Although I’m not a fan of novels written by men from a woman’s point of view, Annette Vallon disposed of this prejudice in a few pages. Born into a wealthy bourgeois family during the last days of the Ancien Régime, Annette is an avid reader of novels, particularly the “dangerous” ones by Rousseau and Laclos. She is also an idealist, a perilous mindset in any age. When she meets the poet Wordsworth, on his free-spirited tramp through Europe, she falls—finally, fatally—in love. She bears him a daughter, but France and England are soon at war and will remain so for a generation. The lovers will never marry.
Tipton’s writing is polished and evocative, his settings a perfect form of time travel, but the novel is broken into two “movements.” I enjoyed the second, which deals with Annette’s lonely struggle to survive and raise her daughter, even more. France is undergoing successive spasms of revolutionary violence. Social reforms lead to the Terror, to which she loses her beloved father and brother. With the bloody logic of many later revolutions, the ever-increasing savagery of “purification” leads to Napoleon’s dictatorship and from there to his endless wars.
I don’t know how much of Annette’s counter-revolutionary daring is imagined, but if you like brave, intelligent heroines who aren’t afraid to use a pistol in the defense of suffering humanity, here is one you‘ll never forget.