Mention the name Marie Antoinette and you've got my attention. Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund is one of my all-time favorite novels and Sofia Coppola's film comes second only to Gone with the Wind. For a long time I've been meaning to read a historical fiction novel by much-praised author Michelle Moran. So when I got wind of her Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution... it went straight to the top of my to-read list.
Excerpt from Michelle Moran's website:
The world knows Madame Tussaud as a wax artist extraordinaire…but who was this woman and how did she become one of the most famous sculptresses of all time? In these pages, her tumultuous story comes to life as only Michelle Moran could tell it. The year is 1788, and a revolution is about to begin…
Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire. From her popular model of the American Ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie’s museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, even politics. Her customers hail from every walk of life, and when word arrives that the royals themselves are coming to see their likenesses, Marie never dreams that the king’s sister will request her presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. Yet when a letter with a gold seal is delivered to her home, Marie knows she cannot refuse—even if it means time away from her beloved Salon and her increasingly dear friend, Henri Charles.
Michelle Moran, author of Madame TussaudAs Marie becomes acquainted with her pupil, Princess Élisabeth, she is taken to meet both Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, who introduce her to the glamorous life at court. From lavish parties with more delicacies than she’s ever seen, to rooms filled with candles lit only once before being discarded, Marie steps into to a world entirely different from her home on the Boulevard du Temple, where people are selling their teeth in order to put food on the table.
Meanwhile, many resent the vast separation between rich and poor. In salons and cafés across Paris, people like Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Paul Marat, and Maximilien Robespierre are lashing out against the monarchy. Soon, there’s whispered talk of revolution…Will Marie be able to hold on to both the love of her life and her friendship with the royal family as France approaches civil war? And more importantly, will she be able to fulfill the demands of powerful revolutionaries who ask that she make the death masks of beheaded aristocrats, some of whom she knows?
Spanning five years from the budding revolution to the Reign of Terror, Madame Tussaud brings us into the world of an incredible heroine whose talent for wax modeling saved her life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom.
Let's just say that I loved this book! I read it directly after the months and months it took to finish Gone with the Wind. And it was a much-needed quick-paced pageturner. I loved being transported to the era of Marie Antoinette, but to see the revolution from a commoner's eyes. However, Madame Tussaud was no ordinary commoner. Torn between royals she has come to know and regard as friends and surviving the French Revolution, the talented wax modeler must straddle both sides. In the height of terror, she's forced to create death masks of executed nobles she once knew and modeled from life. She experiences sooo much heartbreak and strife. (I read this during slow times at work and there were several times that I found my eyes tearing up and a lump forming in my throat!)
I love a book that not only transports me to the world of the main character, as this one did... but also creates a bond between the reader and main character. All my favorite novels do it: Jane Eyre, Abundance, Gone with the Wind. I love the feeling of getting to know a character so well that you feel like you've grown with them throughout the story. I love the heartsick feeling of not wanting the book to end because you want to follow the character throughout the rest of their life because they've become so special to you.
And what I really admired about Madame Tussaud was that she was truly a woman ahead of her times. She had a head for business, finances, and economy in a time that most women only worried their pretty little heads about what color ribbon to weave into their hair. Madame Tussaud was devoted to creating her art, enriching her talents, and driving for success. She even had the wits about her to set up a pre-nuptial agreement with her husband Francois Tussaud upon marrying him. (It's good thing considering he gambled most of their money away!) She was probably one of the first woman (if not thee first) to draw up such an agreement that she'd retain all of her prior possessions and estate if their marriage were to end.
Madame Tussaud started out as a mere apprentice in her uncle's wax figure salon. She perfected the art and eventually owned the business on her own. And today there are Madame Tussaud museums all over the world! Talk about leaving behind a legacy!
Anyway, I could ramble on and on about Madame Tussaud. What I really mean to say is that you should read it! If you're a historical fiction fan, you'll devour it. If you've never read historical fiction before, this is a fabulous place to start! It's a sweeping novel full of inspiration, strength, romance, heartbreak, excitement, turmoil, war, hope, and the character of an amazing woman.