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The Novel MADAME ROYALE

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The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  Elena on Thu Oct 20, 2011 5:03 pm

It is the only novel about her adult life.

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Re: The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  MadameRoyale on Mon Oct 24, 2011 4:51 pm

What I loved most was the honestly and the vivid pictures painted in my mind as I read. Did you visit France often? The settings, both in Madame Royale and Trianon, came across as ones you knew very well, as if you, yourself, were looking back with fond memories on moments spent there.
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Re: The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  Elena on Mon Oct 24, 2011 5:15 pm

That is a lovely way to describe it, my dear. Very Happy I have not been there many times, except for a beautiful summer I spent in the south of France, but the times I was there were memorable and made a deep impression on my mind and heart. flower

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Re: The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  MadameRoyale on Mon Oct 24, 2011 6:54 pm

That connection you had between a place and your mind translated really well into your writing! There is certainly something to be said about having real passion and love for what you do. How different was the research process for Madame Royale from your other novels? Especially about her adult life!
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Re: The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  Elena on Mon Oct 24, 2011 7:11 pm

Thank you, dear Madame Royale! sunny You felt exactly what I want readers to feel when reading my books. I must say that when I am deep into writing a novel the scenes often flash in my mind as if I were watching a movie. All I have to do is find the words to convey what I have seen. flower

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A Review by Catherine Delors

Post  Mata Hari on Sat Nov 12, 2011 11:09 pm

http://blog.catherinedelors.com/madame-royale-a-novel-by-elena-maria-vidal/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+versaillesandmore+%28Versailles+and+more%29

To quote Madame Delors:
The French Restoration (1814-1830) is an era woefully neglected by historical novelists. Fortunately, Elena Maria Vidal helps fill this void with her Madame Royale.

Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte de France, Duchesse d’Angoulême, was the eldest child of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and later the last Queen of France, albeit for a few minutes, until her husband’s abdication on a fateful day of July 1830. For most of her life, she was known simply as Madame Royale.

Vidal gives us a gripping portrait of a woman whose personal destiny is enmeshed with the convulsions of the French Revolution and European history. In the novel, we first meet Thérèse, as we will simply call her, in her English exile, presiding over the shabby court of her uncle, King Louis XVIII. There I must admit to being prejudiced: the setting of the beginning of Vidal’s novel is exactly the same as that of the conclusion of my own Mistress of the Revolution: Hartwell House, an estate in the English countryside. I had not read Madame Royale when I wrote my own novel, and was startled by the coincidence.

The point of view of the novel is that of Thérèse, which is to say informed by her royalist conviction and deeply held Catholic faith. A lesser novelist might have been carried away by her identification with her heroine, and tempted to give us a hagiographic description of the royal family and its supporters. But here we get to see historical characters, flaws and all. We meet King Louis XVIII, who “did not like to discuss conspiracies, since he himself had been involved in so many.” True enough, Louis XVI had no more determined and dangerous enemy than this all too clever brother.

We also meet his Queen, Marie-Josephine de Savoie, no less an enemy to Marie-Antoinette in the glory of her past Versailles days, now a pathetic alcoholic, blurting out inconvenient truths in front of her husband and courtiers, and yet touched by the grace of contrition at the very end of her life. And Vidal’s description of the Comte d’Artois, later King Charles X, is equally accurate: an aging dandy of great intellectual mediocrity, whom even the ordeals of the Revolution could not turn into a statesman.

Thérèse alone lends dignity, and legitimacy, to these surviving Bourbons. Her allegiance to her uncle Louis XVIII silences those who raise questions about the fate of her brother, who may, or may not, have died in the grim embrace of the Temple prison. But this does not quell the demands of her conscience nor her the longings of her heart. She is racked by doubt and never abandons her quest for her lost brother.

We see Thérèse from the inside, and also as her contemporaries perceived her: a handsome, majestic woman, but also one whose demeanor is outwardly aloof, whose voice is hoarse and croaky, maybe from her long silence during her years at the Temple.

Some passages in the novel make an unforgettable impression, in particular Thérèse’s meeting with Jeanne Simon, the widow of the cobbler Simon, who had been appointed “tutor” to Louis XVII at the Temple. One could have expected a hateful description of the old lady, but Vidal, in addition to doing impeccable research, never lets us forget that revolutionaries too are human. In Mère Simon, she shows us an outwardly harsh, but uncannily perceptive woman. She and Thérèse, across the chasm that sets them apart, are united by their love of the lost child.

