"A WOMAN, A MAN, AND TWO KINGDOMS: The Story of Madame d'Épinay and the AbbÉ Galiani" by Francis Steegmuller

"A WOMAN, A MAN, AND TWO KINGDOMS: The Story of Madame d'Épinay and the AbbÉ Galiani"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Steegmuller (Silence at Salerno, 1978; the National Book Award-winning Cocteau, 1971) uses his formidable skills and scholarly resources to retrieve from the peripheries of a glittering pre-Revolutionary Parisian cultural circle two unfamiliar voices as characteristic of that favored but doomed world as Diderot, Voltaire, or Rousseau. Though married to a wealthy aristocrat whose infidelities led to their both contracting VD, Mme. d'Épinay was free to pursue her own life. In a 27-year liaison with Melchior Grimm, an Austrian diplomat and man of letters, she found a soul-mate, access to the intellectual life of the Enlightenment, and friendships ranging from Catherine, Empress of Russia, to the AbbÉ Galiani, a Neapolitan diplomat-priest, emissary to Paris, whose wit, vivacity, charm, and wide interests endeared him to French society. Recalled after a political indiscretion to what he considered the boredom of Naples, Galiani corresponded with d'Épinay for 12 years. In the correspondence (some of it included here), they discussed mostly money (she was always impoverished), health (she was also sickly), other people's travels, his many cats, some politics (they both admired royalty), famous friends, and love--including Galiani's abandoned son and the AbbÉ's mistress, who died after giving the clap and another son to the man Galiani had asked to visit her with 12 francs a month in support. A man who described himself as having ""more wit than heart,"" Galiani chided d'Épinay's sentimental excess with the reminder that their correspondence would be published after their deaths and that their friendship would ""go down in history."" Steegmuller conveys his fondness and admiration for the pair and their world (although perhaps they aren't quite as universally interesting as he seems to believe), but he falls into a scholarly style where facts, irrelevant and minor, are supported sometimes with pieces of evidence just because they are there, while obvious pieces of information are given incorrectly (e.g., reporting that Cornwallis was defeated at Yorktown in Pennsylvania).

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1991
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Knopf