Title: The Sisters of Versailles: A Novel
Author: Sally Christie
Publisher: Atria Books
Copyright: September, 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction, Women’s Historical Fiction, Sibling/Sister Fiction, Historical Romance
Format: Paperback, 432 Pages
Price: $14.34 [Amazon Paperback], $9.99 [Kindle], $26.95 [Audible], $14.65 [Barnes & Noble Paperback], $9.99 [Nook], $9.99 [Google Play], $9.99 [iBooks]
Goodness, but sisters are a thing to fear.
Court intriguers are beginning to sense that young King Louis XV, after seven years of marriage, is tiring of his Polish wife. The race is on to find a mistress for the royal bed as various factions put their best feet—and women—forward. The King’s scheming ministers push sweet, naïve Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, she and three of her younger sisters—ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne—will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power as each becomes the king’s favorite for a time.
In the tradition of The Other Boleyn Girl, The Sisters of Versailles is a clever, intelligent, and absorbing novel that historical fiction fans will devour. Based on meticulous research on a group of women never before written about in English, Sally Christie’s stunning debut is a complex exploration of power and sisterhood—of the admiration, competition, and even hatred that can coexist within a family when the stakes are high enough.
The year is 1730. King Louis XV is the sovereign ruler of France and has been so since he ascended to the throne 15 years ago, at the age of 5. While most kings remember his predecessor Louis XIV or his successor Louis XVI, Louis XV is an entirely unremarkable ruler. History tells us that Louis’s reign was marked with occurrences that are both positive and negative, some reportedly a cause for the French Revolution (which would happen 15 years after his death).
France is the epicenter of elegance and sublime fashion. Everyone who is anyone (i.e. the aristocracy) is in attendance at the Palace of Versailles, where the handsome young King Louis rules with the Polish-born Queen Marie Leszczyńska. At first the King is happy with his wife, who is 7 years his senior, but he eventually loses interest and his attentions begin to stray towards what Versailles has to offer.
While the lives of Versailles’s elite were enviable and rife with gilt splendor, the lives of the common people and the peasants was far from idyllic. It was said that some peasants were so poor that they could barely feed their families and that some resorted to eating grass. What is historically known as the Ancien Régime held in place the pillars of society that separated those who were ennobled and those who belonged to the lower classes. It led to the French Revolution and the death of Louis XV’s grandson and successor, Louis XVI.
In general, 1730 was a largely uneventful year. It saw Anna of Russia’s succession to the imperial throne (after the death of her cousin Peter II), the first synagogue ever built in New York City, the passing of the Tobacco Inspection Act of 1730 by the Virginia House of Burgesses, the beginning of Cresap’s War (a border conflict between Pennsylvania and Maryland which would continue for 9 years), the Valparaíso earthquake that took place in Chile (followed by a tsunami), Pope Clement XII succeeded as the 29th pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Mahmud I succeeded as Emperor of the Ottoman Empire, and the Glasite Church (a Christian sect) was founded by John Glas, who dissented over the Westminster Confession. Glasites, also known as Sandemanians, held: “That the bare death of Jesus Christ without a thought or deed on the part of man, is sufficient to present the chief of sinners spotless before God.”
- Louise Julie de Mailly-Nesle: The eldest of the five de Mailly-Nesle sisters; she is a mistress of King Louis XV of France and is known for her exceptional kindness and loving nature. Louise has a very large heart and can be blindly naïve.
- Pauline Félicité de Mailly-Nesle: The second eldest of the five de Mailly-Nesle sisters; she is a mistress of King Louis XV of France and is known for her clever, carefree nature. Pauline is prone to being exceedingly cruel at times.
- Diane Adélaïde de Mailly-Nesle: The middle sister of the five de Mailly-Nesle sisters; she is a mistress of King Louis XV and is known to be sweet but rather absentminded at times. Her personality tends to border on silliness.
- Hortense Félicité de Mailly-Nesle: The second youngest of the five de Mailly-Nesle sisters; she is the only one not to be a mistress of King Louis XV and is known for being the most beautiful of all of the sisters. Hortense is recognized for her piety, her straightforward morals, and her ardent fidelity to her husband.
- Marie-Anne de Mailly-Nesle: The youngest of the five de Mailly-Nesle sisters; she is a mistress of King Louis XV and is known for her ruthlessness, cunning, and ambition. One could even venture to say that Marie-Anne is borderline sadistic.
