Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution

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by Michelle Moran

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The world knows Madame Tussaud as a wax artist extraordinaire . . . but who was this woman who became one of the most famous sculptresses of all time? In these pages, her tumultuous and amazing story comes to life as only Michelle Moran can tell it. The year is 1788, and a revolution is about to begin.
Smart and ambitious, Marie Tussaud has learned…  See more details below


The world knows Madame Tussaud as a wax artist extraordinaire . . . but who was this woman who became one of the most famous sculptresses of all time? In these pages, her tumultuous and amazing story comes to life as only Michelle Moran can tell it. The year is 1788, and a revolution is about to begin.
Smart and ambitious, Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire. From her popular model of the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie’s museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, and even politics. Her customers hail from every walk of life, yet her greatest dream is to attract the attention of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI; their stamp of approval on her work could catapult her and her museum to the fame and riches she desires. After months of anticipation, Marie learns that the royal family is willing to come and see their likenesses. When they finally arrive, the king’s sister is so impressed that she requests Marie’s presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. It is a request Marie knows she cannot refuse—even if it means time away
from her beloved Salon and her increasingly dear friend, Henri Charles.
As Marie gets to know her pupil, Princesse Élisabeth, she also becomes acquainted with the king and queen, who introduce her to the glamorous life at court. From lavish parties with more delicacies than she’s ever seen to rooms filled with candles lit only once before being discarded, Marie steps into a world entirely different from her home on the Boulevard du Temple, where people are selling their teeth in order to put food on the table.
Meanwhile, many resent the vast separation between rich and poor. In salons and cafés across Paris, people like Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Paul Marat, and Maximilien Robespierre are lashing out against the monarchy. Soon, there’s whispered talk of revolution. . . . Will Marie be able to hold on to both the love of her life and her friendship with the royal family as France approaches civil war? And more important, will she be able to fulfill the demands of powerful revolutionaries who ask that she make the death masks of beheaded aristocrats, some of whom she knows?
Spanning five years, from the budding revolution to the Reign of Terror, Madame Tussaud brings us into the world of an incredible heroine whose talent for wax modeling saved her life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

In this deft historical novel, Madame Tussaud (1761-1850) escapes the pages of trivia quizzes to become a real person far more arresting than even her waxwork sculptures. Who among us knew, for instance, that she moved freely through the royal court of Louis XVI, only to become a prisoner of the Reign of Terror? Her head was shaven for guillotining, but she escaped execution, though she was forced to make death masks for prominent victims. Novelist Michelle Moran covers this breathtaking period without losing the thread of its subject's singular story.

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Chapter 1
December 12, 1788

Although it is mid-December and everyone with sense is huddled near a fire, more than two dozen women are pressed together in Rose Bertin’s shop, Le Grand Mogol. They are heating themselves by the handsome bronze lamps, but I do not go inside. These are women of powdered poufs and ermine cloaks, whereas I am a woman of ribbons and wool. So I wait on the street while they shop in the warmth of the queen’s favorite store. I watch from outside as a girl picks out a showy pink hat. It’s too pale for her skin, but her mother nods and Rose Bertin claps her hands eagerly. She will not be so eager when she notices me. I have come here every month for a year with the same request. But this time I am certain Rose will agree, for I am prepared to offer her something that only princes and murderers possess. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.
I stamp my feet on the slick cobblestones of the Rue Saint- Honoré. My breath appears as a white fog in the morning air. This is the harshest winter in memory, and it has come on the heels of a poor summer harvest. Thousands will die in Paris, some of the cold, others of starvation. The king and queen have gifted the city as much firewood as they can spare from Versailles. In thanks, the people have built an obelisk made entirely of snow; it is the only monument they can afford. I look down the street, expecting to see the fish sellers at their carts. But even the merchants have fled the cold, leaving nothing but the stink of the sea behind them.
When the last customer exits Le Grand Mogol, I hurry inside. I shake the rain from my cloak and inhale the warm scent of cinnamon from the fi re. As always, I am in awe of what Rose Bertin has accomplished in such a small space. Wide, gilded mirrors give the impression that the shop is larger than it really is, and the candles flickering from the chandeliers cast a burnished glow across the oil paintings and embroidered settees. It’s like entering a comtesse’s salon, and this is the effect we have tried for in my uncle’s museum. Intimate rooms where the nobility will not feel out of place. Although I could never afford the bonnets on these shelves— let alone the silk dresses of robin’s-egg blue or apple green— I come here to see the new styles so that I can copy them later. After all, that is our exhibition’s greatest attraction. Women who are too poor to travel to Versailles can see the royal family in wax, each of them wearing the latest fashions.
“Madame?” I venture, closing the door behind me.
Rose Bertin turns, and her high- pitched welcome tells me that she expects another woman in ermine. When I emerge from the shadows in wool, her voice drops. “Mademoiselle Grosholtz,” she says, disappointed.
“I gave you my answer last month.” She crosses her arms over her chest. Everything about Rose Bertin is large. Her hips, her hair, the satin bows that cascade down the sides of her dress.

