Prince Clemens Metternich, the impeccable Austrian diplomat who was the architect of the Congress of Vienna, was seldom...



Prince Clemens Metternich, the impeccable Austrian diplomat who was the architect of the Congress of Vienna, was seldom without a chere amie. Among his many witty and beautiful mistresses, none was more dazzling than Wilhelmine, the Duchess of Sagan, eldest of the four princesses of Courland and one of the richest women in Europe. They became lovers just as the Third Coalition against Napoleon was forming in 1813 and the affair was played out against a spectacular backdrop which included the defeat of the Grande Armee, the exile of Napoleon to Elba and the historic pourparler called to redraw the map of Europe. McGuigan's highly romantic and sentimental account of the liaison is interwoven with the complex details of diplomatic intrigues and negotiations which Metternich masterminded. Everyone who was anyone was in Vienna for the Peace Festival which was to mark the beginning of a new era: Castlereagh, cold and cynical, Alexander I, the fuddled and dreamy Tsar of Russia, the publicist Gentz, loquacious and ever-watchful, Talleyrand, the representative of a defeated power, crafty and charming, and no less than two hundred and fifteen heads of princely families with their ministers, aides, secretaries, valets, chefs and the bejeweled ladles who presided in the boudoirs and salons and at the countless receptions, balls, hunting parties and theatricals. The political work of the Congress was inseparable from the partying and McGuigan's chief virtue as a historian is her ability to capture the swirl of events, gossip, rumor and horse-trading at the Congress. Metternich who has gone down in history as the gendarme of Europe, is here pitted against Napoleon--the suave peacemaker versus the brash militarist, the courtly aristocrat who ""not only loved but liked women"" versus the little parvenu who once defined love as ""an exchange of perspirations."" But the Duchess of Sagan is the true heroine here. McGuigan depicts her as--for her day and age--an emancipated, independent woman who took many lovers because society denied her a purpose or a vocation despite an abiding and sophisticated talent for politics. She spurned Metternich and he never got over it, according to McGuigan who does sometimes allow her heart to run away with her head. A lavish tableau of one of the great, glittering moments in the history of Europe.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 1975


Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1975