The five de Mailly-Nesle sisters live in the paradisaical Quai des Théatins with their parents, the Marquis and Marquise de Nesle et de Mailly. As the five sisters: Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne come to grips with growing up and leaving their nursery at the Quai des Théatins, each starts out on her own adventure. Louise, the eldest de Mailly-Nesle sister gets married early on in the story and finds herself trapped in nothing short of a loveless marriage. With an inattentive husband, her inability to produce children, a vulture of a mother-in-law, and the oppressiveness of life at Versailles, Louise has a great burden upon her shoulders. While there, the sweet and sanguine Louise tends to the King Louis XV’s Polish consort, Queen Marie Leszczyńska.
When tragedy befalls the de Mailly-Nesle family, the four younger sisters are split apart from each other. Pauline and Diane are immediately sent off to a convent whereas Hortense and Marie-Anne are taken in by their curmudgeon Tante Mazarin. This is where each sister starts to really gain a sense of self. Pauline is far from happy being locked away in a convent and writes incessantly to Louise in order to convince her to invite her to Versailles. Diane, on the other hand, is halfway to becoming a nun and seems oddly at peace living life in a convent. As close as the two sisters are, they are like night and day. Pauline is of a jealous predisposition and was known for being something of a bully while all sisters were in the nursery. She has not approved with age. On top of it, Pauline is known as being the most repulsive of the sisters, with her swarthy complexion and such large eyebrows. Diane is a silly airhead of a girl, finding great joy in the simple things of life and always talking of food. While not considered as unattractive as her sister Pauline, Diane is known to be rather plump and she is also as sweet as their sister Louise.
Hortense and Marie-Anne, who live with their Tante Mazarin, have something of a similar experience. Hortense is perhaps the most pious as well as the loveliest of all of the de Mailly-Nesle sisters. She is the one who is most influenced by Tante Mazarin. Marie-Anne, on the other hand, is an independent young woman with a mind of her own and, on top of that, she is immensely ambitious. In time, the sisters have news of the fact that their eldest sister, Louise has officially become the mistress of King Louis. When Tante Mazarin hears of this, she urges her nieces to stay far away from their “harlot” of a sister. Unceasingly, she hopes to engender in them, a desire for piety and virtue. It seems that the only one to benefit from Tante’s lessons is Hortense.
In time, all sisters (although each on a different journey) end up at Versailles in one instance or another. Each sister is vastly different and each one of them has a varied experience with the king himself. Little does each sister know that they are at war with each other, Versailles is their battlefield, and the King is the ultimate prize. Who will win?
Ms. Christie’s novel The Sisters of Versailles was a delightful treat from start to finish. I found all of the sisters to be intriguing characters, despite the fact that I liked some and completely disliked the others. In terms of who my favorite was, that would be Hortense. Albeit she was never a mistress of King Louis, there was something about her that was all the more wiser, as opposed to her love-struck sisters (who were sometimes cast aside). It was enjoyable seeing how the sisters interacted with each other as well as the personalities that were so unique to each character. What had me giggling at times were the letters from Pauline to Louise (when she was attempting to convince her to invite her to Versailles) where she acted sisterly or “sororal” but it was apparent she was buttering her up.
The writing quality was fantastic and it was apparent that the author really did a great deal of research when it came to the five sisters. This book is definitely one that I fervently recommend. It made me laugh, suffused me with joy, and made me cry in equal measure.
Poor People Have Souls?
In the world of the Ancien Régime, status is everything. Due to the fact that the de Mailly-Nesle sisters are members of the French aristocracy and descended from beautiful but shocking Hortense Mancini (mistress of King Charles II), they are destined for great things. In this particular work of literature, it is apparent that the wealthy don’t exactly think much of poor. In fact, despite the fact that some of them profess to be good Christians, there is a complete apathy towards the less fortunate. There is one particular scene in the story where a couple of the characters are talking about how lowly the poor are and how they smell horribly. These women speak as if it is the destiny of the poor to be so wretched and seem to think nothing of it.
It is little wonder that the hungry peasants would storm the gates of Versailles well-nigh 50 years later.
The Aristocrats which is a fantastic series done by the BBC in 1999. It surrounds the real life story of the four Lennox sisters: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah. Two of these sisters were wrapped up in scandal. From start to finish, it is an enjoyable series. Set in the 1740’s.
Clarissa, a four-part series done in 1991 featuring Sean Bean and Saskia Wickham. Based of Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel of the same name, it centers around a young woman who is tricked into running away from by a devilish rake. It is set in the 1740’s.