“Then perhaps you’ve changed your mind,” I say quickly. “I know you have the ear of the queen. They say that there’s no one else she trusts more.”
“And you’re not the only one begging favors of me,” she snaps.
“But we’re good patrons.”
“Your uncle bought two dresses from me.”
“We would buy more if business was better.”

This isn’t a lie. In eighteen days I will be twenty-eight, but there is nothing of value I own in this world except the wax figures that I’ve created for my uncle’s exhibition. I am an inexpensive niece to maintain. I don’t ask for any of the embellishments in Le Journal des Dames, or for pricey chemise gowns trimmed in pearls. But if I had the livres, I would spend them in dressing the figures of our museum. There is no need for me to wear gemstones and lace, but our patrons come to the Salon de Cire to see the finery of kings. If I could, I would gather up every silk fan and furbelow in Rose Bertin’s shop, and our Salon would rival her own. But we don’t have that kind of money. We are showmen, only a little better-off than the circus performers who exhibit next door.
“Think of it,” I say eagerly. “I could arrange a special tableau for her visit. An image of the queen sitting in her dressing room. With you by her side. The Queen and Her Minister of Fashion,” I tell her.
Rose’s lips twitch upward. Although Minister of Fashion is an insult the papers use to criticize her influence over Marie Antoinette, it’s not far from the truth, and she knows this. She hesitates. It is one thing to have your name in the papers, but to be immortalized in wax . . . That is something reserved only for royals and criminals, and she is neither.
“So what would you have me say?” she asks slowly.
My heart beats quickly. Even if the queen dislikes what I’ve done— and she won’t, I know she won’t, not when I’ve taken such pains to get the blue of her eyes just right— the fact that she has personally come to see her wax model will change everything. Our exhibition will be included in the finest guidebooks to Paris. We’ll earn a place in every Catalog of Amusements printed in France. But most important, we’ll be associated with Marie Antoinette. Even after all of the scandals that have attached themselves to her name, there is only good business to be had by entertaining Their Majesties.
“Just tell her that you’ve been to the Salon de Cire. You have, haven’t you?”
“Of course.” Rose Bertin is not a woman to miss anything. Even a wax show on the Boulevard du Temple. “It was attractive.” She adds belatedly, “In its way.”
“So tell that to the queen. Tell her I’ve modeled the busts of Voltaire, Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin. Tell her there will be several of her. And you.”
Rose is silent. Then finally, she says, “I’ll see what I can do.”

From the Hardcover edition.

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"Moran is a sprightly and gimlet-eyed writer, so this should be fun—-and a possible breakout." —-Library Journal

