Madame de Pompadour: Sex, Culture and Power

Margaret Crosland, Author
Margaret Crosland, Author Sutton Publishing $29.95 (186p) ISBN 978-0-7509-2338-5
Reviewed on: 03/01/2001
Release date: 03/01/2001
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-7509-2956-1
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Crosland (Simone de Beauvoir) is intrigued by strong women, yet her positioning of Madame de Pompadour as an early feminist as well as influential royal mistress (""Her long `reign' illustrates perfectly how far feminism, in its guise of super-femininity, was a hidden power in the male-dominated world of the French 18th century"") is not entirely convincing. According to legend, the career of Madame de Pompadour (n e Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, 1721-1764) as mistress to King Louis XV of France was predicted by a fortune-teller when she was only a girl. She entered an arranged marriage with Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d'Etiolles, with whom she had a daughter, but the ambitious, coquettish and accomplished actress Jeanne-Antoinette was determined to realize the fortune-teller's prophecy, and in 1745, she did indeed become the king's ""Favourite,"" for which she was given the title of Marquise de Pompadour as well as an apartment at Versailles. With Louis XV's permission, she formed an amateur theatrical group and was a great patron of the arts. Crosland recounts the tricky political maneuvering Pompadour had to master in order to retain her position--particularly because her physical relationship with Louis XV waned as a result of her lack of interest in sex and general poor health--but she devoted her remaining 19 years to pleasing the king, even forging a relationship with Louis XV's wife. Additionally, Pompadour, much to the chagrin of her male enemies at court, served as a diplomatic adviser to the king and, as a result, was blamed for military defeats during the Seven Years' War. Unfortunately, even readers interested in the lives of the French aristocracy will be disappointed, for, fascinating though she may have been, Pompadour's character never entirely springs to life here. Illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Jeffrey Simmons. (Feb.)
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