A fascinating, if disjointed, hagiography of six women often overlooked by the history books despite their behind-the-scenes involvement in the cultural affairs and politics of Revolutionary France.
Moore (Maharinis, 2005, etc.) paints an absorbing portrait of a half-dozen viragos. Each would benefit from an in-depth individual biography: sans-culotte radical Pauline Léon; courtesan turned “fatal beauty of the revolution” Théroigne de Méricourt; Thérésia de Fontenay, lover of one of the men who brought down Robespierre; Juliette Récamier, who survived the Revolution to run an influential early-19th-century salon; and Manon Roland, a republican who fell victim to the Reign of Terror. The best known is Germaine de Staël, whose salon served as a political bellwether in the turbulent days leading up to the revolution. Daughter of controversial finance minister Jacques Necker and wife of the Swedish ambassador to France, the well-placed de Staël enlisted the aid of Lafayette and other constitutionalists in 1792 to offer a shrewd plan for smuggling the king and queen out of France. In one of her many miscalculations, Marie-Antoinette “sent a frosty message back saying that there was no very pressing reason for the royal family to leave Paris.” Moore has a habit of offering gossipy, overly detailed digression, but she successfully contextualizes each of her subjects within a cultural framework—no small feat, given the exceedingly complex, rapidly changing social and sexual guidelines governing these women.
The narrative round-robin can be chaotic. Still, an attractive book for those with an interest in women’s history of the period.