Saturday, April 19, 2008
Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors
MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION, Catherine Delors, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., $25.95 USD, hardcover, ISBN: 978-0-525-95054-7
After the turbulent years of the French Revolution, an exiled noblewoman reflects on her life. So begins the story of Gabrielle de Montserrat, whose origins in a remote French province do not prepare her for the horrors to come. Abandoned by her overly critical mother, Gabrielle is raised in a convent until she is eleven. She worships her brother the Marquis de Castel, who as her guardian has absolute power over her life. He returns her to her birthplace but his behavior toward Gabrielle is at turns, heartless and disturbing. When she is fifteen, Gabrielle falls in love with a commoner, Pierre-Andre Coffinhal. The differences in their background prohibit a marriage. After the Marquis arranges a marriage with the cruel Baron de Peyre, Gabrielle attempts to elope with Pierre-Andre but the promise of her brother’s retribution forces her to submit to a brutal marriage. Her only comforts are the memories of Pierre-Andre and the birth of her daughter Aimee.
When the Baron dies, Gabrielle learns he has made no provision for his family. Her brother refuses to offer her refuge in their ancestral home. She and Aimee leave for the glittering court of the haughty Queen Marie Antoinette and her decadent husband King Louis XVI. Befriended by the Duchess d’Arpajon and the Chevalier des Huttes, Gabrielle also makes the acquaintance of the Count de Villers. Her impoverished circumstances allow her few options except to become his mistress. Villers is a generous lover but jealously questions Gabrielle’s devotion. While with him in Paris, by chance Gabrielle sees her former lover Pierre-Andre but her status as a kept woman embarrasses her. When the political situation in France degenerates and Villers’ obsession imperils Gabrielle’s life, she faces the greatest trial she has ever known. But now, Pierre-Andre stands in judgment over her at the Revolutionary Tribunal. He despises everything Gabrielle’s status represents and has had years to nurse his feelings of abandonment and betrayal. Humbling herself before him, Gabrielle makes a desperate bid to save her life and find the happiness with Pierre-Andre which eluded her in the past.
Mistress of the Revolution is Catherine Delors' fabulous debut novel. In addition to the fictional characters of Gabrielle and her family, the reader encounters real-life figures including the architects of the French Revolution and the self-indulgent courtiers at Versailles who are doomed to lose their positions and lives when the Revolution sweeps across France. Gabrielle’s naïveté is at times infuriating, but also offers a sobering perspective of the options available to women in pre-Revolutionary France. She assumes that by confessing her love for Pierre-Andre, her brother will be inclined to see to her happiness. But she does not understand how the Marquis’ obsessive affection for her and his prejudices will drive the lovers apart for many years. When she first encounters the Count de Villers, she hopes for the prospect of marriage. But a year later after she becomes his mistress, his unpredictable nature leads her to conclude that it would be better not to become his wife. She is a witness to some of the most violent episodes of the Revolution and faces the prospect of death at intervals. Her determination to become self-reliant often puts her at risk, but her struggle to survive and ensure her daughter’s future is awe-inspiring.