The Women of Versailles

Written by Kate Brown
Review by jay Dixon

This is a fictional biography of Adélaïde, daughter of Louis XV of France, set in 1745, when Adélaïde was a teenager at Versailles, and 1789, when the Parisian women marched on Versailles and took King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette back to Paris. They allowed Adélaïde and her sister Victoire to go to their second home, and eventually the sisters managed to escape to Italy, avoiding the fate of their nephew and niece-in-law.

How much leeway does an author have when writing a biography, albeit a fictional one? All the main characters are historical people, and many of the events depicted actually happened. But some did not, as the author says in her note. One of the themes of the novel is children and childhood. As part of this, Brown has Adélaïde befriend Madame Pompadour’s daughter, although she admits there is no evidence that Adélaïde ever met the child. She also admits that she changed the home region of a character because she wanted her to smell of lavender. Someone can smell of lavender without coming from Languedoc, and I, personally, object to changing something so fundamental for no real reason.

There are other problems: the occasional use of modern phraseology, for example. Also, the 1745 sections are written in the first person and the 1789 ones in the third person, and in these Adélaïde is referred to as Madame, but it is not explained that they are one and the same. Nor is it explained, even in the author’s note, what happened to Henriette, the sister Adélaïde is close to in the 1745 sections. For interested readers: she died in 1752.

All that said, this is an absorbing novel about a little-known French princess with an interesting personality, set against the background of Versailles with its formal routines and etiquette. A good read for anyone interested in the period.