There are other highlights, in particular Thérèse’s almost nightmarish return to Versailles after the Restoration, when she finds the ghosts of her loved ones haunting the gilded palace of her childhood.

The novel is a work of utmost subtlety, a quality that is nowhere more apparent than in the evocation of Thérèse’s union to her cousin, the Duc d’Angoulême, heir to the throne. Like every marriage, this one is a mystery to outsiders, but we feel Thérèse’s ongoing struggle to breathe life and love into it. Readers looking for romance or lurid bedroom scenes will be disappointed, but I found the complexity of the couple’s relationship entrancing.

“The heart of the novel is the mystery of suffering; not the dramatic agony of martyrdom and death, but the long travail of years amid duties and disappointments, the suffering of living,” writes Elena Maria Vidal. There is no better description of the book.


Last edited by Mata Hari on Sat Nov 12, 2011 11:25 pm; edited 1 time in total

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An interview of Elena Maria Vidal by Catherine Delors

Post  Mata Hari on Sat Nov 12, 2011 11:23 pm

Wonderful pictures, as with all of Madame Delors' posts!

http://blog.catherinedelors.com/an-interview-of-elena-maria-vidal-author-of-madame-royale/

Here is the interview:
CD: Welcome back to Versailles and More, Elena, and thank you for kindly agreeing to discuss your book, Madame Royale, for our readers.

The novel begins during Madame Royale’s exile in England. This works very well from a dramatic standpoint, and selfishly, I was delighted to see your book begin where and when mine ended. What made you choose this starting point, as opposed to, say, Thérèse’s captivity at the Temple as a teenager, or any other part of her all too eventful life?

EMV: Thank you for the invitation, Catherine, and for the wonderful review of my novel. Yes, isn’t it a marvelous coincidence that Mistress of the Revolution ends where Madame Royale begins? Madame Royale opens in 1809, two years after the final scene of my first novel Trianon, when Thérèse is in exile in Courland in the Russian Empire. I thought the English exile interlude made for a calm before the storm of events which would soon overtake the Bourbons. I loved the setting of Hartwell House as well; it placed the characters in surroundings with which many readers are already familiar from reading Jane Austen novels and Regency romances, and watching Masterpiece Theater. Also, I had touched upon Thérèse’s captivity in Trianon. Instead of physically bringing her back to that dark place, I have her revisit it only in her memory.

CD: Before reading your book, I had been puzzled by Madame Royale’s marriage to her cousin the Duc d’Angoulême. The political reasons behind this union are clear, but I found your exploration of his character, and her feelings, particularly insightful. The fact that the union was childless does not mean it was loveless. What is your personal take on this?

EMV: It was a puzzling marriage, Catherine, in more ways than one. Until the recent biography of Thérèse by Professor Susan Nagel (Marie- Thérèse, Child of Terror, Bloomsbury USA, 2008) there was doubt among historians as to whether the marriage of Thérèse and her first cousin Antoine had ever even been consummated. Dr. Nagel told me in an interview that she had seen the medical records and letters which proved that the princess at one time thought she might be pregnant. That would have been around 1816 or 17, almost twenty years into the marriage. We can assume then that the union was indeed consummated at some point.

However, Antoine has been described by some biographers as being “neurasthenic,” an obsolete medical term describing a combination of depression, anxiety, listlessness and hypochondria. It was also used to describe someone suffering from a nervous breakdown. Antoine was a kind man but probably not very passionate or romantic; he may have had trouble with impotence. Nevertheless, by the end of their lives the couple became quite devoted to each other, having been through so much adversity together.

CD: We see Madame Royale yearning for the blessing of motherhood, but is not she in fact a true mother to her nephew (pretender to the throne under the name of Henri V) and his sister, Louise?

EMV: Absolutely, Henri and Louise were her children. She left all of her worldly possessions to them in her will.

CD: During the course of Madame Royale, we see the heroine searching for her long lost brother, the little Louis XVII. In particular she seems to pursue the trail of a young man by the name of Jean-Marie Hervagault. Could you tell us a bit more about the search by the historical Thérèse for her brother? What did she think of Hervagault and the other claimants?

EMV: That is an excellent question, Catherine. Everything I know about Thérèse’s search for Charles (Louis XVII) I put into the novel. I gathered the information from various sources, mentioned in the bibliography at the back of the book, including some rare documents which I procured through interlibrary loan and could not take from the library premises. Of course, those were the days before they could identify people from their DNA; Thérèse really had no way of knowing whether or not her brother had actually died. No remains had ever been proved conclusively to be his. He had allegedly died in the room beneath hers but she was not allowed to hold his hand while he was dying. Neither was she permitted to see his body after he had died. This led to the rumor that the boy who died was not the Dauphin, but that the real Dauphin had escaped and been replaced with another unfortunate child.

