Saturday, July 14, 2012

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution

Madame Tussaud is an historical fiction novel set during the tumultuous French Revolution. The novel follows Marie Grosholtz (maiden name), also known as Madame Tussaud. Marie was trained in wax modeling by her uncle and together they ran a successful Salon in Paris. At the onset of the revolution, the Salon hosted such notorious figures as Robiespierre, Marat and the Duc d’Orleans.

After Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette visit the salon, Marie is asked to tutor Louis’ sister, Madame Elisabeth in the art of wax modeling. As the first stirrings of the revolution are sweeping Paris, Marie must walk a delicate line between the royal family and the patriots while keeping the Salon afloat.

 As the revolution begins to take a deadly turn, Marie is forced to appease the patriots. To do so, she must rid the Salon of the royal family and update it to include the prominent men and the scenes from the daily bloody fight for liberty. She is asked to create death masks from the fall of the Bastille and from there she is forced to hunt through the Madeleine cemetery at night to make the gruesome masks of those that felt the cut of the guillotine.

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French RevolutionThroughout the political double stepping, Marie is in love with her neighbor Henri Charles, a scientist working on meteorology and the hope of flying a hydrogen balloon. Henri has waited for Marie, dedicated to her salon, for years and will continue to do so forever. When events start becoming more horrific and innocent people are slaughtered at the hand of Robespierre and Marat, Henri begs Marie to flee to England, but can Marie leave her family and everything she has worked for or will she choose love?

I was captivated with Michelle Moran’s writing from the first page. She is able to relate history and the facts in an intriguing and appealing account without the feel of reading a boring monotone history book.
Marie Grosholtz was a fascinating person and her story is remarkable in so many ways. During a time of extreme terror, Marie was intent on surviving and did what she had to do to ensure her family’s continued safety. To read about a woman of that time period being independent is rare and Madame Tussaud was a rare woman of her time.

I always love to read about history and the history of the French Revolution is an interesting and horrifying time. What started as a bid for liberty turned into a blood-bath with thousands of citizens dying at the hands of the new government they put in place. To hear individual stories of this time, like Marie’s is utterly mesmerizing.

Moran’s research is apparent, although she changes some details to suit the story. Yet none of these variations detract from the story. The utter disregard Louis had for his safety and his lack of personal well-being are horrifyingly clear. It really makes you wonder what would have happened if the royal family had made their escape instead of being caught in Varennes.  Moran re-counts the preparation the royals took before their escape attempt, Marie Antoinette’s ordering dozens of dresses for her wardrobe, Louis insisting they all go in one carriage, stopping for a meal on the way. It makes you shake your head in frustration.

I loved the story of Marie and her true love Henri. Their love story, set to the backdrop of the revolution was touching and poignant. That two people could find love in the midst of turmoil gives heart to this story.

Hands down I loved this book; I had a hard time putting it down and devoured it in a short time. If you are interested in historical fiction, this is a book worth reading. I plan on checking out more of Michelle Moran’s work.


  1. Have you read "Citizens" by by Simon Schama? It's supposed to be the definitive account of the French Revolution. I have it lying around somewhere. It's just too huge to mess with right now.

  2. No, but I will definitely check it out, thanks!

  3. I was wondering whether you would be happy to put up a link in my monthly series called “Books You Love”. The idea is for people to link up posts about a book they loved. It could be an old fave. There is already quite a nice collection of books that can go on our reading lists. Here is the link Books You Loved July Edition