The Women of Versailles

Kate Brown
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?


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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