One biographer, Meade Minnigerode, states that as late as 1827, Thérèse went to visit the mother of the pretender Jean-Marie Hervagault, offering rare jewels, in exchange for information, I presume. And the incident described in the novel where Thérèse encounters the “young stranger” and screams at him to “go away” is a true one. I think we can safely say that her brother’s fate was on her mind and troubled her a great deal, although in the end she put her nephew Henri before any of the claimants.

CD: And, after the DNA analysis of the heart of the child who died at the Temple has established that it was indeed the son of Marie-Antoinette, do you believe, with the benefits of hindsight and modern science, that the matter is settled? Were all the claimants impostors?

EMV: The DNA analysis was not 100% conclusive. It only proved that whoever the dried up heart belonged to was the “child of a Habsburg princess.” With the Habsburgs being such a prolific family, how many princesses with Habsburg blood were there in Europe? How many had children who had died? Even the Bourbons had a great deal of Habsburg blood. How many unacknowledged illegitimate children were there? I think that we can be 99% certain that the heart belonged to Louis XVII but there is no way to be absolutely certain. Because of the inbreeding in royal families, it is difficult to prove who is who beyond all doubt with DNA, as the scientists with the blood of Louis XVI (found in a gourd) are discovering.

Most (if not all) of the most famous claimants were imposters, of course. In this matter, however, I prefer to stay away from absolute statements since there are still some mysteries that need to be cleared up, in my opinion, anyway.

CD: I was fascinated by the very ambiguous relationship, made of attraction and repulsion, between Madame Royale and her cousin Louis-Philippe d’Orléans, the man who would later dethrone her husband and her nephew to become King of the French.

It makes complete sense, but I had never given it much thought before. How much of this is the result of your research, and how much the product of your personal reading of these two characters?

EMV: Thank you, Catherine. It is a combination of both my research and my personal reading of the characters. Louis-Philippe was quite dashing as a youth and I imagined how he would appear to a semi-cloistered young girl.

It is recorded how as an adult Thérèse reacted to Louis-Philippe, by fainting at the sight of him, and later by walking arm-in-arm with him at Carleton House, conversing with their noses almost touching. It got me thinking about what may have been going on in Thérèse’s feelings….

CD: I rediscovered the character of the Duchesse de Berry, Madame Royale’s cousin and sister-in-law, with immense pleasure in your book. More of an adventuress than a princess… What a wonderful historical fiction heroine she would make in her own right. Were you, or are you tempted to write another novel about her?

EMV: Yes, Catherine, Caroline of Naples steals the show as soon as she steps out of the carriage onto French soil. I loved writing about her and researching her. She would make a delightful heroine of a historical novel. She certainly saw herself as one. I have never considered writing a novel about her but I hope someone else does. Her romance with Hector Luchesi-Palli is true and one of my favorite parts of Madame Royale.

CD: Now for a more general question, which may be of interest to those readers who have already discovered Madame Royale in its hardcover version, now ten years old. Did you feel it necessary to revise the original text for its recent release in paperback?

EMV: Yes, I did, Catherine. I added dialog to some scenes and edited long speeches which hampered the flow of the narrative in others. Also, with the publication of Susan Nagel’s biography, there was new information which I wanted to work into the story, as well, including the addition of the Nagel book in the bibliography. I think the second edition of Madame Royale is a much better piece of literature than the first edition. It is available in paperback from Amazon. It is also on Amazon Kindle.

CD: I must say I very much prefer when serious historical fiction, like non-fiction, includes a complete bibliography. Sadly my own novels don’t, but it is not my choice. What new projects occupy you at this time, Elena?

EMV: Many! I am still researching and writing my novel about the Irish settlers in Ontario, among whom were my ancestors. Writing such a novel is a full time job in itself, especially when much of the information is locked away in archives not readily available on the internet. I also write magazine articles from time to time. I have a stack of novels waiting to be reviewed for my Tea at Trianon blog. If I could do nothing all day but read I would still have my plate full. Thank you, Catherine, for the great questions!

CD: And my thanks to you, Elena, for sharing your insights on this often ignored era of French history!

