Mistress of the Revolution: a brief review

Today I planned to post mini-reviews of three historical novels I’ve read recently. But as it turned out, I had so much to say about one of those books that it deserves its own post!

That book is Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors. The main character, Gabrielle, is an aristocratic young French woman who falls into poverty and survives by becoming the mistress of a nobleman. Later, during the French Revolution, she is the mistress of a Revolutionary Tribunal judge. The story is told as a memoir written by Gabrielle when she is middle-aged.

Catherine Delors has a clean and graceful writing style that is a pleasure to read. She comes up with plausible ways to bring Gabrielle into contact with real historical figures and events, and provides a glimpse at the prejudices of the nobility and how the revolution crept up on them. The characters are complex and seem to have genuine 18th-century attitudes. Most of them seem like real people, not stereotypes.

I liked the way Delors presents the relationships between men and women. As the mistress of a wealthy and controlling man, Gabrielle leads a comfortable but dependent life, and the writer doesn’t sugar-coat the drawbacks of being a kept woman. Gabrielle’s relationship with her older brother is also complicated and interesting.

As a narrator, Gabrielle is sometimes surprisingly matter-of-fact. At times I wanted to be told more about her thoughts and feelings, especially her reaction to the revolution. We know that she supports its ideals, but she doesn’t say much about that or share how she feels about the violent collapse of the world she’s always known. However, Gabrielle’s calm approach works very well in the book’s most horrific scenes, where the plain details speak for themselves.

I felt I learned a lot about the French Revolution from this book, but the history didn’t overwhelm the story. Gabrielle is a likeable and believable narrator. I was sorry when the book ended, because I wanted to find out how Gabrielle’s son reacted to reading her memoir! That should give you an idea how engrossing this book is. I recommend it.

Here’s Catherine Delors’ official site. Her next novel, tentatively titled “For the King,” is due to be published next year. I’m looking forward to it.

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