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 19-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 18th 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.
©2012 Francine du Plessix Gray (P)2012 Penguin
trying to see the world with my ears
If you???re looking for Phillipa Gregory or a Georgian bodice ripper in a French setting, keep looking. Because I had enjoyed the author???s excellent but dry bio of Simone Weil, I wondered at a historical novel about well, the queen???s lover. It???s more in the line of an imaginative fictionalized bio or novelized history??? and like the best of these, though all story lines may not have always come from a documentary source, you emerge from the listen feeling like you know the characters better than in traditional bio. It's as much about Marie Antoinette and the times as von Ferson himself.
If you love historical fiction rich in period detail this is for you ??? you???ll get a good picture of things like the extent of the Versailles vermin, human and rodent. She seems to get the larger historical lines interwoven well, and correctly too. Instead of trying for a half-here-half-there, half modern kind of language, she tells the tale in modern English with modern idioms. Interest is added because the story is consistently related from von Fersen (and his sister???s) point of view, keeping you on your toes.
The male narrator seemed to have trouble making bits like prepositional phrases flow ??? but that might be as much due to the writer???s style as is the reading.
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