…absorbing…documents with stylistic elan and meticulous detail a reeling period of French history, from the ludicrous court of Louis XVI to the Revolution of 1789 and the dictatorship of Napoleon, itself followed by the speedy restoration and deposition of Bourbon kings. Drawing on de la Tour du Pin's memoirs and previously unseen family papers, the author narrates this wrenching history mostly from the perspective of its central figure, who was an "eyewitness to an era."
The New York Times
Educated to wait on Marie Antoinette, the marquise Lucie de la Tour du Pin (1770-1853) instead precariously survived a devastating revolution, an emperor, two restorations and a republic. Drawing on Lucie's memoirs and those of her contemporaries, Moorehead (Gellhorn) uses Lucie's descriptions of both personal events and the ever-changing French political atmosphere to portray the nobility's awkward shifts with each new event and the impact they have on Lucie and her diplomat husband, Fréédric. A woman with both court-honed aristocratic manners and rough farm skills (earned in the Revolution's wake during her rural New York exile), Lucie benefited from passing platonic relationships with Napoleon and Wellington, Talleyrand, and countless salon personalities. Lucie's terror during the anarchy of the Revolution remains palpable in her memoirs centuries later. Moorehead obviously admires Lucie, but she gives a convincing and entertaining portrait of an intelligent, shrewd, unpretentious woman and the turbulent times she lived through and testified to in her memoirs. 16 pages of b&w photos, 19 illus. throughout.
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The exceptional Henriette Lucie Dillon, Marquise de la Tour du Pin Gouvernet (1770-1853) has long deserved a competent biographer, and Moorehead (Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life) does her justice. The marquise's Journal d'une Femme de Cinquante Ans, 1778-1815 is considered one of the best first-person accounts available of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era and is still in print. While Moorehead relies heavily on these memoirs, she also uses additional primary sources to flesh out the nearly 50 years (1815-53) not covered by Lucie's memoirs and places Lucie within the context of an émigré culture that grew out of the radicalization of the French Revolution. Born to the French aristocracy, Lucie was equally comfortable at the opulent court of Versailles and the back country of upstate New York. She and her family were forced to flee France four times during the revolutionary era. Her father and father-in-law lost their heads to the guillotine, she had several miscarriages, and most of her children did not reach adulthood, but through it all she remained resilient, compassionate, and observant. An outstanding choice for general readers.
The sensational story of a woman whose enduring spirit encapsulates one of the most dynamic periods of modern European history. Drawing on a detailed memoir and boxes of letters, historian and biographer Moorehead (Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees, 2005, etc.) re-creates the tumultuous life of Lucie Dillon. Raised by her unhappy and spiteful grandmother, Lucie quickly developed into a resourceful, level-headed girl. These qualities would prove indispensable as she entered adulthood and faced the many dangers and challenges of 18th-century Europe. Still in her teens when she married Frederic de la Tour du Pin, Lucie was thrust into a whirlwind of salons, fashion, gossip and royal etiquette, mingling with the likes of Marie Antoinette, Talleyrand and Lafayette. The young woman earned their adoration and respect as she grew into her role as an elegant hostess and wife. As political tumult grew around her, she was forced to flee France and forge a new identity as an emigre. For the remainder of her days, her intrepid character would see her through the reigns of Robespierre and Napoleon; exiles in America, England, Belgium and Italy; the death of five of her children; and periods of extreme hardship and poverty. Throughout decades of uncertainty, the one enduring element was her husband, with whom she shared nearly 50 years of marriage, and who on his death bed extolled her "bottomless reserves of courage." Moorehead deftly navigates a dizzying cast of characters, locations and events, allowing Lucie's "precise, cool eye" and discerning wit to shine through. Sumptuous account of Revolutionary Europe.