This is one of two books that have loomed unread for no good reason since January’s Tadoku challenge.
Mousseline La Sérieuse tells the story of Marie-Therese Charlotte de France (Mousseline La Sérieuse was her nickname). Born to Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, Marie-Therese had a life of luxury until the French Revolution which started when she was ten years old. She and her family were placed under house arrest and eventually imprisoned in Temple Tower.
Gradually her parents, aunt, and younger brother were separated from one another, and for two years she was imprisoned alone. The silence of her days punctuated with the sound of her 9 year-old brother’s cries as he was beaten. Of her family, she was the only one to survive. This retelling of her incredibly tragic life follows her from youth to old age, but dwells on the horrors she endured during the Terror.
The amount of original source material created by Marie-Therese is almost non-existent so Yvert has had to supplement this with some excellent research. This has paid dividends in Mousseline as Yvert has married together actual fragments of documented speech, extracts from original sources and so on with the first person narrative of Marie-Therese in the book.
As Yvert actually includes various quotes from the period, I worried at first that the language might be a little dense for me. I needn’t have worried as Mousseline tells her story in very clear, concise language. The use of the first person effectively establishes an intimate connection with Marie-Therese, a character whose solemnity and laconicism does not make her the easiest character to like from the off.
In spite this book being an incredible undertaking on Yvert’s part, my incredibly entitled gripe is that there isn’t more of Marie-Therese’s life story as a whole. I would have preferred this book to have either been split out into two, with one volume spanning Marie-Therese’s early life and imprisonment, and the second volume covering the rest of her very long and equally under-documented life. The Marie-Therese of Mousseline La Sérieuse is a nuanced character who deserves to have more of her life dwelt on than the worst moments of it. Marie-Therese could have become an angry, bitter woman who wanted nothing more than destruction and vengeance, instead we discover a woman who has kept a firm hold of her humanity. Of all the moments in the novel that I want to remember, this feels the most essential and still the most down-played.
Overall: Yvert has created an incredibly moving and sympathetic portrait of a woman whose life has flown under the radar of many. Having finished this book, I would happily read something more meaty about Marie-Therese’s life after her exile from France.
That said, I found the subject matter made for an incredibly heavy-going read (who wants to read about how the 9 year-old Louis XVII was caged and left in solitary confinement by his jailers, his only human contact having food pushed through the bars or being hauled out to be beaten?) I really did have to force myself through some of the horrific parts, not least because the parallels with things happening to this day are utterly overwhelming and left me a bit of a wreck.
If you’re interested in the French Revolution, or women history hasn’t remembered well enough then I whole-heartedly recommend this book to you.