Saturday, June 1, 2013

Voltaire in Love

Voltaire in LoveVoltaire in Love by Nancy Mitford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A delightful biography of two fascinating yet exhausting people written as only Nancy Mitford could-- with droll wit and a dull poker aimed right at the foibles of the subjects. Voltaire teeters on the brink of death with every illness, but rallies as soon as something more interesting comes up; Emilie is a brilliant scientist who appears to have irritated nearly everyone with whom she came into contact, including Voltaire. Yet their relationship persisted through infidelities to each other, political upheaval, banishments to the Bastille, court intrigue, and much more. Only Emilie's untimely death brings this pastiche of a near-marriage to a close. (Emilie, of course, is married to the Duke du Chatelet, with whom she, Voltaire, and eventually her other lovers all live together happily in the lovely Chateau de Cirey)

The scholarly work is in here, as the chapters follow Voltaire's publications and growing fame, but the primary content is the stuff of Nancy Mitford: the relationships and the hilarity around them. One pictures Nancy very much at home among Voltaire and his circle, picking up on all the gossip (and there is much fodder for it) and finding the humor in all that goes on.

I wish she'd written more biographies. This is a gem for any Francophile, philosopher, or Mitford lover.

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