cover image The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered

The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered

Laura Auricchio. Knopf, $28.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-307-26755-9

A celebrated figure in the U.S., yet all but forgotten in his native France, Lafayette played a major role in the two great 18th-century revolutions, the American and French. An aide to George Washington and a general at Yorktown in his early 20s, Lafayette returned to France, where he led an unfulfilling life at court. Caught up in the French Revolution, he commanded the National Guard during the revolution’s early phase, was huzzah’d by Parisian crowds, narrowly escaped the guillotine, and went into exile. During the Napoleonic era, he returned from exile to live out his life as a progressive farmer, returned in triumph to the U.S., and died back in Paris. Auricchio (Adélaïde Labille-Guiard: Artist in the Age of Revolution) treats the man quite sympathetically in this fine biography. Naïve, often unctuous, desperately ambitious, always seeking preferment, the Marquis remained a moderate, risking both position and reputation. But in trying both to ride some of the world’s tides while holding others back, he comes off here as not entirely likable, though a man of much merit. Lafayette still deserves more attention in France, but he’s found just the right American biographer in Auricchio. Maps & illus. (Oct.)