MADAME DE POMPADOUR: Mistress to France

Christine Pevitt Algrant, Author, Christine Pevitt, Author
Christine Pevitt Algrant, Author, Christine Pevitt, Author . Grove $27.50 (338p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1726-7
Reviewed on: 07/22/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Hardcover - 336 pages - 978-0-00-716609-1
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-8021-4035-7
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It's impossible to read Algrant's relatively reserved study (compared with that of Evelyne Lever, [see review on p. 166]) without thinking, at least fleetingly, of Monica Lewinsky. Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson (1721–1764) too set her sights on winning the affections of a head of state, in her case, King Louis XV of France. She succeeded and became as famous as her paramour but far more reviled—primarily because Pompadour actively sought to be the power behind the throne. Algrant (Philippe, duc d'Orléans) does a terrific job portraying a woman driven by a potent combination of ambition, insecurity and a dogged determination to fulfill the destiny set forth for her at age nine, when a fortune teller predicted she would become the mistress of the king of France. According to Algrant, there's no doubt that Pompadour loved the king, but it's never quite clear how much of that love was pure and how much was motivated by her almost pathological need for power. And power she had: by the time she died, at age 42, Pompadour had overseen the hiring and firing of government officials and military officers. Armed with objectivity and a wealth of facts, Algrant—either because she shows without telling or refuses to speculate—lets readers draw their own conclusions about Pompadour's true character. The result is a comprehensive but detached portrait that provides plenty of food for thought. 8 pages of color illus. not seen by PW. (Sept.)

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