evelyne lever

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Today the last Queen of France is no longer considered one of history’s great criminals. Instead, she tends to arouse interest and compassion. After her death on the scaffold, Marie Antoinette entered the world of legend and became a mythic figure. We seek to penetrate the secrets of her romantic and tragic life. Though repeatedly and tirelessly put on trial, this sentimental and frivolous princess, who was completely unprepared for her heroic fate, knew better than any other sovereign how to bring to perfection the aristocratic art of living of pre-Revolutionary France.

Evelyne Lever, Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France

“The Queen’s disquiet had escaped no one. ‘I must tell Your Majesty that the young Count Fersen was so well received by the Queen that several people were offended by it,’ wrote the Swedish ambassador to Gustavus III. 'I admit that I cannot refrain from thinking that she had a fondness for him: I saw signs of this that were too clear to leave any doubt. The young Count Fersen’s behaviour on this occasion was admirable in its modesty and restraint and especially in his decision to go to America. By leaving, he removed all dangers, but of course wisdom and resolve beyond his years were required to overcome this seduction. The Queen could not take her eyes off him these last few days; as she watched him they filled with tears. I beg Your Majesty to keep this a secret for her sake and Senator Fersen’s.’ When they heard of the Count’s departure, all the favourites were delighted. The Duchess of Fitz-James said to him: 'What! Monsieur, you are deserting your conquest?’ 'If I had made one, I would not desert her,’ he replied. 'I am going away free, and unfortunately without leaving behind any regrets.’

- from Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever

Madame de Pompadour by Evelyne Lever
Translated by: Catherine Temerson
The book is a small, popular history and a quick summary of Pompadour’s life. The author is French, and offers a decent list of primary sources, however the work itself isn’t anything exceptional. The presentation is themed rather than strictly chronological, which has been done before, but Lever fails at pulling it off. Lever is very sympathetic to Pompadour’s character, but her work does not do justice to Pompadour’s many political and architectural achievements. Most of the book pertains to her devotion to the king and her general acts as hostess to parties and various court entertainments. With a heavy reliance of the writings of other courtiers, the Lever provides only a single chapter (and a very disorganized one at that) of her greater influence as the King’s consultant and adviser. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as an effective secondary source. My biggest problem with it though is the translation, as the book was originally published in French. All 18th century quotations that have been drawn from contemporary documents have completely lost their eloquence. I’m not a professional historian, but I’ve read enough letters to know how a fashionable French 18th c courtier wrote. Here’s an example:

“Finally I did so many things that the King wrote me that he made up his mind…”

I mean, it reads like the translators just ran the book through Babel Fish or Dictionary.com translator. Even the author’s style suffers:

“the Dauphin’s valet had played a not unimportant role at the beginning of the King’s affair with Madame de Pompadour.”

Another example:
“Workers had had to work around the clock. The decorators of the royal residences, Verberckt and Rousseau, had not had a moment’s rest. And though overburdened with work, they had had to ask for their wages…”

So if your looking to buy a quick biography of this amazing woman, I would just pass over this one or at least look for a better translation.

Marie Antoinette gently pushed the children back into the King’s room and stood alone facing the mob. She made a deep curtsy, her hands crossed on her chest. These men and women who had been calling for her death several moment earlier were now completely awestruck by her composure and pained dignity. They clamoured loudly: “To Paris! To Paris!” Vanquished by the Queen’s charisma, they began to shout: “Long live the Queen!”

Marie Antoinette - The Last Queen of France, Evelyne Lever

Marie Antoinette gently pushed the children back into the King’s room and stood alone facing the mob. She made a deep curtsy, her hands crossed on her chest. These men and women who had been calling for her death several moment earlier were now completely awestruck by her composure and pained dignity. They clamoured loudly: “To Paris! To Paris!” Vanquished by the Queen’s charisma, they began to shout: “Long live the Queen!”

Marie Antoinette - The Last Queen of France, Evelyne Lever