Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mistress of the Revolution - Catherine Delors

mistress of the revolution
catherine delors
c. 2008
451 pages
completed 4/13/2010

read for: year of the historical challenge, reading western europe challenge

*may contain spoilers*

I read in the papers this morning that the corpses of the late King and Queen of France, by order of their brother, the restored Louis the Eighteenth, were exhumed from their graves in the former graveyard of La Madeleine, which has since become a private garden.

Now living in London in 1815, Gabrielle de Montserrat, formerly a baroness of France, writes her memoirs. She tells of her learning the heartaches of first love between an aristocrat and a commoner, a forced marriage at fifteen to an aging and abusive baron, and finally the desperation of being a widowed mother at seventeen with a family who refuses to take her and her daughter back into their home. As her only other option was taking the veil and joining a convent, Gabrielle takes her daughter to Paris where she enters the world of Marie-Antoinette. At first life is good for Gabrielle, she is befriended and educated and happy, but as revolution approaches her life is soon in danger and her only hope is the intervention of someone from her past.

I will be the first to admit that most of my knowledge of the French Revolution comes from the musical version of Les Miserables, which let's be for real is not even about the French Revolution (as it's about the June Rebellion of 1832). The rest of what I know is just white knowledge. Oh, and also how the French Revolution was a major factor in the development of political parties in the United States government. So I cannot really comment on the history of this novel (except to say this is probably the first time I'd ever read, heard, or seen Robespierre portrayed in anything remotely resembling a positive light), and as such I am just going to assume that everything was accurate, or if it wasn't there was an artistic reason or interpretation for being inaccurate, and comment only on the story itself.

I have read some comments regarding the main character of Gabrielle that complained that she was somewhat inconsistent and unpredictable, that sometimes she was fragile and helpless and other times she was tough as nails. And while I agree that her personality was a bit contradictory at times, I didn't find any cause for complaint about that. I find that most people are often contradictory. Everyone has faults, everyone is fallible, and a person's nature is often contingent on circumstances. Also, she arrived in Paris at seventeen already a widow and mother. What seventeen year old really has them self together enough to have a completely steadfast, unfaltering personality? I kind of felt bad for Gabrielle. She never quite fit in anywhere. She was too wild and unrestrained for life on her brother's and then her husband's country estates (like when she taught herself to ride a horse astride or wanted to re-befriend her commoner childhood playmate), and was too modest and thoughtful for aristocratic life in Paris and at court. While she managed to move well in Paris society with a few somewhat fickle friends, I was glad they weren't the only people there and she was able to find some friends who could be truly devoted to her and who she could be truly devoted to in return, people like the Duchess, and Manon, and even Lauzun.

The historical details, obviously an important part of the story, I though were well integrated into the story. The descriptions never got too textbook-like or stopped the action and flow of the story, which is something that can really detract from a story.

I do have one criticism, and that is it would have been nice if there could have been one major male character in Gabrielle's life who did not turn out to be abusive in some way. The Marquis and the Baron were just horrible. Villers was great at first, being extremely gentle and kind and patient, but he kind of went crazy as the Revolution grew, and then even Pierre-Andre who was supposed to be Gabrielle's great love had some violent tendencies. I can't believe that every man in France possessed that streak of cruelty. Despite that one complaint, I was still thoroughly entertained while reading this.



Catherine Delors said...

Thanks for a great review, Veronica! I am truly happy you enjoyed the novel.

Veronica said...

Catherine, thanks for stopping by my blog! I really enjoyed this novel and am looking forward to what else you have in store for us.

Miss Moppet said...

This was my April read for Year of the Historical too - glad you also enjoyed it!

Veronica said...

Miss Moppet, I did think it was a great read. I stopped by your blog and checked out your review and your interview with the author. Both were excellent!