Partner Edward Saint-Barbe
6 Rue de la Rochefoucauld, 75009 Paris, France
Château Catinat, Avenue Gabriel Péri, 95210 Saint-Gratien, Francia
Chapelle d'Auquainville, 14140 Auquainville, Francia
Astolphe-Louis-Léonor, Marquis de Custine (18 March 1790 – 25 september 1857) was a French aristocrat and writer who is best known for his travel writing, in particular his account of his visit to Russia La Russie en 1839. This work documents not only Custine's travels through the Russian empire, but also the social fabric, economy, and way of life during the reign of Nicholas I.
Astolphe de Custine was born in Niderviller, Lorraine, of French nobility. His father's family had possessed the title marquis since the early 18th century and owned famous porcelain works. His mother, Delphine de Sabran, Marquise de Custine, also came from a prestigious family and was noted for her intelligence and great beauty.
Custine's father and grandfather both sympathized with the French Revolution but were both guillotined. Custine's mother barely escaped the same fate in prison. Subsequent to the overthrow of Robespierre and the end of the Reign of Terror, notorious Minister of Police under Napoleon Joseph Fouché allowed the Marquise to repair her fortune.
Under direction of his strong-willed mother, Custine was raised in an unsettled social atmosphere among the scattered and exiled surviving aristocracy of France. This brought him into frequent contact with noted emigres, such as his mother's ardent admirer François-René de Chateaubriand, considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature. Her château of Fervaques, near Lisieux, in Normandy, was purchased from the Duc de Laval in October 1803, and Chateaubriand noted his visits between 1804 and 1806 and discussed both the Marquise and Custine in Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe. She died at Bex, in Vaud, Switzerland, July 13, 1826.
Custine was given an excellent education and seemed to be headed towards a life in society. An income of 60,000 francs a year enabled him to live as he pleased, including at Saint-Gratien, his estate outside Paris, where Frédéric Chopin was such a favoured guest he came without notice. Custine spent time in the diplomatic service, attending the Congress of Vienna, and even accepted a military commission. In 1821 Custine married Léontine de Saint-Simon de Courtomer, an arrangement made by his mother. The Marquis, later to admit his homosexuality and to live openly with a male lover, was genuinely fond of his wife, who was of constant good humour, and they had a son, Enguerrand. During the marriage Custine met and established a romantic relationship with an Englishman, Edward Saint-Barbe, who moved into the house with the couple, and remained his life companion. In 1823, while in the early stages of a second pregnancy, Léontine fell ill and died, aged only twenty.
On 28 October 1824, Custine's life was irrevocably changed. That night, his unconscious body was found in the mud outside of Paris, stripped to the waist, beaten, and robbed. The attack had been carried out by a group of soldiers with one of whom Custine allegedly had attempted to have a sexual encounter. The exact reason for the attack was never proven. Nevertheless, news of the incident quickly spread around France — "From this time on to the end of his life Custine would figure, in the cruel gossip of the day, primarily as France's most distinguished and notorious homosexual." Even though the literary salons, as opposed to the society salons, remained open to Custine, many people who were friendly with him sneered at him behind his back. His diplomatic career was also cut short by this incident. That same year, 1826, several family friends would die, Custine's young son Enguerrand (born 1822), by his late wife, and his mother. In the years after this tragedy, Custine became very pious.
Custine gravitated toward the Romantic movement and spent the next few years writing poetry and novels. Custine wrote one play and purchased a theater to produce it, but the play closed after three performances. None of his literary works received much attention. Heinrich Heine called Custine "un demi-homme des lettres" (a half-man of letters).
In 1835, an extremely attractive Polish count, the twenty-three year old Ignatius Gurowski (1812–1887), moved into Custine and Saint-Barbe's home in the rue de La Rochefoucauld to form a ménage à trois. Wrote Custine: "He has an excellent heart, an original mind, is graciously ignorant of everything, and what settles it all, a charming bearing and countenance."  The capricious Gurowski was not an easy guest, running up debts and seducing both men and women, but appears to have amused the couple. The detailed register of homosexuals, then maintained by the Paris police prefecture, and which termed Custine's inclinations 'frantic', wrote of Gurowski with a comical note of possible despair: "It is hereditary in his family: his father and grandfather were of the same religion." In 1841 Gurowski married a Spanish infanta Isabella Ferdinanda de Bourbon.
Custine died of a stroke in the evening of 25 September 1857.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE