The Duty-bound, Duty-straitened, marital career of an aristocratic French lady at the cusp of Napoleon's reign--in a novel...



The Duty-bound, Duty-straitened, marital career of an aristocratic French lady at the cusp of Napoleon's reign--in a novel whose decorous, earnest diction and strenuous, even stagily formal dialogue somehow suit the subject. EugÉnie, of the venerable, royalist de Coucy family, is married at 18 to a man 30 years her senior--the cold (except, to her horror, in bed) Marshal Charles Oudinet, a brewer's son whom Napoleon has elevated to Duc de Reggio. Ever mindful of her obligation to at least pretend devotion, EugÉnie will not discover for years that the qualities she respects in Charles come not from the heart: ""In his public dealings his courtesy and chivalry matched the quality of the de Coucys but as a private individual he lacked the aristocratic sense of the point of honour."" And EugÉnie hews to the Point of Honour, never allowing Charles to know that her tireless nursing and companionship during the terrible campaign in Russia is for the purpose of conceiving a child (to comfort her in their loveless marriage). And Charles will never know that his first son was sired by his young aide-de-camp, Michael LeTellier, during one night of love--although Charles, disliking EugÉnie's warmth toward Michel, and angry that a Prussian countess preferred LeTellier to him, persecutes him (Michel leaves for India). During the calamitous times during and after Napoleon's fall-Elba, the ascension of Louis XVIII, Napoleon's return, Waterloo and Charles X-EugÉnie, though loyal to Napoleon (one glance from the Emperor and she is awash in adoration), becomes Lady of Honour to the Duchesse de Berri. So, through tedious pregnancies and removal from her several children, she acquits herself Honourably. . . while cagy Charles slides out from under his obligations to the Napoleon he was ready to die for. And after Charles' death, when EugÉnie is 40, LeTellier returns, and maybe, at last. . . . Although the prose is a bit stiff in the joints, there is appropriately sober concentration on the political gossip of the times and the rigors of those locked in by ancestrally determined obligations: a historical novel, then, that should call forth respectful, if not enthralled, attention.

Pub Date: April 24, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1981