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Re: The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  Elena on Wed Nov 23, 2011 3:33 pm


The Duchesse d'Angoulême in 1815. From Vive la Reine.
A mystic hush fell upon the vast assembly at the sight of the princess, as if something holy had just come into the Opera house. Then cries of “Long live the King! Long live Madame!” echoed in the heights of the ceiling. The princess glittered from afar.
“She wears white satin covered with diamonds,” said Dorothée from behind her opera glasses. “High plumes and a gold filigree tiara, covered with gems.”
“Her necklace and earrings … surely they are Marie-Antoinette’s own diamonds,” said Madame de Boigne, looking through her own glasses. “The tiara is new … it is in the Merovingian style. Well, she is certainly a princess of whom France need not be ashamed before the world.”

~from Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal

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Re: The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  May on Wed Nov 23, 2011 4:48 pm

To many, she must have seemed a living relic.
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A Review by Gareth Russell

Post  Elena on Fri Dec 23, 2011 12:16 am

A review by novelist and historian Gareth Russell, who also endorsed the second edition.

http://garethrussellcidevant.blogspot.com/2010/11/weight-of-glory-madame-royale-2010.html

Madame Royale is the second in Elena Maria Vidal's series of novels on the French Royal Family in the period surrounding the Revolution. The endorsement and praise for the book on the back of the current edition's cover - and its Amazon page - was written by yours truly and I was so honoured to be asked by Miss Vidal, whose excellent blog was one of the reasons why I felt inspired to start my own.

Having written the endorsement of Madame Royale, it's fair to say that I'm something of a fan! But, I have not yet had the opportunity to write a full review for the book having already written one of its prequel - Trianon, back in July. My thanks to Elena Maria for very kindly sending me a copy of the book and for even more generously asking for my opinions for its back cover and for a review. It's very flattering and I hope I have written a review that is both fair and worthy of the novel.
GR.

***

"Thérèse’s mind wandered from the doings of the British parliament. It seemed to her that from around the time of her marriage ten years earlier she fell prey to distractions whenever she attempted to read, or pray, or in any other way apply her mind. Not prison or the Terror, not threat of death or even the loss of her entire family had been able to rattle her steel-trap mind. All the sorrows were suddenly catching up with her, like hounds closing in upon their game. After a decade of maintaining a day by day façade of marital contentment, of suppressing her emotions of betrayal and disappointment, of fighting envy of women with children, of trying to build the confidence of a man whose soul was scarred beyond repair, she felt she had lost her former self-possession and was scrambling to cling to every vestige of peace and sanity that remained to her."
- From Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal

***


It is never easy to be the daughter of a famous woman and even less so to be the daughter of a famously glamorous woman. It is rare indeed for history to produce a woman like Elizabeth I, who managed to outstrip the fame and appeal of her iconic and doomed mother. More often than not, the daughters of famous women are pale and pallid shadows in the luminescent glow of their mother’s reputational star. Who, for instance, can tell us very much about the daughters of Eleanor of Aquitaine or Elizabeth Woodville? Or, rather, who can get excited about them? And if they are not quietly drowning in the tide of their mothers’ memories, such daughters are often sadly consumed by bitterness at being unable to emulate their fame. In the last century, the vituperative respective memoirs of Christina Crawford and B.D. Hyman are perhaps the most memorable examples of this less-than-commendable familial trait.

It was therefore one of the many tragedies of the life of Princess Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France that she was the only surviving daughter of Marie-Antoinette. Marie-Thérèse would certainly not have considered being her mother’s daughter a tragedy, but as Marie-Antoinette’s chic ghost permanently haunted her daughter’s less-than-chic present it compelled people to draw unfavourable comparisons between the two women. Marie-Antoinette had been attractive, elegant, vivacious, outgoing and possessed of a proverbially famous charm; her eldest child, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, had none of these qualities. Instead, Marie-Thérèse’s looks rapidly deteriorated as she reached adulthood, she was disinterested in fashion, socially awkward, often rude when in company, painfully shy and utterly devoid of charisma. The only thing she had inherited from her mother was a genuine interest in the well-being of the poor and a love of young children. From both of her parents, she also acquired an almost other-worldly level of courage and dignity under pressure. And it these qualities, coupled with her strong Roman Catholic faith, which Elena Maria Vidal chooses to highlight in her fantastic (and now re-issued in paperback) novel Madame Royale, a sequel to Trianon, which was based on the final years of her parents’ marriage.