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Madame Tussaud 4.3 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 169 reviews.
MadSteampunkery More than 1 year ago
Michelle Moran's historical novel does not disappoint in bringing the history of the French Revolution to your imagination. She did a splendid job doing research to show us the wonders of the 18th century France with all of its beauty which is twisted into a blood thirsty era without making the political aspect too stuffy. Madame Tussaud should bring images of impressible wonders of actors, diplomats, & newly beloved singers. Madame Tussaud's may have been a talented artist, however, her life was much more then a wax exhibit. Dead Bodies from the French Revolution We walk the streets of Boulevard du Temple through the eyes of Madame Marie Grosholtz (maiden name). She is a successful independent woman who helps her uncle, Philippe Curtis, run the Salon de Cire. Madame Grosholtz not only was graced by meeting the royal Family, King Louis the XVI and Marie Antoinette, when they came to visit the Salon de Cire, but she was also requested to be the wax tutor of King Louis's sister, Madame Elizabeth. As events unfold it is revealed that weekly visitors of the Salon, friends of Curtis, in the after hours became major figures of the Anarchy, which was soon known as the Reign of Terror. This is hardly an understatement. Mobs killed many innocent, including women & children, commoners & nobles alike. Soon quick justice came the guillotine was introduced. e-Book Love! During this turbulent time Madame Grosholtz walks a fine line treading that of the royal aristocratic old ways and that of which this revolution is supposed to store to the common people of France. The mob holds power over her. If she denies their request she will be sent to prison or worse, find her head tumbling around after the guillotine slices through the creamy flesh of her neck. Yet, Madame Elizabeth has found a spot in Madame Grosholtz heart where she hopes that she will have mercy on her and her family if Austria armies comes to aid King Louis. Henri Charles was a beautiful addition to the book. His tender relationship and non too subtle hints directed towards Madame Grosholtz had me giggle and blush for the poor woman myself. She was so driven in financial and business gain that she did not see how much this man adored her before it was announced. Dear Henri was also a man who had a solid head on his shoulders and broke up the comprehensive political battle nestled in the pages. Overall, Madame Tussaud was a story that had me enthralled until the end. This book was extremely well written and researched!
Kathy Houlden More than 1 year ago
Wow! This book is now on my top 5 list of all my reads. Very well written. The scene description and character description fully set things. The author gave an awful period in time a very personal feeling. Any fan of historical fiction must read.
nfmgirl More than 1 year ago
This story covers the life of Madame Tussaud through the turbulent years of the French Revolution. We find Madame Tussaud living on the Boulevard du Temple with her mother and "uncle" Curtius (he is really her mother's lover, and like a father to Marie, but as her mother is not capable of legally marrying Curtius, they live together without the benefit of marriage). Curtius is a respected wax sculptor and has taught Marie everything she knows about the craft and business, and they have grabbed the attention of the king and queen, who visit the "salon" (as they call the wax museum) , bringing great excitement to the area and lots of attention and business to the salon in the days following the royal's visit. Marie's three brothers are all members of the Swiss Guard, and sworn to protect the king. Due to line of work that Marie and Curtius are in, the family has varied associations and their home is often host to gatherings of key political figures like Robespierre, Lafayette, Duc d'Orleans (cousin of King Louis XVI), and Marat. Madame Tussaud lives next door to Henri and Jacques Charles, brothers who are scientists and use their home to perform experiments. Henri and Jacques are good friends of the family, but Henri eventually makes it clear to Marie that he is in love with her. His courtship of her and his patience with her while she delays their romance is sweet and touching. The story takes you through the French Revolution, from the grumblings of discontent to the violent clashes and the following "inquisition" reminiscent of the Salem witch trials. Friends turn on friends, neighbors on neighbors. Robespierre releases lists of "enemies" of the revolution, most of which initially are royals. People who make it on the list are targeted for arrest and often execution by guillotine, or are attacked and executed by mobs of supporters of the revolution. Later on, those that make it on the "list" are most often commoners, and in fact during the "Reign of Terror" (as it was called), the commoners suffered worse than anyone. I found it really bizarre, and was totally surprised to learn, that the revolutionaries even adopted new calendars, new methods for counting years, new fashions and holidays, and even banned religion altogether, and began imprisoning people for something as minor as failing to wear a cockade to identify them as a "Citizen" (people who supported the revolution). This was liberty? As Michelle states in her "Historical Note" at the end of the book: "In their fanaticism to spread liberty and equality, the revolutionaries created a tyranny." I do not seek out the historical fiction genre. I often find it a little bland for my tastes. However, this being my second Michelle Moran historical fiction book, I have found the author does such a great job of bringing characters to life and recreating the times and events surrounding their lives. Each time I finish one of her books, I'm left hungering for another! Engaging characters, disturbing images, shocking events. Love, family, loss. This book has it all. If you love historical fiction (and, heck, even if you don't!), pick this one up right away!
Coconut_Librarian More than 1 year ago
