acquaintance.
From our first introduction to Ambroisine, there is nothing, on the surface, that indicates what this woman is capable of and the reader descends voluntarily into a spiral of such venom that it becomes impossible to extricate or escape from the spells this character weaves. Every time I read her story and even knowing what she is capable of I am exhausted by her intensity and become a captive audience despite trying to resist her wiles.
Ambroisine appears out of nowhere, seemingly from a shipwreck, lucky to have escaped with her life and the tattered shreds that are now her only adornment. What one fails to notice at first is that her hair is gleaming with health, she smells mysteriously luscious, her bright stockings are beautifully intact in contrast to the appearance of her cloak and her countenance serene, (in fact the only sign of “distress” one can see is in the carefully stage-managed appearance of that cloak!!).
Ambroisine is accompanying several “King’s Girls” to the New World and is responsible for their physical, moral and spiritual well-being. The “King’s Girls” are young women, unlikely to achieve either any standing in the community or marriage in Europe (owing to a lack of dowry) who are hand-chosen by the King and sponsored by a Benefactor (in this instance Ambroisine) to be sent to New France to become workers or wives to the colonists.
Is this the face of the Demon?
No-one is less suited to the moral and spiritual well-being of innocents than Ambroisine, who is amoral, sexually rampant and quite at home with using not only her wiles, but also accomplices to discover intimacies about everyone she meets or has responsibility for and then using that knowledge in the pursuit of blackmail. No wonder no-one ever speaks out against her and does her bidding in a seemingly adoring and voluntary manner – her legend is portrayed as the very pinnacle of virtue and bounty. She is irreproachable, adored, the loyalty shown to her is without question, obedience becomes obeisance – you have to admire her nerve.
In this instance, Ambroisine, who does have extraordinary mental powers and an unfair imbalance of good fortune on her side, knows that Angélique is her nemesis and is prepared to invest all her evil into destroying her. It is a one-sided duel – like sending horsemen against tanks – but the forces of evil do not reckon on one of their own being involved in the eventual downfall of a fellow Demon. Because Ambroisine is demoniac – those luscious dark tresses could be mistaken for coiled serpents slithering around her head and her pale eyes for those of night-time predators of the most vicious kind.
The Wolverine (Glouton), a mysterious animal of the far reaches of the North is a secret animal of which little is known and in the 17th century obviously associated with the Devil. Anne Golon has studied this mysterious animal and introduced it as the pet that Cantor chooses as his companion. So it is fitting that the true nemesis that Ambroisine must counter is the combined force of Angélique, her son Cantor and his Wolverine.
Unfortunately, the hated Wolverine is eventually blamed for the demise of the Demon – the reader is only permitted to “see” this event through a premonition of Angélique’s. Later, there is “confirmation” that the remains of a female body and the remnants of colourful clothing have been found, all pointing to the fact that the unfortunate woman had been the victim of an attack by a wild beast such as the Wolverine. It may be, that this is all camouflage and that the premonition may come to fruition later … but for the moment, as the series moves towards Québec, Ambroisine and her vitriol remain buried in the forests.
How does Anne Golon keep track of her characters?
I remember Anne telling me that she kept her characters organised by using named 'wooden stakes' - I always imagined they would look like the ones the doomed Anne Boleyn (Genevieve Bujold) used in the film 'Anne of a thousand days.' The reality is somewhat different as can be seen below:
Anne and Serge pictured in 1960
Genevieve Bujold (fittingly portrayed by a French actress) playing Anne Boleyn using the pegs I had imagined were like the ones Anne Golon would have used.
Date page updated : 28th September 2015