A most satisfactory fictionizing of the life of Madame de Maintenon which leans lightly on politics and international affairs to concentrate on the girl-to-woman in all the strange twists of her fortunes. Born in prison of bourgeoise family, raised by an aunt with firm Hugenot beliefs, Francoise d'Aubigne was forced to live in the Catholic household of another aunt, who soon placed her in an Ursuline convent, where her intractable spirit caused despair. But a bargain, based on an argument between herself, a Catholic priest and a Hugenot preacher, brought about her conversion; work in Paris, the friendship of the poet Scarron, grotesquely crippled, and marriage (unconsummated) to him brought her to the notice of Villarceaux, Ninon, and Athenais, who became the celebrated -- and infamous --Madame de Montespan. Pregnant, Athenais took Francoise to raise her first child by Louis XIV: more followed; and through Bossuet's orders Francoise was reconciled to stay on to save the King's soul. From the widow of Scarron, she was elevated to Madame de Maintenon when the King recognized her integrity; he persuaded her to be the dame d""atour for the Dauphin and his young Dauphine; she knew his unhappiness during the poisoning scandals in which de Montespan lost face -- and place; and then, when she had insured his return to the Queen, and after the Queen's death in her arms, she became his second wife. She ended her widowed days at St. Cyr, which she had established as a convent school for girls who knew the same miserable, shabby, gentility that had been hers. A sincerely offered view of a famous life, this is not averse to moral values and aware of human -- even if royal -- weaknesses. More than readable recapitulation.