Like many of the Parisians of the 1810s and 1820s, modern novelists are often disappointed when confronted by the figure of the adult Marie-Thérèse. When she finally returned to her homeland, upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1814, the Parisians wanted Marie-Thérèse to be what one would have expected in the daughter of Marie-Antoinette. Having written Marie-Thérèse as a major character in All Those Who Suffered, the first ever full length play I wrote back when I was seventeen, I share (or rather, shared) their frustrations. As far as many of the French were concerned, the princess who was coming back to them was going to be the veritable reincarnation of the young Austrian archduchess who had so dazzlingly mounted the throne alongside her husband in the halcyon days of 1774. Coupled with the fact that this princess had just spent nearly two decades in an exile littered with flight, intrigue and genteel poverty, the good people of Paris seemed to be under the general impression that they were about to greet a woman who was a cross between a young Marie-Antoinette and an Antigone.

They were not.

Instead, the princess who rode through the streets of Paris during the early days of the Restoration was taciturn, frigid and more masculine than feminine in her appearance. That this was the daughter of the legendarily charming and seductively tragic Marie-Antoinette could have been almost laughable, had it not been for the fact that the Parisians failed to find anything amusing in Marie-Thérèse’s physical appearance or social manners. Most modern novelists, playwrights and film-makers have followed suit in being truly disappointed by the spectacle presented by Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte’s adult life and so Madame Royale is one of the very few – indeed, at the moment, the only – novel dealing with her under-studied story.

By the time the novel properly begins, the surviving members of the French Royal Family are living in exile in England. Their daily routine is the same day-in, day-out, and Miss Vidal captures perfectly the stultifying routine of the embittered Court-in-exile. Marie-Thérèse’s eldest uncle, formerly the Comte de Provence, has taken the regnal name of Louis XVIII, now that his elder brother and young nephew (Marie-Thérèse’s father and brother respectively) have lost their lives in the Revolution. Obese but clever, the exiled king uses his flawless manners to mask his Machiavellian and intrinsically selfish personality. Another of Marie-Thérèse’s uncles, the handsome and reactionary Comte d’Artois, is living in London, only occasionally visiting the rest of the Royal Family at the tiny English country house they have been given as their residence in exile. It is there that Marie-Thérèse currently lives, having married her first cousin, the truculent and unappealing Duc d’Angoulême. How precisely the most famous princess in Europe reached this point and her determination to make her marriage work is slowly unfolded across the course of the novel. Even if you don’t agree with Marie-Thérèse’s strict personal morality, her devotion to her own principles is nothing short of inspiring.

Yet, in Madame Royale Marie-Thérèse emerges not just as an admirable character, but crucially as a sympathetic one as well. I’m not ashamed to say that, in terms of nuances, Miss Vidal outstrips my characterisation of her in All Those Who Suffered, hands-down. It is a testament to her skills as an historical novelist and her passion for her characters that she has been able to take such a potentially difficult character as Marie-Thérèse and turn her into a figure worthy of being the eponymous heroine of a novel. Thankfully, she does not do this by excising the less attractive sides of the princess’s personality – that would be the easy way out. Rather, she accentuates the faults in the hope that we might come to better understand the princess’s struggles. Marie-Thérèse’s virtues are self-evident within the novel’s opening two chapters – she is courageous, principled, devout, loyal, kind and dutiful. Her faults, however, are slowly revealed over the course of the story. At times, when Marie-Thérèse launches into one of her more didactic and heavy-handed monologues on the virtues of State Catholicism, it’s difficult not to associate it with the mind-numbing exhortations of modern-day evangelicals in their born-again fervour. Miss Vidal also shows us the occasional paranoiac conspiracy theory swirling around in the princess’s deluded and damaged brain, in which she blames the entire French Revolution on freemasonry. She genuinely believes that the entire thing was the result of a long-term atheistic conspiracy, rather than what it really was – the more terrifying reality of mob violence run amok and then codified into legalised hysterical idealism. The author then describes moments of Marie-Thérèse being supremely lacking in charity – her ‘cold fury’ when she hears that the pious Duchesse d’Orléans has been left unmolested by the Revolution, simply because her husband was both a freemason and a republican, when other equally religious aristocratic ladies have been slaughtered on the steps of the guillotine. There are also dozens of moments in which Marie-Thérèse is cold, rude or awkward to those around her. And what makes this all so brilliant within the context of the novel is that it actually makes us like Marie-Thérèse even more than we might have if she had been perfect. Miss Vidal shows us that Madame Royale is more than aware that she’s being rude or taciturn; she can feel her manner alienating people and she tries desperately to inject herself with some of her mother’s fabled charm. All to no avail. And it’s this struggle – not just to be right and to do the right thing, but to be charming and to do the gracious thing – which makes your heart ache a little for Miss Vidal’s heroine. It’s the ongoing daily struggles of her life – so far removed from the “happily ever after” we might have expected – which makes Marie-Thérèse a very unusual and profoundly moving sort of heroine. As characterisations go, it’s a fine example of the craft of the historical novelist.

