Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dancing to the Precipice

There is a new biography about Marie-Antoinette's irrepressible and highly opinionated Irish lady-in-waiting, Lucie Dillon. According to The Independent:

Lucie de la Tour du Pin led an interesting life. Born to an aristocratic family in Paris in 1770, she saw many of her friends and family guillotined, but managed to escape the Terror with her husband and flee to America, where she forgot her aristocratic ways, learnt to milk cows and became a farmer.

After another brief sojourn in France, she sought refuge in England, and then returned to France when her husband, a career soldier-turned-not particularly diplomatic diplomat, was granted a post under Napoleon. When Napoleon fell, she went into exile with her husband again, this time in Italy, where she wrote her memoirs, which didn't see the light of day until 1907, when her great-grandson published them. She was as great a survivor as Talleyrand – whom she knew, of course. Actually, she knew everyone, from Marie Antoinette to Chateaubriand to the Duke of Wellington.

Caroline Moorhead's affection and admiration for Lucie come across strongly in her biography, and there was much to admire: Lucie was clever, clear-sighted, courageous and survived the buffets of fortune with coolness and good humour. Liberal in politics, aristocratic in temperament and outspoken by nature, she raised the hackles of both royalists and Jacobins. Born to wealth, she died, aged 83, in straitened circumstances. A loving wife and mother, she saw five of her six children die (her son Humbert was killed at 26 in a foolish and entirely avoidable duel).

As well as a portrait of a remarkable woman, this is also a portrait of an age of transition, when the ancien régime gave way to the beginnings of the modern age.

It's not uncommon to enjoy a novel and want to read more novels by that author; it's less common to think the same about a biography, but after reading Dancing to the Precipice, I definitely want to read more biographies by Moorhead.

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5 comments:

Julygirl said...

A new and interesting character to learn about in the cast of fascinating people connected to the 'ancien regime'.

Tristan Robin Blakeman said...

sounds fascinating!
I can't imagine having to escape from a country twice!
I had planned to read this book after the review in Time Magazine (In brief, young Madame de La Tour du Pin had a lot to lose —and by the time she was 24, fleeing for her life to America, she had lost most of it. What she never lost was the sort of aristocratic attitude that kings cannot give and revolutionaries cannot take away.) But with your recommendation, now I'll make a special effort to do so!

elena maria vidal said...

She was a fascinating character!

The North Coast said...

The biography could not possibly be any a better read than the lady's memoirs, which I possess a copy of. The Folio Society produced a beautiful edition of the Memoirs of Mme. de la Tour du Pin back in the 80s, and the woman's intelligence, heart, and talent really come across. Lucie was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and possessed wealth and rank. She could not have imagined the life of an American farm wife- until she lived it. She accepted her misfortunes and made them into opportunities, and succeeded wonderfully-a great woman.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, NC, I have the Folio edition and it is wonderful!