The Little Balloonist
In her imaginative and lyrical tale, Domm creates a fictional history and heritage for the first female aeronaut, whose true fame and fate were chronicled in her day. When young Sophie Armant’s working-class parents make good their promise to marry her off to the much older Jean-Pierre Blanchard, she is separated from André, the youth who loves her, and whose talents as a healer are remarkable. She sets aside all dreams of marrying her friend and leaves her secluded, impoverished home. On making her first balloon ascent at her husband’s side, she discovers a new kind of love.
Blanchard is quick to take advantage of his lovely wife’s fondness for solo flying – and her popularity with Napoleon Bonaparte. Together they travel throughout France and the expanding empire, Sophie’s fame expanding like Jean-Pierre’s silk gas-filled balloons. Theirs is hardly a secure existence – accidents result in tragedy – but Sophie’s stalwart mother maintains a supportive presence. Her enthusiasm for flying and her skills of observation when aloft are helpful to scientists, who rely on her to aid their understanding of the clouds and what lies above them. Goethe, another of her admirers, becomes a friend and confidant.
By the time Sophie and André are reunited, the Emperor’s affections for her have reached a point of combustion, and her reputation is at risk. The healer, too, has earned fame – and is jealous of the would-be imperious lover who, enamored by her courage, designates her France’s official aeronaute. Sophie chooses a fresh, untried path, and in so doing finds unimagined, earthbound joys.
Light in style, with delightful characterizations and a wealth of period atmosphere, The Little Balloonist is an enchanting, entertaining read.