As I have said, the lead character in Madame Royale is expertly drawn. However, this is also a novel populated by a whole range of other minor characters from the period – the future King George IV of Britain, Marie-Antoinette’s former admirer Count von Fersen, the enigmatic Knights of The Faith, the feisty Duchesse de Berry and the handsome, ambitious Archduke Karl von Hapsburg. Three of the subsidiary characterisations in this novel deserve a special mention, however, and in all three cases, they are interestingly enough characters of whom we are not really supposed to approve – personally, politically or both. The first is the exiled de jure Queen of France, Marie-Joséphine of Savoy, by now sunk into a middle-aged melancholia. Historically speaking, the real Marie-Joséphine was quite possibly a repressed lesbian; she was certainly an un-repressed alcoholic. Whatever the truth, being married to a man such as Louis XVIII was bound to have made her life miserable anyway. Eaten away by the charade of her married life, consumed by guilt for her jealousy of the now-dead Marie-Antoinette, robbed of her former lavish lifestyle by the Revolution and sinking further and further into an abyss of alcoholism and depression, Marie-Joséphine is the novel's most pathetic character and the scene in which she dies, begging Marie-Thérèse to forgive her for her jealous spite of her mother, finally made me feel sympathy for an historical character whom I had always previously dismissed as a gaudy, irritating irrelevance. It was actually the scene in the novel I found the saddest and the one in which Marie-Thérèse’s full commitment to Christian teachings on forgiveness really shone through. Marie-Thérèse’s estranged cousin, Louis-Philippe, is another fascinating character. Handsome, sexually appealing and flawlessly polite, the fact that he is a prince with a strong and genuine commitment to left-wing ideology is a paradox which serves only to make him yet more attractive and more enigmatic. His idealism is so clueless that, like Marie-Thérèse, we struggled to condemn him entirely. It is also something of a relief to see a left-wing character presented in a pro-royalist novel as something other than a drooling sociopath. Finally, a word on my favourite characterisation in the entire novel - that rendered of the consummate political survivor, Talleyrand. Given that the novel itself is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I think it’s fair to say that it’s supremely unlikely that Miss Vidal personally approves of the man who began his career as a bishop in the pre-Revolutionary Catholic Church, before ditching it entirely and somehow managing to survive the Revolution, the Directory, the Bonaparte Empire and the restoration of the Monarchy with his fortune and political credit more or less completely intact. A compulsive womaniser, even in his days as a bishop, Talleyrand was devoted to his own personal fortune, social-climbing and a life of luxury and privilege. He was, moreover, a mass of contradictions – despite his apparent left-wing credentials, his closest friend was the King’s younger brother, the Comte d’Artois, one of the leaders of the French ultra-Right (the moment where Talleyrand announces how much he loves the prince is one of the novel’s most moving and surprising turns), despite making his peace with the republic, he lamented the ‘sweetness and grace’ of aristocratic life in the days before the Revolution and despite having abandoned his earlier oaths of loyalty to both throne and altar, Talleyrand has a strong obsession with beauty, charm and grace. Madame Royale captures all of this perfectly. It neither condemns nor praises Talleyrand. It is for the reader to draw their own conclusions about his paradoxically appealing and repugnant character and career. And, as far as I’m concerned, I would say that Madame Royale’s depiction of Talleyrand is one of the finest examples of historical characterisation currently in print. It’s a triumph. I never expected to feel anything but contempt for the former bishop, but, as with Marie-Joséphine, I found myself unexpectedly moved. And hats off to Miss Vidal for making that possible!

One thing I enjoyed very much in Trianon was Miss Vidal’s style of writing and I’m happy to say it returned again in Madame Royale. Whether it was intentional or not, I don’t know, but her approach of writing in a style very reminiscent of the memoirs of the actual period seemed to me to the perfect way of drawing you into the early 19th-century’s psychology, modes of expression and values. I've always loved that era's style of literary delivery and so Madame Royale was a treat to read, even from a stylistic point-of-view.

