FIRST LADY OF VERSAILLES: Marie Adelaide of Savoy, Dauphine of France by Lucy Norton

FIRST LADY OF VERSAILLES: Marie Adelaide of Savoy, Dauphine of France

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Adelaide of Savoy, an unusually winsome and tactful princess, aged ten, was brought to Versailles in 1696 to marry Louis XIV's grandson, and, more importantly, to amuse the selfish and morbid old king himself: a charming if slight tale. Louis fell for her at once--he may never have loved anyone else so much--and spoiled her for sixteen years until she died, leaving an infant son who became Louis XV. Spoiled or not, she seems to have captured almost every heart at the most ill-natured court in Christendom with her very real good nature, and she proved unexpectedly stalwart when the husband she did not much care for was in political straits. She is kindly recalled in nearly all the memoirs of that obsessively literate age. It is to these that Norton, translator of Saint-Simon, has turned to produce this exceptionally detailed biography, crammed with data on every side of life at Versailles--the plots and the gossip, the fashions and the etiquette, the personalities and the food and the hygiene. Norton excerpts everybody's opinions on everything, from the journal of the spiteful Saint-Simon to the letters of the imperious Madame de SÉvignÉ, and many others. Fascinating stuff but thick going--so many ceremonies, convolutions, and lengthy footnotes that Norton trips herself up now and then, getting a name wrong (Gaspard for Gaston) or giving an explanation twice in three pages. The excess shows signs of being filler in the biography of a figure not really important enough to deserve one. The style, though highly readable, is never so captivating, nor the story so clear, as in Nancy Mitford's The Sun King, which covered, in less detail, the same period and earlier ones as well. For the highly curious who aren't prepared to read Saint-Simon or Madame.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1978
Publisher: Lippincott