From the Publisher
“The Last Rendezvous is a beautiful, tragic romance about a real-life leading lady: Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, the French singer, actress and poet of the early 19th century....French novelist and biographer Plantagenet follows her through a series of failed pregnancies and unsuccessful relationships. Her prose is nearly flawless: elegant, self-assured and filled with a profound sense of longing.”—NPR.org
“A novel of the life—especially the loves—of the 19th-century French actress and poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore…Plantagenet gives us vivid portraits of theatrical and salon life in 19th-century France…Flitting through the pages is a cast of well-known and lesser-known poets and artists, including Hugo and Balzac. Although Plantagenet anchors her narrative in the first-person perspective of Marceline, she alternates chapters between the young, coming-of-age Marceline and the older, more world-weary actress and poet…This is primarily a novel about giving birth—to poems, to the creative life and to tragically doomed children…A passionate rendering of a passionate poet.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Anne Plantagenet’s novel is written with controlled precision and attention to detail…an enthralling narrative of a famous woman who had the audacity to pursue male-dominated professions during one of the most difficult, politically tumultuous periods in the history of France. Researched like a biography, the book exposes Marceline’s innermost thoughts, much like the pages of a diary. The result is a feeling of intimacy, allowing the reader inside the mind of an ardent poet who lived long ago…Fascinating and absorbing, this talented writer’s book is a conscientious expression of her own twenty-first-century attitudes toward the poet; it is educational as well as entertaining.”—ForeWord Magazine
“Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, a 19th-century French Romantic poet and actress whose contemporaries included Hugo, Balzac, and Georges Sand, was a sensation in her time… As Desbordes-Valmore gains public acclaim as a writer and pursues political and charitable interests, she emerges here as a modern, liberated woman. This work, a 2005 award winner in France, brings French history and letters to life. With selected poems.”—Library Journal
“With a poet’s imagery rendered in narrative prose, Anne Plantagenet invites us in to the intimate life of the historic poet, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore. In bold leaps forth and back in time, and in a voice wry, precise, and deliciously sardonic, it’s as if Plantagenet inhabits her, has become her. What a splendid achievement.”—Susan Vreeland, New York Times bestselling author of Hyacinth Blue, The Passion of Artemisia, and Luncheon of the Boating Party
“An extraordinary portrait of an extraordinary woman. Anne Plantagenet captures the heightened, passionate atmosphere of Romanticism in Europe in a novel that is at once vivid and elegant—and profoundly moving.”—Jude Morgan, author of Passion and Symphony
“This is truly a stunning work. Ms. Plantagenet’s insights into the lives of her characters are breathtaking. The writing is clean, crisp, fragile and poignant…The book is absolutely magnificent.”—Diane Haeger, author of The Queen’s Mistake
Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, a 19th-century French Romantic poet and actress whose contemporaries included Hugo, Balzac, and Georges Sand, was a sensation in her time. This fictionalized biography begins in midlife when, married to a younger man, handsome stage actor Prosper Valmore, she commences an obsessive liaison with the homely, imperious Henri de Latouche, a man of letters who helps advance her literary career. Desbordes-Valmore's interior reminiscences, written in the period's overheated style, are a bit hard to relate to, but fascinating flashbacks to the poet's childhood enlighten us as to her character. The young Desbordes-Valmore traveled to the Caribbean and back; as a rising star in the French theater, she supported her family, ruined financially during the Revolution. At the same time, buffeted by the vicissitudes of fame, she conducted affairs and lost illegitimate children to disease. VERDICT As Desbordes-Valmore gains public acclaim as a writer and pursues political and charitable interests, she emerges here as a modern, liberated woman. This work, a 2005 award winner in France, brings French history and letters to life. With selected poems.—Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA
A novel of the life-especially the loves-of the 19th-century French actress and poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore. While Marceline married relatively late-she was in her 30s-she had no compunction about falling in love early and often. She wound up marrying Prosper Valmore, a handsome fellow actor seven years her junior, but when her talent and reputation began to eclipse those of her husband, he didn't take kindly to what he perceived as a threat to his masculine self-image. The great love of Marceline's life, however, was Henri de Latouche, an intellectual and critic. (Marceline's uncle describes him as "an odd man, intelligent, disturbing, imperious, impenetrable.") Ironically, she can't quite get over how physically repulsive he is, yet she remains attracted to the force field of his charismatic presence. The depth of her feeling for Latouche emerges in the adrenalized longing of her fervid Romantic poems, one of which is entitled "The Last Rendezvous." (The novel ends with a short anthology of Marceline's poetry, both in French and in English translations by Louis Simpson.) Plantagenet gives us vivid portraits of theatrical and salon life in 19th-century France, especially in Lyon (a backwater Marceline hated), Rouen (somewhat more acceptable) and Paris (for obvious reasons held up as the ne plus ultra of the bohemian life). Flitting through the pages is a cast of well-known and lesser-known poets and artists, including Hugo and Balzac. Although Plantagenet anchors her narrative in the first-person perspective of Marceline, she alternates chapters between the young, coming-of-age Marceline and the older, more world-weary actress and poet, whose life tends to be defined in part by thetragedy of losing multiple children and searching for love in all the wrong places. This is primarily a novel about giving birth-to poems, to the creative life and to tragically doomed children. A passionate rendering of a passionate poet.
Read an Excerpt
Not far from the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the Childeberte is a big five-story structure inhabited by artists of every shade. Tucked in a corner behind the canvases and hardly bothered by the turpentine fumes, I am able to turn all my attention to my poems. Or so I pretend. But the truth is that for months I have been stopping at my uncle Constant’s studio only briefly on my way to the rue des Saints-Pères.
“My son, your husband, is very obliging. To think that he wears himself out on the stage of the Odéon day after day, poor boy, so that we may live, while you traipse about the streets without the slightest concern for his reputation!” says Anne-Justine. Her voice holds exasperation as well as hatred.
“When a person has a past such as yours,” she went on, “and has managed by a miracle–or by artifice–to marry the foremost actor of the day, one might expect some attempt at discretion. But you are mistaken if you think that I am like Prosper! I hear what people are saying . . .”
I sigh. There are rumors, I am well aware of it, prompted as much by my poetry as by my former career as an actress. My mother-in-law takes them in greedily. She has never accepted that her only son should marry a woman seven years older than himself. And one who, at least while I was still performing, received greater acclaim on the stage. I am untroubled by her words. In the early days of our marriage, Anne-Justine’s attacks hit home and wounded me and Valmore both. Now they barely graze me. Shallow scratches that are quickly erased by Henri’s claw marks.