In a world gone crazy, sometimes the key to surviving another day lies in being the hands that form the propaganda better than any other. For Marie Grosholtz, who would become known to posterity as Madame Tussaud, that meant wax images of whoever held the reigns of power in France during the turbulent years leading up to the French Revolution and throughout the horror of the Reign of Terror.
Marie Grosholtz and her family ran an exhibition of wax models on display in various arrays. Throughout the Revolution, Marie and her uncle, Curtius, would keep up with the prevailing political climate by changing their tableaux to reflect the latest happenings, not only with new wax figures and backgrounds, but also with posters explaining the newest news from political meetings. Marie and Curtius were also tasked with other grisly demands by members of the ruling elite, which they dared not refuse. Luckily for their family, their exhibition had enough renown and they knew people in high enough places in the new government to leverage their fame for their lives and freedom.
Michelle Moran, in her author’s note right at the outset of her novel, makes it very clear that every event included therein occurred and every character really existed. As you read through various scenes of heartbreak and horror, that note runs through your mind over and over again, and what is novelized becomes very, very real in your imagination as it gains purchase of your emotions.
This novel also taught me a thing or two that I did not know about the Revolution, particularly with regards to the way in which religion was regarded by those who came to power after the abolition of the monarchy, and the appalling treatment of the clergy. Moran thoroughly covers many things, such as the importance of the cafe societies during the Revolution, the general tenor of life on the street for everyday Parisiennes, the Prussian and Austrian armies building to help, and unrest in the outlaying areas (so many books only talk about Paris when they talk about the Revolution). I felt the history in the book was thorough and well woven into the story through the tale itself.
Best of all were the characters. As might be guessed, the cast was massive, but Ms. Moran does a very good job of developing all her main characters and most of her minor ones. The only character I felt was tossed in a little too late for decent development was Francois Tussaud. In general, I felt that the ending of the book was a bit too rushed for my taste, but the author’s intent was to focus on the five years immediately surrounding the Revolution, and Francois didn’t come into Marie’s life until the end of the Revolution. Ms. Moran then gives the reader a quick summation of what happened during the remainder of the main characters’ lives, saving us the need to Google it all ourselves.
This is absolutely five star historical fiction, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the French Revolution. Even if it is a subject that you have read a good deal about before, I wouldn’t be surprised if you learn something new from Michelle Moran’s prodigious research.