Is she from heaven or hell? Is she an angel or a demon? Perhaps both, considered Romuald, a priest who just moments before his ordination became fascinated with a goddless-like woman sitting in the congregation. She was radiant and wildly beautiful with hair like a river of gold and sea green eyes. Yet, even though he was utterly riveted by her, Romuald proceeded with his vows to become a priest of the lord, during Easter week no less.
For a full year, Romuald was haunted by his desire for Clarimonde, his worldly obsession. While he fulfilled his pious duties of prayer, fasting and tending to the sick and dying, he ruminated on the memory of her with a bereft heart. But that would change one night when a horseman summoned Romuald to Clarimonde’s palace. She was on her death bed and he was needed for “matters related to holy calling.” Once there, he found Clarimonde lifeless in her chamber but as lovely as he had remembered. Overcome by grief he shed tears upon her cheeks and kissed her- which brought her back to life.
This miraculous occurance sent Romuald into a coma-like state for three days. He awoke to stern warnings from his abbot, Serapion, to do away with all thoughts of the evil temptress, Clarimonde. Romuald did not heed Serapion’s advice. She came to him that night, a vision wrapped in dazzling white linen and spoke the words, “love is stronger than death.” He declared his love for her, and confessed it to be stronger than his love of God. And so began his nightly affair with Clarimonde.
There were now two men within Romuald, “a priest who dreamed nightly he was a gentleman” and “a gentleman that dreamed he was a priest.” As the gentleman, he was Clarimonde’s devoted and faithful lover. He lived in her Venetian Palace decorated with Titians and sumptuous fabrics of velvet and damask. His life there teemed with poetry, music, and worldly pleasures.
Whether it was reality or fantasy, Romuald led a double life. The tension between piety and debauchery is palpable in this captivating tale and speaks to the duality within all humans. But what I found even more salient within Romuald’s narrative, was how similar his feelings were for the church and then for Clarimonde. Romuald was nearly ecstatic on the day of his ordination as he waited with impatience and joy for the moment to finally arrive. “Never did a betrothed lover count the slow hours with more feverish ardor,” Romuald explained. “I slept only to dream I was saying mass.”
When he first gazed upon Clarimonde, he fell instantly in love with her, with a religiosity to rival the most devout priest. “She breathed her will into my life… I no longer lived in myself but I in her and for her.” He could have been speaking about God in such a manner, and actually was, just moments prior.
So what does this story have to do with perfume, you might wonder. Currently, it has everything to do with perfume! Lucy Raubertas of Indie Perfumes has ridden passionately through the blogosphere, snatching up perfumers and bloggers to join her in a chamber of Clarimonde inspired creations.
Perfumers Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes, Ayala Sender of Ayala Moriel Perfumes, Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals, and Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume have crafted Clarimonde perfumes that I will review in subsequent posts.
I listened to Clarimonde, a short story written by Théophile Gautier in 1836, via Librivox, and was entranced at word one. It is read by Joy Chan whose voice lends itself perfectly to this devilishly romantic thriller. I won’t reveal the ending, even though many of you are already privy to its conclusion. Fair warming, if you head over to the blogs of my fellow participants, Lucy Raubertas, Sheila Eggenberger, and Monica Miller, you will discover the dark outcome, but it’s worth it. Keep an eye on the blogs of Jade Dressler and Beth Schreibman as they will be contributing as well. And if you’re one who doesn’t mind a spolier, also stop by LostPastRemembered for a perfumed wine recipe to accompany this beguiling yarn.
The Clarimonde Project Part II
The Clarimonde Project Part III
Images: Autumn by John Atkinson Grimshaw and Choosing by George Frederic Watts