SUNSET OF THE SPLENDID CENTURY by W. H. Lewis
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SUNSET OF THE SPLENDID CENTURY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A previous volume, The Splendid Century (1954), established W. H. Lewis as an authority in the period, but this volume surpasses the earlier one, scholarly and creditable as it was, in interest, penetration, and fascinating detail. This is the brilliant biography of Louis XIV's bastard son, offspring of Madame de Montespan, the crippled Duc de Maine. The child was brought up by Mme. Scarron, later to be known to the world as Madame de Maintenon, and the king's second wife, and in the midst of the incredible intrigues of the court learned early to become a courtier. It was impossible for him to escape envy and defamation, as a pretender to the throne, in a court that rivalled those of the Orient in its gossip, back-biting and slander. The Duc, after Louis' death, was accused of conspiracy with Spain to wrest the throne from Louis XV during the regency. Actually his ambitious wife was deeply involved. Lewis is at great pains to overthrow the calumnies of St. Simon, whose inaccurate memoirs have provided the popular notion of Louis XV's reign. But the end result is not clear. Was the Duc de Maine knave, fool or victim, which latter seems to be Lewis' point of view. But what is not in question is the intimate, fabulous portrait of the period, the nobility, the life in the ancien regime with its amours, its arrogance, its extravagance. To these he adds details about education, etiquette, pageantry, military life, bringing it all into clearest focus. Indeed the life of the Duchesse de Maine, at the Chateau de Sceaux, a life of unceasing pleasure and extravagance, might well have ushered in a revolution. His pen portraits are brilliant and revealing. One has a sense of scholarship, well documented, without being heavy handed. Recommended highly.

Publisher: Morrow- Sloane