PASSIONS AND POLITICS: A Biography of Versailles by Joseph Barry

PASSIONS AND POLITICS: A Biography of Versailles

Email this review


Essentially a boudoir history of the French monarchs of the 17th and 18th centuries, this narrative offers, in descending order of magnitude, a tableau of court life, a survey of domestic and foreign policies, a sketchy outline of the growth of Versailles, and background references to social and economic developments of the period. It was Louis XIII who arranged ""the womanless birth"" of Versailles as a modest chateau listed among his menus plaisirs; the long reign of his successor forms the book's centerpiece; then comes LoUis XVI, proprietor of the Deer Park; Marie Antoinette's follies are economically chronicled. Barry has no talent for either criticism or description of art and architecture. He reviews the life of the admirable gardener LeNotre at length, for example, but scarcely gives a sense of his work, and even less a grasp of the work of designers and painters. The writing is undistinguished compared with that of other popular studies like Sanche deGramont's Epitaph for Kings (1968); however, Barry has industriously digested a formidable range of memoirs and put together his extracts very readably. The careers (as opposed to the work) of Moliere, Racine, Voltaire, and Diderot in particular are freshly rendered; so are events like the death of the Sun King's grand-daughter-in-law Marie Adelaide, and a meeting between Peter the Great and Madame de Maintenon. Altogether an agreeable if not enlightening effort.

Pub Date: March 24th, 1972
Publisher: Doubleday