The Queen's Lover: A Novel

( 22 )


A “deeply intelligent” and “spellbinding” historical novel of Marie Antoinette on the eve of the French Revolution (The Washington Post)

Francine du Plessix Gray’s beautifully realized historical novel reveals the untold love story between Swedish aristocrat Count Axel von Fersen and Marie Antoinette. The romance begins at a masquerade ball in Paris in 1774, when the dashing nobleman first meets the mesmerizing nineteen-year-old dauphine, wife of the reclusive prince who will ...

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The Queen's Lover: A Novel

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A “deeply intelligent” and “spellbinding” historical novel of Marie Antoinette on the eve of the French Revolution (The Washington Post)

Francine du Plessix Gray’s beautifully realized historical novel reveals the untold love story between Swedish aristocrat Count Axel von Fersen and Marie Antoinette. The romance begins at a masquerade ball in Paris in 1774, when the dashing nobleman first meets the mesmerizing nineteen-year-old dauphine, wife of the reclusive prince who will soon become Louis XVI. This electric encounter launches a love affair that will span the course of the French Revolution.

As their relationship deepens, Fersen becomes a devoted companion to the entire royal family. Roaming the halls of Versailles and visiting the private haven of Le Petit Trianon, he discovers the deepest secrets of the court, even learning the startling erotic details of Marie Antoinette’s marriage to Louis XVI. But his new intimacy with Marie Antoinette and her family is disrupted when the events of the American Revolution tear Fersen away. Moved by the cause, he joins French troops in the fight for American independence.

He returns to find France on the brink of disintegration. After the Revolution of 1789 the royal family is moved from Versailles to the Tuileries. Fersen devises an escape for the family and their young children (Marie-Thérèse and the dauphin—whom many suspect is in fact Fersen’s son). The failed attempt leads to a more grueling imprisonment, and the family spends its excruciating final days captive before the king and queen face the guillotine.

Grieving his lost love in his native Sweden, Fersen begins to sense the effects of the French Revolution in his homeland. Royalists are now targets, and the sensuous aristocratic world of his youth is fast vanishing. Fersen is incapable of realizing that centuries of tradition have disappeared, and he pays dearly for his naïveté, losing his life at the hands of a savage mob that views him as a pivotal member of the ruling class.

Scion of Sweden’s most esteemed nobility, Fersen came to be seen as an enemy of the country he loved. His fate is symbolic of the violent speed with which the events of the eighteenth century transformed European culture. Expertly researched and deeply imagined, The Queen’s Lover is a fresh vision of the French Revolution and the French royal family as told through the love story that was at its center.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Du Plessix Gray, who was a finalist for a Pulitzer for 1998’s At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life, delivers a French Revolution–era tale of love, treachery, and death, reminiscent of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. This well-researched historical follows Count Axel von Fersen, a Swedish nobleman, as he meets a young Marie Antoinette, falls in love, is swept away to war in America, and returns to the Continent to discover the patrician world he once knew—and those he loved within it—facing imminent ruin. Structured as the memoirs of the late von Fersen, as compiled (with occasional supplementary chapters) by his sister Sophie, the drama of the story is mediated (and slightly diminished) by the form. However, the emotional tumult of the count’s strained affair with Marie Antoinette, as well as the cultural unrest in America, Sweden, and France, are nevertheless bold and moving. Fans of history—both true and fictional—will revel in du Plessix Gray’s vivid evocation of turbulent times, though readers accustomed to in-the-moment action may lament the narrative remove of the faux memoir. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (June 18)
From the Publisher
A Washington Post 2012 Notable Work of Fiction

Deeply intelligent…spellbinding… If you liked Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette or Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall — if you admired Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s close lens in The General in His Labyrinth — you will be richly rewarded by du Plessix Gray’s amalgam of history and drama. Read it for its insights on Versailles; read it for its eye-opening glimpses into an equally venal Stockholm. But read it, when all is said and done, for its heartbreakingly wistful romance."—Marie Arana, The Washington Post

“The voice of history rises up out of the pages of [this] persuasive new novel. [A] lively, incredibly readable, definitely R-rated version of the life and death of Marie Antoinette.” – Alan Cheuse, NPR

“Ms. Gray has created fully developed, flawed and complex characters in a way that would probably not have been possible within the confines of biography.  [She] conjures up a world she knows well, in riveting detail. [The Queen’s Lover is] a feat of research and imagination.”—Moira Hodgson, The Wall Street Journal

“Don’t remember anything about the French Revolution from high school? This is one of those books where you’ll learn – or relearn – history effortlessly, as du Plessix Gray spins the affair of Marie Antoinette and a Swedish count into riveting drama.” – Entertainment Weekly

“[A] triumph of scholarship and storytelling... a remarkable book.”Daily Beast

“Set against the backdrop of royal opulence and revolution, du Plessix Gray’s richly detailed chronicle of love and loss provides startling insight into the complex and tragic inner life of the iconic and controversial French queen Marie Antoinette.”   
—Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War

“The story of the strange, then sad, then finally tragic life of Marie Antoinette has been told many times, but never with more humane feeling and historical point than Francine du Plessix Gray does in her new novel. Seen from the startling point of view of the Queen’s Swedish lover, Count Axel von Fersen, The Queen’s Lover makes a familiar story newly poignant, and, without ever being pedantic, places that story in a broader context of European politics, too often missed.”      
—Adam Gopnik, author of Paris to the Moon

