Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Dancing to the Precipice" by Caroline Moorehead

One bonus of being ill is that I've had tons of time for reading. It's a good thing I went on an Amazon binge a while back, or I would have been bored out of my mind.

The first book I decided to tackle is called Dancing to the Precipice and it's amazing. It's the biography of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, wife of a liberal monarchist during the French Revolution. Over the course of her lifetime, she gave birth to way to many children, fled into exile way too many times, and somehow managed to approach all the sorrows of life with an amazing strength. She was a friend of Napoleon and her mother was one of Marie Antoinette's ladies in waiting. Her children were involved in coups and her husband served as ambassador to Holland.

At one point, Lucie lived in Troy, New York, and befriended Alexander Hamilton. She knew the Rensselaer family and operated a prosperous farm. She was caring and friendly towards the Native Americans her fellow exiles despised.

Lucie grew up amidst the grand salons of Paris, the intellectual hive that contributed to the brilliant works of Voltaire and Diderot. When her domineering grandmother refused to allow her to marry the man her father had chosen for her, she put her foot down, refusing all other offers of marriage until her grandmother relented and allowed her to marry her beloved Frederic. This, despite the fact that she had never actually met Frederic, but that's a minor detail. The women knew how to stick to her guns.

Dancing to the Precipice is an amazing book, well-written, and with enough end-notes to satisfy even the pickiest of chronicle-readers, although I confess I was a bit frustrated by the fact that the end notes are not enumerated in the text (you have to flip to the back, find the sentence, and match it to the bit at the end. A bit of a pain, really. I like traditional numbered end-notes more).

If you happen to share my taste in biographies - namely, books about strong women who embodied the British mantra of Keep Calm and Carry On - then pick it up. You won't regret it.

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