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Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

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Post by Veronica » Wed June 22nd, 2011, 6:30 am

I think it's time I pick it up. Meanwhile, it looks nice on the shelf. ;)
"Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted"

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Post by Rowan » Mon June 27th, 2011, 12:41 pm

I think that for the most part I tend to tune out the details of any given historical period or event, retaining only the basic details so I don't look like the complete idiot that I am.

I have to say that my eyes were opened to the true brutality and insanity of the French Revolution, upon reading this book. It brought me close to tears on many occasions and gave me a glimpse into the life of a woman who is to be admired a great deal, not only for her unmatched talent but her personal sacrifices made during this turbulent time in France's history.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone - whether you're interested in French history or not - and will add visiting Madame Tussauds in London to my itinerary for 2014.

Very well done Michelle!!!

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Post by TeralynPilgrim » Mon June 27th, 2011, 9:51 pm

Hear, hear! It's Michelle's best work.
A Writer's Journey http://teralynpilgrim.blogspot.com/
Querying Sacred Fire,a novel of the Vestal Virgins of Ancient Rome.

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My review

Post by Miss Moppet » Mon August 8th, 2011, 12:44 am

This novel could equally well have been titled Becoming Madame Tussaud. In 1789 Marie Grosholtz is in her late twenties, an accomplished sculptress helping to run the family business, a waxworks show on the Boulevard du Temple in Paris. It's her business to give the public what they want to see, and she's very good at it. But as the revolution sweeps through France, and events begin to move at a faster and faster pace, what the public wants to see changes almost every day. Can Marie and her family keep up with the whirlwind without getting caught up in it?

Marie is a woman who lives in two worlds. For part of the week she lives with Louis XVI's sister, Madame Elisabeth, at her chateau of Montreuil near Versailles, tutoring her in the art of sculpting wax figures. Then she returns to Paris, where the family salon is filled with the men who will bring about the Revolution: the Duc d'Orleans, Camille Desmoulins, Lafayette, Robespierre. Over the years they will all take their places in her exhibition, while the wax figures of the royal family are exiled from it. The book is written in the present tense, which helps the reader to imagine themselves in a moment when counter-revolution seemed like a real possibility, when no-one could be sure whether royalism or revolution would prevail.

Marie's personal sympathies, as the Historical Note at the end of the book explains, are unclear, and I didn't really feel that reading this book enlightened me as to whose side, if any, she was on. At times she seems sympathetic to the royal family, at other times to the revolutionary ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality (which tragically were so poorly served in the years after 1789) and on occasion she doesn't seem to care about anything except her business. The result was a central character who seemed inconsistent rather than complex. Perhaps it's appropriate to Madame Tussaud's profession that she herself remains inscrutable, at least to me.

My favourite character by far: Rose Bertin, Marie Antoinette's dressmaker and stylist. Every scene with her sparkles.
I reach Rose Bertin's shop and stand in front of the window. She's showing a long chemise gown with a black and white cockade pinned to the white ribbon at its waist. My God, does she want to be driven out of business? Black is the queen's color, the color of the Hapsburgs, and white is the color of the Bourbons! I open the door and step inside. A group of well-dressed women are at the counter purchasing similar black and white cockades. None of them are wearing powder in their hair. But their gowns are fine, and their gloves are of good leather. So this is how the nobility will show its discontent.

I wait until the crowd has cleared before saying, "An interesting window display."

"That's what my customers want," Rose replies. She's wearing a yellow gown with a black cockade on her breast. The queen would be proud.

"So does this mean you're on the side of the nobility?"

"It means I'm on the side that pays the bills. And right now, aristocrats are the only ones with any money. But I'm no fool." She takes me into her workshop, where two dozen women are sitting at separate tables. Their heads bob up and down in greeting, but they don't stop sewing. "Show Citizeness Grosholtz what you're doing, Annette."

A young woman holds up a white muslin cap edged with a beautiful tricolor ribbon. "A bonnet à la Nation," she says.

