An adventuresome debut novel starring William Wordsworth’s true-life mistress recast as a heroine during the Reign of Terror.
Tipton creates a life of intrigue for Annette Vallon, present as a mere footnote in literary history, known primarily as the mother of Wordsworth’s illegitimate daughter Caroline. Raised as a member of the upper bourgeoisie, Annette lived a life of privilege until the Revolution. Annette meets Wordsworth at a fête, where the young poet has been introduced into society to help improve his French. Having walked about the continent, Wordsworth has remained in France to support the noble revolution, though too soon its ideals become compromised by the paranoia of the new republic, and an Englishman is now viewed with suspicion. Nevertheless, Wordsworth and Annette begin an affair built around poetry and a mutual love of the wilds of nature, but soon enough it becomes too dangerous for Wordsworth to stay in France (his friends and associates are outraged by the increasing excesses of Robespierre’s government and are soon targeted). By now Annette is pregnant and staying with her older sister, uneasy about Wordsworth’s dangerous journey back to England but secure that their love is genuine (they perform their own impromptu riverside marriage vows). Caroline is born; Wordsworth is gone; and Annette must move out of the family house into a modest cottage, where Annette’s real adventure begins. Soon she is hiding those in danger of being subjected to the brutality of the revolution, freeing prisoners from jail during the Reign of Terror, performing feats so courageous she becomes a virtual folk hero, known as the Mother of Orleans. Wordsworth finally returns ten years later, but to tell Annette of his impending marriage to an Englishwoman. The romance of the novel is secondary to Tipton’s portrait of Annette as a spirited heroine in a time of desperation and danger. Though the number of great escapes she’s involved in begins to veer into implausibility, Tipton is able to balance the action with the history.
A pleasing literary fancy set against the terrors of the French Revolution.