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Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de La Tour Du Pin, Eyewitness to an Eraby Caroline Moorehead
"Historians of the French Revolution have long pillaged Lucie's Journal d'une femme de cinquante ans for colorful anecdotes and eyewitness observations to adorn their narratives and bring them to life. In her new biography, Dancing to the Precipice, Caroline Moorehead returns Lucie to the center of her own story." Ruth Scurr, The Nation (read the entire Nation review)
Synopses & Reviews
Her canvases were the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette; the Great Terror; America at the time of Washington and Jefferson; Paris under the Directoire and then under Napoleon; Regency London; the battle of Waterloo; and, for the last years of her life, the Italian ducal courts. Like Saint-Simon at Versailles, Samuel Pepys during the Great Fire of London, or the Goncourt brothers in nineteenth-century France, Lucie Dillon—a daughter of French and British nobility known in France by her married name, Lucie de la Tour du Pin—was the chronicler of her age.
La Rochefoucauld called her "a cultural jewel." The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire favored her for his dinner companion in Paris. Napoleon requested she attend Josephine. Her friends included Talleyrand, Madame de Staël, Chateaubriand, Lafayette, and the Duke of Wellington, with whom she played as a child. She witnessed firsthand the demise of the French monarchy, the wave of Revolution and the Reign of Terror, and the precipitous rise and fall of Napoleon. She spent two years as an émigré in the newly independent United States (on a farm in Albany) but was also a familiar of Regency London. A shrewd, determined woman in a turbulent age of men, Lucie de la Tour du Pin watched, listened, reflected—and wrote it all down, mixing politics and court intrigue, social observation and the realities of everyday existence, to offer a fascinating chronicle of her era.
In this compelling biography, Caroline Moorehead illuminates the extraordinary life and remarkable achievements of this strong, witty, elegant, opinionated, and dynamic woman who survived personal tragedy, including the loss of six children, and periods of extreme danger, exile, poverty, and illness. Meticulously researched, brilliantly written, and vastly entertaining, Moorehead's chronicle of Lucie's life is an incomparable social history of her times.
"Educated to wait on Marie Antoinette, the marquise Lucie de la Tour du Pin (1770-1853) instead precariously survived a devastating revolution, an emperor, two restorations and a republic. Drawing on Lucie's memoirs and those of her contemporaries, Moorehead (Gellhorn) uses Lucie's descriptions of both personal events and the ever-changing French political atmosphere to portray the nobility's awkward shifts with each new event and the impact they have on Lucie and her diplomat husband, Fréédric. A woman with both court-honed aristocratic manners and rough farm skills (earned in the Revolution's wake during her rural New York exile), Lucie benefited from passing platonic relationships with Napoleon and Wellington, Talleyrand, and countless salon personalities. Lucie's terror during the anarchy of the Revolution remains palpable in her memoirs centuries later. Moorehead obviously admires Lucie, but she gives a convincing and entertaining portrait of an intelligent, shrewd, unpretentious woman and the turbulent times she lived through and testified to in her memoirs. 16 pages of b&w photos, 19 illus. throughout." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Moorehead's compelling biography offers the captivating true story of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, an utterly remarkable yet little-known woman who was observer, commentator, and participant in the major social upheavals of late 18th- and early 19th-century Europe. b&w photo insert.
“[A] remarkable biography….Moorehead deftly wields periods detail…to tell the story of a captivating woman who kept her sense of self amid the vicissitudes of politics.”
From acclaimed biographer Caroline Moorhead comes Dancing to the Precipice, a sweeping chronicle of the remarkable life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin—“an astute, thoroughly engaging biography of a formidable woman” (Boston Globe) who, over the span of some 80 years, was witness to, and often a participant in the major social upheavals of eighteenth-century French history.
About the Author
The acclaimed author of numerous biographies and works of history, Caroline Moorehead has also written for the Telegraph, the Times, and the Independent.She is the cofounder of a legal-advice center for asylum seekers from Africa; her most recent book, Human Cargo: A Journey Among the Refugees, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She lives in London.
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