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Thursday, September 26, 2013

“A Woman’s Life in the Court of the Sun King: Letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz, Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, 1652-1722”, by Duchesse d’Orléans Elisabeth Charlotte, Translated by Elborg Forster


352 pages, Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN-13: 978-0801856358

On November 16th, 1671, Liselotte von der Pfalz, the 19-year-old daughter of the Elector of Palatine, was married to Philippe d’Orléans, or “Monsieur” as he was known at court, the only brother of Louis XIV. The marriage was not to be a happy one. Liselotte (known in France as Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, or “Madame”) was full of intellectual energy and moral rigor. Homesick for her native Germany, she felt temperamentally ill-suited to life at the French court; besides, the homosexual Monsieur, deeply immersed in the pleasures and intrigues of the court, shared few of his wife’s interests. Yet, for the next 50 years, Liselotte remained in France, never far from the center of one of the most glorious courts of Europe. And throughout this period, she wrote letters – sometimes as many as forty a week! – to her friends and relatives in Germany. It is from this extraordinary body of correspondence that A Woman’s Life in the Court of the Sun King: Letters of Liselotte von der Pfalz, Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d’Orléans, 1652-1722 has been fashioned. As introduced and translated by Elborg Forster, the letters have become the remarkable personal narrative of Liselotte’s transformation from an innocent, yet outspoken, girl into a formidable observer of great events and human folly.

If you share the current love affair with Jane Austen, or still remember Emily Dickinson, or are intrigued by the attitudes and poses of the present royals, you should try this woman for comparison. Everything you ever wanted to know about being a ruling-class woman, who is persecuted by Louis’ mistress Madame Maintenon, and reports on the inner life of the most powerful and corrupt court of the period, all without being absorbed or entirely downcast by its habits: its immorality; its imaginary piety; of kings who are so terrified by the prospect of their own deaths that they cannot allow the strength of other’s actual philosophical or theological thought to penetrate his own ignorance dependence on the apparent orthodoxy of his mistress’ hostilities. A woman’s book.

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