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The Women of Versailles

Kate Brown
ISBN-13: 
9781781723777
Publication Date: 
Thursday, May 11, 2017
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‘Dark and rich, The Women of Versailles is filled with political intrigue, sexual awakening, and the roots of revolution.’ – Peggy Riley

‘[The Women of Versailles] demonstrates the power of great storytelling and excellent writing to transcend almost any barrier: of time, of nationality, of social setting and constraints.’ – Isabel Costello, The Literary Sofa

 

In The Women of Versailles, the narrative slips between the decadent world of Versailles during the reign of Louis XV and the day, just before the French revolution in 1789, that Versailles is stormed by the women of Paris and Louis XVI is forced to move the court to the Tuileries. At the centre of this story is Adélaïde, who struggles with her budding sexuality and a desire for freedom of expression, both of which conflict with the expectations of the restrictive court.

Adélaïde envies her brother, is bored with her sister and, when Madame de Pompadour, a bourgeoise, comes to court as her father’s mistress, she is smitten, with dangerous results. Adélaïde pushes against the confines of the court, blind to the difference between a mistress and princess, with tragic results.

Forty-four years later, under the looming shadow of the revolution, what has happened to the hopes of a young girl and the doomed regime in which she grew up?

REVIEWS

Review by Julie Kirk, Mslexia

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

“The fog was still thick, cocooning Versailles, a place that had no need of anywhere else.’ And it’s this sense of the claustrophobia of privilege that pervades Kate Brown’s vivid imagining of the court of Louis XV as seen through the eyes of his frustrated teenage daughter Adélaïde.

Adélaïde, like everyone else – including the King – who lives and parades within the palace, is bound by the restrictive etiquette of courtly life, where everyone is trapped by convention and watched over by everyone else. Yet Brown is keen to draw attention to the additional layers of restriction felt by its women.

From Adélaïde’s perspective we view the expectations placed on women’s bodies, the dangers of pregnancy, the demand for an heir, the duties and politics involved of being the King’s mistress and the necessary compliance of the queen. And we feel Adélaïde’s desire to rebel against the constant policing of female bodies via their activities and clothing.

But this is a confusing time for our heroine who is waking up to inequalities between the sexes, while becoming aware of her own sexuality, and the appeal of one man in particular. Their interactions, including a memorable sword-fighting scene (not a euphemism!) became some of my favourite scenes from the novel.

The narrative switches between Adélaïde’s first person point of view and occasional, shorter third person sections, which leap forward to when she, and the palace, are witness to the opening salvos of the French Revolution. In one of these latter-day sections, we learn a key piece of information about her character which becomes a lens through which we view the young Adélaïde. We know more about the direction her life is heading than she does and, like her, we too experience the frustrations of her position!

Ultimately The Women of Versailles is good old-fashioned story-telling wrapped around a lucid insight into the external restrictions imposed on us by society, and the restrictions we impose on ourselves.

Review by Isabel Costello, The Literary Sofa

Friday, June 30, 2017

I responded strongly to this book on many levels, not just in its own right as a work of fiction, but because it demonstrates the power of great storytelling and excellent writing to transcend almost any barrier: of time, of nationality, of social setting and constraints.

This debut, whilst appearing vivid and faithful to the era, is extraordinarily timeless in its portrayal of the turmoil and confusion of adolescence. Adélaïde is a fantastic, emotionally engaging character, both rebellious and vulnerable, kicking against the expectations of women in a way that is still horribly relevant today. Yet Brown does not fall into the trap of artificially super-imposing a 21st century feminist mindset; that is contrivance, whereas a genuinely universal quality is not. The theme of sexual awakening is handled with admirable candor and directness; I like it that nothing in this story is diluted, whether the force of female sexuality (even now often portrayed as less urgent than, or existing to serve, men’s) or the moral ambiguity of some of Adélaïde’s behaviour, everything related in her distinctive and unfiltered voice.  It adds up to a sexy, poignant and highly compelling account of a complex young woman, both unique and strangely familiar.

I want to read more fiction that breaks away from tired preconceptions of what women characters and readers are supposed to be and to want – congratulations to Kate Brown and to small Welsh publisher Seren for doing just that.

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