It is this style which allows the novel to tease out the full potential of one of its central storylines – the case of what really happened to Marie-Thérèse’s younger brother during the Revolution. Nowadays, of course, science has established beyond reasonable doubt that the boy died at the age of ten in a filthy republican jail, but in the early 1800s, there were no such certainties. The boy who should be king had simply vanished at the height of the Terror and no-one knew where he – or his body – was. In the years to come, the true fate of the “Lost Dauphin” (although by then he was technically Louis XVII) became one of the great obsessions in western European culture. It was very much the Grand Duchess Anastasia case of its day. I myself was so enraptured by it as a teenager that I wrote my aforementioned first play on the subject, although, in that production, I chose to have Louis-Charles live and one day return to Paris. It was only when I grew older that I suddenly realised that my portrait of the missing prince might have been a tad too idealistic. Having read anew the book I had been inspired to write All Those Who Suffered by, it occurred to me that given the horrific child abuse the young child had suffered, that (had he survived) it was highly unlikely that he would have been the confident, moral and determined young man I characterised him as in All Those Who Suffered. What Madame Royale does is grapple with the question I had missed during the writing of that play – it not only explores the full ramifications of the scandal of the missing boy-king from the point-of-view of his only surviving sister, but she also has Marie-Thérèse confront the upsetting idea that, even if her beloved brother is alive, he might be so damaged by what the revolutionaries did to him that he would have to be hidden away from public gaze forever, anyway. If I were ever to return to All Those Who Suffered, I would certainly bear these things in mind. By exploring the fascinating case of the missing prince from Marie-Thérèse’s agonised perspective, Elena Maria manages to make us think once again about what it was like to live at the centre of an affair which everybody else simply found to be an entertaining conspiracy theory.

There are moments in Madame Royale which work better than others. Its weakest section by far is its prologue, set on the eve of the Revolution. It has a chilling conclusion, told through the eyes of a courtesan, but its opening seems slightly too obvious and the representation of the dissolute left-wing prince, Philippe Égalité, lacks the subtlety and nuances of some of Miss Vidal’s other characters. The novel's strongest sections, I would say, are the death of Queen Marie-Joséphine, the visit to Madame Simon and the terrible moment at a party in Vienna, which I will not spoil for readers.

Finally, a note on one of the major subjects of the book – religion. In a way, I think one can say that Elena Maria Vidal’s first two novels are quintessentially novels of martyrdom. But not in the traditional sense of the word. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, the main characters of Trianon, were not put to death because they were Christians; the fact that they were Christians only increased the French Revolution’s ire against them, but any historian worth their salt will tell you that the real reason the King and Queen of France were executed was politics, not piety. It was because they were royals, not Catholics, which spurred the First Republic to drive the doctrine of enforced Equality home with the blade of the guillotine. Their daughter Marie-Thérèse did not even suffer a violent death. Rather, she died peacefully in her bed in a mansion on the outskirts of Vienna in 1851, at the age of seventy-three.

Proclaiming that Trianon is a novel of martyrdom is however much easier than making the same case for Madame Royale. Looking at the final years of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette’s lives, it’s difficult not to be drawn to the conclusion that, as Miss Vidal’s novel contends, theirs was a kind of martyrdom. Alright, it might not have been as clear-cut as Saint Perpetua being thrown to wild beasts in the ampitheatre or Saint Anastasia’s agonising death in the flames, but their story is not much less tragic, nor any the less cruel. Beginning with the siege of Versailles in the autumn of 1789, when their bodyguard was butchered and their home ransacked, the King and Queen progressed through four purgatorial – and then hellish - years in which they experienced house arrest, physical intimidation, threats of assassination, the enforced exile of the rest of their family, an unrelenting and savage legal assault on their religion, ritual public humiliation, the lynching of the queen’s closest friend, several massacres of their supporters, imprisonment, separation, perjured trials and charges of incest, adultery, treason, espionage, embezzlement, corruption, paedophilia and attempted genocide. The Queen, once left a widow, was also forced to endure separation from her son (who was then, essentially, tortured and brutalised to death) and finally separation from her daughter.

