A woman whose function it once was to read books aloud to Marie-Antoinette is haunted by the memory of her last days at the French court of Versailles, when Louis XVI's magnificent palace succumbed to the irrepressible forces of revolution. Now exiled in Vienna, Madame Agathe-Sidonie Laborde looks back twenty-one years to the legendary opulence of Versailles and, overcome with nostalgia and remorse, discovers the full measure of her fascination with the Queen she served.
Transporting us to eighteenth-century France with the skill of a consummate storyteller, Chantal Thomas meticulously re-creates the miniature universe of Versailles, brilliantly juxtaposing its beauty and its dawn-to-dusk ritual with the chaos that erupts. Her portrait of Versailles and of Marie-Antoinette is an incomparable account of the collapse of a lost world.
Translated by Moishe Black.
Vienna, February 12, 1810
My name is Agathe-Sidonie Laborde, a name rarely spoken, almost a secret. I live in the émigré quarter of Vienna, in an apartment on Grashof Street. Its windows open above a paved inner courtyard surrounded at ground level by a number of shops: a second-hand bookshop, a wig maker's, a small printshop, a tailor's. There is also a spice seller's stall, just at the foot of my apartment building. A lively neighborhood, but not too noisy. In the summertime, along with Eastern aromas, there are always notes of music floating in the air. The rosebushes winding their way up the building fronts add a garden charm to this little corner of Vienna. But in the dead of winter, which is what we have at present, the rosebushes have ceased to bloom and the sounds of life from the shops no longer reach me. For me, in a general way, the sounds of life are well and truly stilled, whatever the season. It's as though the terrible winter around...
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