The Women of Chateau Lafayette

Written by Stephanie Dray
Review by Sarah Johnson

This ambitious saga follows three distinctive women across 150 years and four different wars: the American and French Revolutions and World Wars I and II. Each would have been impressive on its own, but braided together, they create a multifaceted anthem of Franco-American relations and feminine courage. The tales are united across time by a common theme – the tireless pursuit of liberty – and a special place which comes to symbolize it: the Chateau de Chavaniac, a large manor house in the Auvergne region of central France where the Marquis de Lafayette was born.

Marthe Simone had grown up at the orphanage at Chavaniac, and now, in 1940, she teaches the children recuperating from illness at the preventorium there. A talented artist, she accepts a commission to paint portraits of the chateau’s best-known mistress, Adrienne Lafayette, since the Vichy regime may find the 18th-century marquise less objectionable than her famous husband. As times grow darker, and Marthe’s interpersonal relationships shift in surprising ways, she must decide what risks to take, and who to trust.

In July 1914, colorful American socialite Beatrice Chanler debates separating from her estranged millionaire husband as war erupts in Europe. A caring mother who’s aghast at seeing wounded children while traveling through Amiens, Beatrice determines to back the war effort despite President Wilson’s declaration of neutrality. Over a century earlier, Adrienne de Noailles, only a teenager when she marries Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, makes innumerable sacrifices to support her husband while he fights for the American colonists, but her husband’s principles imperil the couple as tides turn during their country’s own revolution.

Based on original research, as explained in the wonderful author’s note, this novel provides satisfying, deep immersion into all three timelines. All three heroines (two are real, one fictional) feel dimensionally real, and their actions are truly inspiring.