Given the appalling gradient of disaster the French Royal Family suffered, the casual observer might be forgiven for concluding that Marie-Thérèse was the member of the clan who got off lightly. After all, she survived and lived into her eighth decade and, despite certain financial worries, she was never genuinely or actually poor. Moreover, given the eternal fascination of her mother’s story, isn’t it always going to be the case that by virtue of comparison Marie-Thérèse’s story simply seems far less interesting? Well, yes. In terms of drama, that’s an undeniably valid conclusion. But if Marie-Antoinette’s is a martyrdom of melodrama, Marie-Thérèse’s is one of the mundane. This is a woman who struggles on a daily basis with issues about her own personal behaviour, familial obligations, duties to one’s country, one’s faith, one’s place in society, an often-frustrating marriage, a lost love, difficult friends, unhappiness, politics, love and money. Where Marie-Antoinette’s struggles were executed in the arena of great drama and earth-shattering events, her daughter’s is carried out in the everyday and it’s that element of her story, I think, which gives Madame Royale its greatest emotional appeal. Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte is not perfect, but she is a great and courageous lady struggling to do what she thinks is right and proper on a daily basis. This policy often brings her personal unhappiness, but also brings her great joy and, at the very last, the ability to stand before God with a clean conscience and say with honesty that she had always tried to do the right thing. She had never been cruel, nor selfish, nor spiteful, nor dishonest. Whatever one might think of the French Restoration and the final years of monarchy in France, whatever one might think of Catholicism and aristocracy, privilege and power, the one salient point Madame Royale is trying to make is that the story of a woman of principle, decency and integrity is one that’s very much worth telling.

When I finished reading Madame Royale, I didn’t quite know what to think or say. The final scene, where the princess’s coffin passes by the ranks of Slovenian peasants gathered to watch her funeral, left me feeling slightly bereft. I also felt strangely angry at history for not having allotted Marie-Thérèse a kinder destiny, but what I couldn’t fault was the devotion to telling that destiny on the part of the author. They say that the greatest story in History is the Truth and in Madame Royale Elena Maria Vidal certainly proves that’s the case. The sights, sounds and smells of 19th-century Europe are all brilliantly captured in this immaculately researched and exquisite novel, which, as I’ve said, recalls the great memoirists of the 1800s. Madame Royale is an unforgettable portrait of a royal life torn between religion, politics, revolution, mystery, heartache and intrigue and I was honoured to be asked to endorse it, thrilled to be asked to review it and moved to be able to read it. I concluded my review of Trianon by saying that I was sure that Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette would have been touched by Miss Vidal’s literary portrait of them, I am even more certain that, even if she wouldn’t have been able to express it as fulsomely as her mother, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte would have been flattered and deeply grateful for the portrait rendered of her in the pages of Madame Royale. It is a fantastic tribute to one of Europe’s most tragic but courageous princesses.


Gareth Russell


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Re: The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  ThatOtherBoleynGal on Sun Feb 05, 2012 1:55 pm

Elena Maria, my son who is in college, has taken to referring his professors to your works on Marie Antoinette. He and I marvel at how the slanderous rumours and vile accusations persist, even from those who should know better! My son wrote a paper on Marie Antoinette and her family, describing the horrible abuse her little son endured. Predictably, his professor was quite annoyed, even insinuating that those tragic events never took place.

It is amazing how to this day, in 2012, Marie Antoinette remains a sore subject for so many.[list][*]

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Re: The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  Elena on Sun Feb 05, 2012 3:13 pm

Thanks for letting me know. I am honored. Very Happy Tell your son that. What a courageous young man. sunny I am sorry the professors are so obtuse. Shocked

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Re: The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  Elena on Sat Nov 03, 2012 12:05 am

Here are some interviews and broadcasts:











http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rebecca-diserio/2012/10/21/forward-boldly-guest-elena-maria-vidal

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Re: The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  May on Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:14 am

These are all such GREAT talks, Elena!! Thank you!!
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Re: The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  Elena on Sat Nov 03, 2012 12:05 pm

You are more than welcome!

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Re: The Novel MADAME ROYALE

Post  Mata Hari on Sat Oct 19, 2013 12:24 pm

Tiny-Librarian has some portraits of Caroline of Naples, the Duchesse d Berry. She was such an important character in the novel. I could not find a thread about the Duchesse de Berry so I put them here. http://tiny-librarian.tumblr.com/post/64419778117/some-years-later-i-painted-her-highness-the


Some years later I painted Her Highness the Duchess de Berri, who gave me sittings at the Tuileries with the politest punctuality, and besides showed me a friendliness than which none could have been greater. I shall never forget how, while I was painting her one day, she said, “Wait a moment.” Then, getting up, she went to her library for a book containing an article in my praise, which she was obliging enough to read aloud from beginning to end……..While the Duchess sat for me I would become irritated at the number of people who came to make calls. She took note of this and was so considerate as to say, “Why did you not ask me to pose at your house?” Which she did for the two final sittings. I confess that I never could think of such affecting warmth of heart without comparing the time I devoted to this genial Princess with the melancholy hours Mme. Murat had made me spend. I painted two portraits of the Duchess de Berri. In the first she is wearing a red velvet dress, and in the other one of blue velvet. I have no idea what has become of these pictures.

Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun

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