Five bouffant period portraits are framed by the ""small world of the Parisian grand monde"" of the 18th century, and while they have been selected for their remarkable personal interest and are not intended as social history, they cannot help but mirror the age- that splendid century when greed, ambition, libertinage and intellectualism were forceful motives. The five chosen here for their ""independence of character and judgment"" atypical of the times, all born in ""unpropitious"" circumstances, are-an unfrocked nun, a Circassian slave girl, a literary lady's maid, the illegitimate daughter of an influential ""bluestocking"", and an actress who was put to manual labor at a tender age. They are Mme. de Tencin (the mother of Rousseau) who used feminine means to accomplish masculine ends, was the mistress of two Cardinals -- one of them her brother, through whom she fulfilled herself and her calculating ambitions; the second, perhaps most moderate, is Mlle. Aisse, stolen by a soldier as a child, adopted by an old man- an ambassador- who made her his concubine, seduced by a Chevalier who never married her and showed greater solicitude toward their illegitimate child; the third, plain, pockmarked but precocious Mme. Delauney de Stael found the Bastille a happy release from her servitude as a chambermaid, and indulged there her long, over-intellectualized love with a M. de Menil who jilted her; the fourth, Mlle.de Lespinasse, lived, and died, for passion, showed a contempt for money and titles, but ruled several salons and the French Academie only to be devoured by her love for a worthless, faithless man; and finally the actress Mlle. Clairon who distinguished herself by the serious theories she brought to her art and her attempt to remove the stigma from this profession.... For those that remember the earlier, prize-winning Mistress of an Age (Madame de Stael), this again keeps the luster of the century and is distinguished by a probity of scholarship, a keenness of insight, a wit and an elegance of style worthy of its period.