Type: {Impress Your Friends Read: notable; prize-winner or all around intelligent crowd conversation piece.} Rating: {An Unputdownable: Couldn't eat or sleep until I finished this book.} Why You're Reading It: - You love historical fiction that is more historical than fiction - Well-written informative books are your thing - You like a good page-turner that brings something more to the table than just entertainment What I Thought: While I love Phillipa Greggory, she writes historical fiction for fiction lovers. Madame Tussaud is a historical fiction book for history lovers. What I mean by this is that the amount of research that went into this book was so meticulous that the author even wrote an afterward admitting to the parts that she embellished, which were few (and mostly minimal in significance) for a book of this length. Michelle Moran has written a deft mix of historical accuracy and engaging fiction. By concentrating on Marie Grisholtz (Madame Tussaud), Moran has given us a personal view of the French Revolution. A revolution that, as an American, I knew only the basic overview that we are taught in school. For the second half of the book, my mouth was hanging open as I swiftly turned pages soaking up the information about what happened in France in the late 18th century. Completely drawn into the story, I had to remind myself that I already knew what the ultimate outcome was. However, the outcome that I knew (King XVI and Marie Antoinette die. sorry if that was news to you - if it was I recommend you go back and have a series chat with the schools that educated you) was so very limited in its information that I almost embarrassed now. Perhaps as a child I wouldn't have understood the significance of this revolution, but as an adult I am amazed that this movement is not taught in more depth in American schools (I am singling out America only because I am not privy to the education system in other countries as I am with my own). This is a book that anyone who is interested in monarchies, politics (including modern politics), and democracy. as well as what can happen when a country has a weak leader. I assure you, it can be disastrous - and if the revolution were to happen today, it would have been even more so (look at the turmoil in Northern Africa over the past several months if you don't believe me). And how the very people who are trying to make changes can turn into the very thing that they hate the most.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is set in one of my favorite historical eras but I felt bogged down in the slow plot. I hope others enjoy it.
LadyHester More than 1 year ago
Michelle Moran has written another stunning novel about an important, yet historically overlooked woman. Her lush descriptions allow the reader to glimpse and feel the atmosphere of France during the French Revolution. Loved it!
LMillay More than 1 year ago
Michelle Moran is one of the most enthralling and fascinating authors I have ever read! I was never into the Revolution in France but the way she brought it to life, made me want to learn more about it. Madame Tussaud is one of the bravest and most fascinating woman I've ever read about. I highly recommend this book if you like point of view historical novels.
LynneinWashington More than 1 year ago
As a lover of historical fiction, I was very excited to read this book. This is by far the author's best work. The book is written in the first person, which completely works here! A well-researched, colorful, superbly written book by an amazing author. It simply is perfection!
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Love all her novels!
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sunnyreader484 More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book about Madame Tussaud. I found it very informative and well written. The author researched the life of Marie Grosholtz(maiden name) and what the French had to endure during the Revolution. Some parts of the book are gory but Marie survived because of her ability to make death masks. History really does come to life as you read this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was an easy read. If you ever wondered how people survived the French Revolution this book gives you an insight. Though I read a lot of history books this historical novel gave me an inside picture of how much the people who surrounded the King and Queen were influential in the keeping of traditions for their own profit. I would recommend this book to those interested in the details of the revolution and the history of Madame Tussaud.
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bookreaderNM More than 1 year ago
This book is for history buffs who don't mind all the the gruesome details. I suppose I would recommend it for our book club but first would give a synopsis and they can make up their minds whether they want to read it. I have read a couple of Michelle Moran's books, and some can never be proven to be accurate or not.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a most enjoyable book in it's ability to capture every day life as it must have gone on even through the most tumultuous times. It is more enjoyable, I think, when you know Paris and are interested in European history. The shocking, barbaric indifference of people in dire circumstances & the empathy & sensitivity of others able to maintain their humanity in such an enviornment is exhibited beautifully in Moran's characters. One's stomach turns when Tussand is first presented with a friend's head. She maintains feigned aloofness in to preserve her own and her family's lives. As she leans on the door to accept this war trophy, supporting her own weight which seemingly has increased tenfold and listens to requests to capture in wax the likeness of the still warm head, we too are drained of normal human response so eiry, so surreal the situation. Having known nothing of this woman prior to reading this, I can say she is among history's bravest women heroes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written. Keeps your attention but should have been longer, incorporating the rest of the story into the book, not leaving it for end notes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book! I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this for book report in my AP European history class and it definitely helped me understand the French Revolution much more thoroughly than in class. All the historical events are precisely accurate. Moran made it a gripping tale wanting you to know what would happen next. I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about the revolution quickly. I couldn't put the book down! Well done, Moran. :)
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