“Madame Elisabeth”, a lovely summer read

Georges Louis Buffon was the protector of François Dassy, lover of Elisabeth

It’s nice from time to time to read a good historical novel that you cannot put down ! and this is the case with « La sœur du Roi », a love story of Elisabeth, youngest sister of Louis XVI th,  written by Alexandra de Broca, a screenwriter and widow of Philippe de Broca, one of France’s major film directors.

She has accustomed us to reading about the unhappy moments of Louis XVI th’s family. With « La Princesse effacée », the story of the King’s daugther, Marie Thérèse, who survived the Revolution, she had written about being jailed in the prison of the Temple. In this new novel, she relates an impossible love between Elisabeth, sister of the king, and a young herborist-doctor François Dassy who shares a passionate love with her. The minutious descriptions of growing medicinal and rose gardens in Versailles at her personal house of Montreuil, are very romantic  and Elisabeth’s own curiosity for medicine and gardening are sweet. The character of Dassy is invented but based on Elisabeth’s curiosity for plants and gardens.

The affair is doomed from the start since the young talented scientist is a protestant at a time when being a catholic is mandatory for the Kings’ employees and he has no aristocratic origins. At the court of Versailles, this condemns them to having a secret and platonic relationship, protected by Louis Guillaume Le Monnier, court doctor and a few faithful servants.

With a gloomy perspective for the couple, Alexandra de Broca manages to take us on a lovely ride in the forests of Fontainebleau and Versailles and invents a passionate love story. The book reads like a thriller, with the spies of the king and the jealous ladies in waiting trying to kill their love, and the permanent fear of diseases threatening the royal family and the Dauphin.

Alexandra de Broca uses her screen writing skills to keep us reading her novel without stopping. Most details of the gardening methods sound genuine especially since real characters like Georges Louis Buffon and Minister Necker have a part in the story. At the time of Germaine de Staël’s celebrations, where protestants from Switzerland and catholics had such a hard time living together, this novel brings fresh air into the politics of the Revolution. It is a page turner and a pretty vision of 18 th century society. If you decide to go to Versailles, don’t miss the garden of  Montreuil which is open to the public. (Ed. Albin Michel)

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