We go on to the next desk, and Rose gestures for the second woman to show us what she's doing.

"A necklace." The girls holds up a long golden chain. From the end of it dangles a smooth gray stone with the word Liberté written in diamonds.

"That's a rock from the Bastille," Rose explains. "So you see? I am ready for anything."
Rose has the intelligence to realise that "fashion is power" - even when "fashion" is a colour-coded cockade - and her dialogue perfectly blends loyalty and affection to her patron, relish in her own success and hard-headed survival instinct: "You run a show," she tells Marie. "How do you sell a foreign queen to a people determined to believe the worst? I have tried myself. And failed."

By contrast, Madame Elisabeth seems softened - she was as devout and charitable as described, but also more right-wing than Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, so much so they came to avoid discussing politics with her. Of the revolutionary leaders, Robespierre in particular comes to chilling life, his penny-pinching in the midst of plenty a parallel to his closed but brilliant mind.

Eighteenth-century France is my favourite period and one I have had the opportunity to explore over twenty years as a student, researcher, curator and teacher. The disadvantage of reading a novel with a setting you know well is that you always find a lot to query, and Madame Tussaud was no exception. While it was clear that a lot of research had gone into the book, some things left me puzzled. Madame Elisabeth's carriage seems to drive into the Marble Courtyard at Versailles, although it couldn't - there were steps up to the courtyard, with no ramp for carriages. The statue of Amalthea which decorated Marie Antoinette's dairy at the Chateau de Rambouillet appears here in her dairy at the Petit Trianon. And some basic genealogical errors have slipped through. In chapter 3, Rose Bertin, who would know better, refers to Louis XV as Marie Antoinette's father-in-law. He was actually the grandfather of her husband, Louis XVI - as Marie seems to know in chapter 34, when she refers to "the money he [Louis XVI] inherited from his grandfather, who inherited it from his father, Louis XIV." However, she's still mixed up about the royal family tree: Louis XV was the great-grandson of Louis XIV.

On the plus side, I came across numerous fascinating tidbits to follow up on. For example, the model of Marie Antoinette in the Salon de Cire wears a modest shift for the Queen's visit - which is changed for a see-through nightie for the benefit of the general public. If true, that is a very interesting example of how Marie Antoinette's image was sold and sexualised in the crucial years before the Revolution. This book really made me think about waxworks, about how important they were in an era before photography, and about how remarkable it is that Madame Tussaud's exhibition has survived and flourished to the present day. Images of royalty, politicians and celebrities are everywhere, but her wax figures continue to be a huge tourist draw, holding up a double-sided mirror to contemporary society and to history.

I would particularly recommend Madame Tussaud to readers new to the French Revolution - it's an accessible, easy read backed up with a lot of supporting material. In addition to a comprehensive Historical Note, there's a timeline, a map of Paris in 1789, a list of characters, an account of what happened to the major characters after the Revolution, a glossary and even an historic 1838 daguerrotype of the Boulevard du Temple, Marie's home for many years. All these extras make Madame Tussaud a package as luxurious as anything Rose Bertin ever wrapped up for her customers.

I borrowed my copy of Madame Tussaud from the library.

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Post by Misfit » Mon August 8th, 2011, 1:44 am

Thanks Moppet.
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Post by Michy » Mon August 8th, 2011, 5:13 pm

I've always considered black-and-white -- particularly in clothing -- to be somewhat French. Can't tell you why, unless it's something I read somewhere once. Is it true, and is this perhaps where it started?

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Post by Miss Moppet » Tue August 9th, 2011, 12:42 am

[quote=""Michy""]I've always considered black-and-white -- particularly in clothing -- to be somewhat French. Can't tell you why, unless it's something I read somewhere once. Is it true, and is this perhaps where it started?[/quote]

I've never heard that but it could be true! I think a lot of the fashion information was researched from Caroline Weber's Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, which is mentioned in the author's note. That book is on my TBR list so if I find out any more I'll let you know!

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