The Queen’s Lover is a thrilling book. It has everything—suspense, intrigue, love, luxury, tragedy, and romantic and familial love. It tells a familiar story from a new point of view.”
—Edmund White, author of Jack Holmes and His Friend

“In The Queen’s Lover, Francine du Plessix Gray brings her peerless narrative gifts to bear on one of history’s all-time greatest love stories: the secret romance between Marie Antoinette and Count Axel von Fersen. Set against the backdrop of the French monarchy’s cataclysmic fall, the affair between the doomed queen and the dashing Swede is at once an achingly tender tale of two lovers and a tragic story of unspeakably brutal, broad-based societal change. With a historian’s eye for evocative contextual detail and a novelist’s ear for the lyricism of ‘le grand amour,’ Gray weaves an unforgettable portrait of a couple whose lives were transfigured by love . . . and shattered by revolution.”
—Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution 

Library Journal
With her golden hair, luminous skin, and blue eyes, 19-year-old Dauphine Marie Antoinette captivates Swedish aristocrat Count Axel von Fersen at their first meeting, a masquerade ball at the Paris Opera in 1774. This encounter begins a passionate affair between the Swedish nobleman and the wife of the reclusive prince and soon-to-be king of France, Louis XVI. In this lustrous historical novel, Gray (Lovers and Tyrants) combines authentic communications with von Fersen's own incomplete memoir and the memories of von Fersen's adored sister, Sophie. The author has expertly re-created the world of the French royal family, depicting them in print as they once existed in life: lighthearted, calculating, and complex. VERDICT Gray's subtle treatment of her characters allows them to come alive in this creative account of the French royal family and the French Revolution. Essential for fans of historical novels and Gray's other works. [See Prepub Alert, 12/5/11.]—Lisa Block, Emory Univ., Atlanta
Library Journal
This queen is Marie Antoinette, and her lover is Swedish nobleman Count Axel von Fersen. The rigorous and penetrating du Plessix Gray should do for Louis XVI's France what Hillary Mantel did for Henry VIII's England in Wolf Hall, that is, make real art, distinctively her own, of an already fascinating time, place, and cast of characters.
Kirkus Reviews
Du Plessix Gray attempts to fictionalize the love of Marie Antoinette's life, without much success. Axel von Fersen, a Swedish count, first meets the young Austrian princess Marie Antoinette, recently wed to the future king of France, at the Paris Opera. The handsome courtier and the graceful, sensitive dauphine instantly form a lifelong bond. Fersen, a diplomat and soldier, embarks with Lafayette's armies to aid the American colonists in their revolutionary war, and his letters to his beloved sister Sophie detail these adventures. But eventually Fersen, after an exhausting grand tour in the service of Sweden's flamboyant King Gustavus, reunites with Antoinette. The queen's marriage, celibate for years due to a minor sexual dysfunction, is finally consummated and Antoinette is now a mother. As Louis XVI occupies himself with hunting and gluttony, Antoinette and Fersen tryst at her private lodge, Le Petit Trianon, and in secret quarters in the palace of Versailles. Soon, the revolt of the French populace ends this idyll. Fersen attempts to help the king and queen flee the revolution by smuggling the royal family out of Paris. Unfortunately, their escape is aborted, thanks in large part to the naiveté of Louis and the tardiness of Antoinette. As Fersen takes refuge in Belgium, the king and queen are held in progressively more restrictive settings until they are condemned to die. Although this is an absorbing and vivid exposé of the many missteps that led to the downfall of Louis and a sympathetic portrayal of the young queen and her noble endurance of the sadistic treatment that preceded her execution, it is not a novel. The narration, shared by Sophie and Fersen, hews too slavishly to events documented by contemporaneous accounts. All is summary; there are virtually no scenes imagining the characters' lives; they never transcend their historically verifiable roles. Not even the last section, a grim recitation of Sweden's own anti-royalist upheavals (leading to Fersen's slaughter by an angry mob), realizes its dramatic potential. An accurate but lifeless retelling.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594203374
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/14/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 689,366
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

FRANCINE DU PLESSIX GRAY is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and is the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction, including Simone Weil, At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life, Rage and Fire, Lovers and Tyrants, and Soviet Women. She is most recently the author of the memoir Them: A Memoir of Parents. She lives in Connecticut.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 22 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 4, 2013

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings An interesti

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings

    An interesting take on life behind the scenes in the palace of Louise XVI and Marie Antoinette.  As a reader that limits her historical fiction intake, the "story" must grab me to make me forget that it takes place beyond our current times.  From the summary, I was intrigued by the look at the French side of history, as I often read about the English kings.  The addition of an affair and Marie Antoinette's obvious fame were definitely points to pull me in.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2012

    I very much enjoyed this book. It was a beautifully written love

    I very much enjoyed this book. It was a beautifully written love story.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2014

    I loved this book! Couldn't put it down. I loved the way it was

    I loved this book! Couldn't put it down. I loved the way it was written, and I loved the history told as well. I am surprised that a few readers were disappointed. I thought it was amazing. I am a female, and I gave the book to a mail friend. He loved the book as well and read it in just a few days.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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