Mme de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford
Written in 1954 – and rather shocking in its time with its somewhat racy descriptions of life in France and mistresses and the arrangements that held between noble husbands and wives.
According to her biography she was born in 1904 and was educated at home and knew little except about French and riding. She was one of 6 society sisters with very distinctive personalities and views on life. She managed a book shop and lived in Paris and Versailles – hence her extensive knowledge of the palace there.
During her lifetime she was a celebrated writer and journalist/columnist and her books sold extremely well.
But I personally did not find her style of writing one that I could get on with. I found that her content in this book focussed, for me, too much on etiquette within the Court and that her constant re-naming of people as they acquired new titles confused me. I could have kept a list of who was who but normally I don’t need to. If I need to, I find it spoils the joy of reading a story. I also found that she was not clear enough for me in the relationships people had with each other – if you put the book down you forgot so much that you needed to re-start the whole book…
Was Mme de Pompadour an interesting character? Probably. She certainly had a lot of prejudice from the Court to put up with being not from the nobility but trade. And she lost so many babies due to her hectic lifestyle as she needed to keep the King constantly amused. She was clearly intelligent and witty and inventive and might have been quite a powerhouse in modern life, but was very constrained of course by her time – and by being a mistress rather than a wife to the king. And she was rather pretty too with great clothes!
I also felt that the author indulged her own interests and was not writing for the average reader – she was writing for Society and those who were interested in these minutiae of life and I felt that it really was a good example of a book of its era.
I am going to quote from the book here which is something I don’t often do, but there were a number of statements which I felt were key illustrations of her own thought and way in which she viewed life.
‘In every satisfactory union, it was the man who kept the upper hand’
‘the men were properly exercised and properly fed; since man is, after all an animal, he can rather easily be happy under these circumstances.’
Following this statement there is a whole age of rhapsody on the delights of hunting – ‘the relaxed nerves and physical well being’ that results ‘can never be forgotten’.
Whilst they clearly come from her personal background I find them strange to put into this book. They definitely don’t sit at all well with me!
1 star for this book.