Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Madame de Pompadour

1953, 2001 New York Review Books edition
Nancy Mitford
Madame de Pompadour
Original price $12.95, purchase price $7.50
Worn paperback

Mitford writes a sympathetic account of Louis XV's famous mistress, although as the Introduction by Amanda Foreman makes clear, Mitford originally planned to present Pompadour as an example of why women shouldn't interfere in politics.  (And, yes, this was after her sister Diana did time in prison for supporting British Fascism; sister Unity, an admirer of Hitler, shot herself when Britain declared war on Germany; and sister Jessica became a notorious Red.  Not that Nancy was apolitical herself.)

Mitford does show Pompadour's political side, but the emphasis is more on where Pompadour put it, "life as art."  Pompadour enjoyed herself, and she also supported artists, architects, and writers.  She also seems to have been a nice person, much nicer than most of the people around her.  It's Mitford who makes the catty remarks about the 18th-century French notables, but that's part of the fun.

Two gripes.  One, there are too many untranslated French passages.  And two, Mitford never mentions the famous hairstyle.

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